Picks and Pans Review: To Live and Die in L.a.
Samuel Goldwyn once said that he wanted a movie that "starts with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax." He would have been proud of this MGM/UA thriller. In the opening sequence an Islamic terrorist strapped with explosives blows himself to bits after he's caught by Secret Service agents. The rest of the movie moves at a similar gut-busting pace. As director William Friedkin showed long ago with The French Connection and The Exorcist, he knows from relentless pacing. While this is his first film, actor William Petersen shows he can handle a pulse-pounder too. He plays a Secret Service agent whose longtime partner is killed investigating a counterfeiter, portrayed with sinister verve by Willem (Streets of Fire) Dafoe. Shot on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the film has a textured seediness. Its theme is phoniness—not only in the counterfeit money, but also in the relationship between Petersen and his informant-girlfriend, Darlanne (Once Upon a Time in America) Fluegel, and in Hollywood itself. In the end the only thing that's real is the bond between partners. Based on the 1984 novel by Gerald Petievich, himself a Secret Service agent, this is a little like The Maltese Falcon updated with some touches of Miami Vice (The hot British band Wang Chung did the score). The date and time keep flashing up on the screen for no apparent reason, and the language is a little too like Mickey Spillane: "If you're looking for a pigeon, go to the park." But the movie, edited by Bud (Flashdance) Smith, zips by too quickly for quibbles. (R)
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