Rated R - Running time: 2:20 - Released 7/29/98

It's a shame to see two of my favorite actors (Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey), who have worked on such good films as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), reduced to taking part in such a formulaic action movie as The Negotiator. This is high-impact cop schlock at its worst, balancing unrealistic shootouts with painfully contrived dialogue, its only redeeming factor being the acting talent present in the two leads.

In the opening sequence, Chicago Police Lieutenant Danny Roman (Jackson) is the lead negoiator in a very touchy hostage situation: a man with a shotgun aimed at a little girl's head. Though the other officers want to burst in and sieze control, Danny knows that that solution would probably not be too healthy for the girl, so he miraculously finds a way to get in the man's apartment simply by talking to him. Soon the man is dead and the girl is safe. Hooray.

While Danny and his fellows are celebrating, his partner tells him he thinks there is a conspiracy in the department. Someone is stealing money from the precinct's disability fund, and though he doesn't know who it is, he has been told by an informant on the inside. Very soon, the partner is killed and Danny is framed for the murder. Stripped of his badge and his honor, he does what every sensible police officer would do: He takes hostages and threatens to kill them if he's not given the chance to prove his innocence.

After many interminable scenes of Danny's fellow cops almost shooting him and Danny almost shooting the hostages, he finally insists on talking to a negotiator from uptown: Chris Sabian (Spacey). Sabian is from another precinct, so Danny reasons he must not be in on the take. Therefore, he can trust him to help solve the crime. After more interminable scenes, Sabian decides Danny may be right and agrees to help.

This movie could have been (and probably was) written by high school boys. I am not aware of James DeMonaco & Kevin Fox's age or educational status, but I do know this is the only project either of them has ever produced, save for DeMonaco's Jack (1996). Likewise, this film is only director F. Gary Gray's third outing, and the general lack of experience shows. The film consistently fails to generate any real tension, though loads of scary music is provided by Graeme Revell. The characters are eminently unbelievable throughout the testosterone-soaked screenplay, and the only saving grace is the lead pair, constantly struggling to make some sense of the melodramatic, convoluted story. Nice try, guys. Better luck next time. **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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