Picks and Pans Review: The Untouchables

updated 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Whoever would have expected to look fondly back upon Walter Winchell's snarly narration or Robert Stack's stiff-as-a-concrete-slab acting as federal agent Eliot Ness? This overdone remake by director Brian De Palma has just that nostalgia-inducing effect, keeping the cartoonish good guy-bad guy basis of the old TV Untouchables and dressing it up with color film and the mixed blessing of modern techniques for depicting violence. No director today is more adept than De Palma at pacing, framing, cutting, angling. But he insists on trotting out his tricks even when there's no reason for them. In one scene Kevin Costner, as Ness, and the small group of cops he has enlisted to help him fight Al Capone are seated around a circular table. De Palma takes his camera in a 360-degree, unbroken tour around the perimeter, as if he's a skater doing a compulsory figure eight. In another scene he demonstrates that he has seen the silent Russian classic Battleship Potemkin, with a drawn-out bit involving a baby buggy going down a flight of steps in the middle of a gunfight. While De Palma's idol, Alfred Hitchcock, used lots of gimmicks too, they were rarely so obtrusive. In this case, De Palma wastes whatever chance there might have been to give this film some substance. Sean Connery, as a veteran Chicago cop recruited by Costner, seems constricted. Robert De Niro, as Capone, gives an animated performance, but it's nothing Rod Steiger or Neville Brand (the TV Capone) haven't done already. Capone still seems like a caricature, as does Ness. Costner is saintly when he's not mowing people down, yet he has little human dimension. The film eventually becomes a series of shoot-outs, like De Palma's last excursion into organized crime, Scarface. Unlike Scarface, this film never really gets ugly or boring. But from a director of De Palma's resources—both aesthetic and, these days, financial—it's fair to expect something more than just not being bored. (R)

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