By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Blow up the body.
Another Brian De Palma/Hitchcock wannabe, this one involving a sinister secret government agent named Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) who wants to use the amazing psychic abilities of a young college-aged man named Robin Sandza (Andrew Stevens) for his own nefarious purposes. While he is in Israel with the father and son he decides to stage a terrorist attack, which he hopes will kill the boy’s father Peter (Kirk Douglas) and allow him to whisk Robin away to an underground research lab where no one will find him. However, Peter manages to survive the attack and goes on a relentless pursuit to find his son. This occurs while a young woman named Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) with equally strong parapsychological traits starts to have visions of Robin and his whereabouts while attending a school that specializes in people with these abilities and eventually she teams up with Peter to help him in his quest.
I liked the opening sequence being shot on-location in Israel, which gives the film an exotic feel. The attack is well-handled and comes as a surprise without any set-up, but I felt there was a fatal flaw with the premise. This is namely the fact that with Robin’s amazing psychic abilities you would think he could figure out that his Dad was still alive and be able to find him while also outsmarting the people who are holding him.
The secret agency thing and what they are using him for is vague and we see only a few scenes with him there. I felt this should have been more detailed and less time spent with Gillian at the psychic school, which is not very compelling and rather draggy. There are a few good action moments, but unfortunately they come at the beginning and end with a talky middle that lacks any real suspense.
However, Peter’s escape from some gunmen by jumping out of an apartment window and onto the ‘L’ tracks along Wabash Avenue in Chicago is amazingly well shot and nerve-wracking. A scene where Robin tortures a female Dr. (Fiona Lewis) by using his telepathic powers to spin her around a room until blood oozes from her body and sprays all over the walls and furniture deserves some merits, but I wished it had been more extended. There is also the exploding body that is the film’s final shot and possibly its best and it is shown several times at different angles. I also enjoyed the darkly humorous scene where Robin uses his powers to send a ride at an indoor amusement park out of control and throwing the riders through the window of a nearby restaurant.
De Palma’s trademark over-direction is in full gear. Sometimes it works, but other times it is a distraction. For instance he uses a lot of panning shots showing one person talking and then panning to the other person and then back again. During a funny scene where Peter breaks into an older couple’s apartment while looking for a disguise this really works, but De Palma continues to go to this well throughout and eventually it becomes annoying. There is also a foot chase that is done in slow-motion, which to me sapped the tension and excitement right out of it. He does have a few bird’s-eye view shots, which while not adding anything to the story, are still kind of cool.
Andrew Stevens, son of actress Stella Stevens, is well cast as the young man who starts out likable, but slowly becomes evil as the film progresses. Stevens has a good knack for this as he can go from nice to menacing very quickly and I first noticed this during a classic episode of Murder She Wrote. His clear blue eyes can give off a creepy stare as well.
John Cassavetes is an excellent bad guy. He is best remembered as an independent film director with a unique vision, but with his dark features, cryptic glare, and intense delivery he can also be a very good villain. I don’t think the film made the most of it, but it was astute casting.
Although billed as the star Douglas does not have the most screen-time and there are long periods where he isn’t seen at all. This was really a vehicle for Irving, who is convincing and makes the viewer sympathetic to her quandary of having super-powers that she does not fully understand, cannot control and doesn’t really want.
It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t go far enough with it. There weren’t enough twists to justify sitting through almost two hours. The pacing is poor and had it been trimmed to 90 minutes it would have worked better. The special effects are decent, but there needed to be more of them and they might not hold-up to contemporary standards. John Williams’s orchestral sounding score helps elevate what is really just bubblegum material.
This is a great chance at seeing some young stars in their film debuts including Darryl Hannah, Laura Innes, and James Belushi. There is also an amusing scene featuring Dennis Franz with a full head of hair playing a nervous and befuddled Chicago cop.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: March 10, 1978
Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes
Director: Brian De Palma
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video