Friday, January 2, 2009


This standard-issue, made-for-cable, action thriller about hunky ATF agent Ethan Carter ("Lois & Clark's" Dean Cain) going undercover to root out right-wing radicals that want to assassinate the President of the United States at a World Summit Conference is strictly routine from fade-in to fade-out. The first fifteen minutes sets up the plot as Agent Anderson (John Beck of "The Other Side of Midnight") spearheads a helicopter raid on a rural-based militia compound where the bad guys have illegal weapons.The most interesting thing about the opening shoot-out is that neither side wants to fire the first shot, and the fire shot is fired accidentally when a child drops his rifle and it discharges. My only question is how do the ATF guys in the chopper hear the kid's weapon discharge over the rotor blades? Our sharp-shooting hero Carter wounds the chief antagonist, William Fain (Frederick Forrest of "Apocalypse Now") and Anderson takes this notorious evil doer into custody to serve a 25 year sentence behind bars. Two years pass, and Fain cuts a deal with Anderson that gets the militia mastermind out of maximum security and on the right side of the law with the ATF. Fain agrees to infiltrate Agent Carter (Cain), the very same man who wounded him, into a group of fanatics run by a well-known radio commentator (Stacy Keach of TV's "Mike Hammer'), so that they can foil his nefarious designs. Meanwhile, the bad guys steal a vial of deadly anthrax (it resembles a test tube of urine) from a federal laboratory. Prolific movie maker Jay Andrews of "Extreme Limits" supplements this scene of derring-do with footage from James Cameron's "Terminator 2," right down to the conspicuous Cyberdyne sign outside of the building. Later, the same two henchmen who swiped the anthrax occupy a government missile launching facility and load the anthrax into a cluster bomb rocket. Can we say "The Rock" with Sean Connery and Ed Harris?

The formulaic action follows the numbers without missing a cliché. "Flashdance's" Jennifer Beals makes an improbable ATF agent named Saunders who acts as Carter's liaison in the field. Early on, Carter and Saunders clash over her dire lack of experience and how her best efforts seem designed to incriminate him in the eyes of the opposition. Later, she gets to prove her own sharp-shooting skills in one scene where she ices an obnoxious villain. The best thing about her wooden performance is that she doesn't look like she has aged a day since "Flashdance."

Several familiar faces also flesh out the cast, notably Michael Cavanaugh of "The Enforcer," blubbery Alabama native Brett Butler of "Grace Under Fire," and portly Stacy Keach as a mealy-mouthed madman. Beefy cupcake Dean Cain doesn't get much to do during the middle section of "Militia" after he is taken captive by the bad guys. The surprise here isn't really much of a surprise. The fire-ball explosions look good, but like a lot of other things about this boilerplate melodrama, the producers lifted them from movies such as "American Ninja 2" and "Delta Force 2." Altogether, this highly far-fetched but tolerable shoot-em up isn't as bad as some say, but neither does "Militia" stand out from the crowd. Andrews directs with his customary impersonal style. If you're looking for blood, gore, and breasts, prepare to be disappointed. The superficial screenplay doesn't make much out of our Constitutional right to bear arms, but it does make our hero sympathetic, because he claims that guns are tools for him, not collector's items. Again, you could do a lot worse or a lot better.

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