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Movie Review : 'Deadline': Hostage Of Own Tedium

September 11, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"Deadline" (at the Avco Cinema and Mann Hollywood) is yet another political thriller in which a seasoned journalist discovers the impossibility of remaining objective when assigned to one of the world's hot spots. It brings to mind "Under Fire," set in Nicaragua, James Woods in "Salvador" and even more, Volker Schlondorff's "Circle of Deceit," which is also set in war-torn Beirut. Unfortunately, "Deadline" suffers mightily in comparison with these far better-developed films--even though they were not without flaws.

Christopher Walken stars as a world-weary, big-time American TV reporter who thinks he's scored yet another scoop when he accepts the invitation to interview a PLO official who states the need to renounce violence and to negotiate directly with Israel. In truth, he's fallen for a hoax that immediately plunges him into danger, mystery and eventually to choices it never occurred to him that he would ever be making.

"Deadline," unfortunately, is a film at serious odds with itself. First of all, to work it should have been a true Israeli film instead of an English-language production made in Israel with an American star. That's because in making the reporter an American, director Nathaniel Gutman, who has a very heavy hand, and writer Hanan Peled blunt the very point they're striving hardest to make, which is to show how Lebanon became Israel's Vietnam. The way the film is written demands that the reporter be an Israeli if it is to have full moral impact.

This is just the beginning of the problems. The film assumes too much familiarity on the part of American audiences with the complicated tragic plight of Lebanon, specifically as it was in 1983. Walken's reporter seems based on journalists from other movies rather than from life. It just isn't convincing that a reporter as experienced as he's supposed to be would be so quickly duped. The casting of Walken is a further hindrance: He seems always to be playing a reporter rather than being one, and there's a coldness in his presence here that just never thaws as credibly as it should. Only Welsh actor Hywel Bennett, who is a believable veteran reporter in his good-natured, laid-back cynicism, is truly alive, and Walken suffers in comparison.

The film's locales have an authentic flavor, but for all its pacifist passions, "Deadline" (rated R for routine violence) is a plodding, tedious experience. What had the ingredients for a good Israeli film has ended up as just another failed international co-production.

'DEADLINE' A Skouras Pictures release of a Virgin Vision presentation of a Creative Film/Caro Film/Norddeutcher Rundfunk co-production. Producer Elisabeth Wolters-Alfs. Line producer Michael Scharfstein. Director Nathaniel Gutman. Screenplay and story Hanan Peled. Camera Amnon Salomon, Thomas Mauch. Music Jacques Zwart. Art director Yoram Barzily. Film editor Peter Przygodda . With Christopher Walken, Marita Marschall, Hywel Bennett, Arnon Zadok, Amos Lavie, Ette Ankri, Martin Umbach, Moshe Ivgi, Sason Gabay.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Younger than 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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