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Movie Reviews : 'Enemy Territory' Packs Texture Too

October 05, 1987|LEONARD KLADY

In a genre--low-budget action--noted for slam-bang, no-nonsense entertainment, "Enemy Territory" (citywide) has a lot, and a lot more, to offer. Apart from an obvious urban thriller framework, there's a smattering of social commentary, literary allegory and old-fashioned moralizing in the story. Surprisingly, it's not gobbledygook. The film works within the confines of its genre and, without straining, slyly introduces textures that are usually reserved for more serious entertainments.

Rather than relying on Pavlovian logic, the underlying motivations for the action are greed, lust, fear and honor. Barry (Gary Frank), an insurance man, enters a tough black New York neighborhood after dark to sign a policy and collect a fat commission. Will (Ray Parker Jr.), a telephone repairman, is in the same building--a 20-story apartment complex--seeing his new girlfriend on company time.

Not hip to borough etiquette, Barry makes a faux pas that can only be termed "life threatening." Searching out the policy holder, he taps a brother's shoulder, to ask if he knows the tenant. Insulted, the young man vows he'll avenge the slight with blood. A few minutes later he returns with other members of his gang, the Vampires.

Fortunately, owing to matters of scripting, Barry eludes death, albeit narrowly. That's when Will instinctively answers his cry for help. Unquestionably, both men would pay dearly to start the whole day over again.

Writers Stuart Kaminsky (author of several books on American action directors) and Bobby Liddell are up to the challenge of realizing a great premise. Through force and cunning their heroes proceed to work their way from the top floor to the basement and presumed freedom. If they can only survive the night, surely the Vampires will lose their fangs in daylight.

Director Peter Manoogian visualizes a harsh and ugly environment to play out the situation of inherent jeopardy. He also demonstrates a facility to keep us on the edge of our seats as peril dogs the two men along every step of their escape route. Although the thriller has echoes of many earlier films from "The Defiant Ones" to "The Warriors," it's John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13," with its emphasis on claustrophobia, that it most closely resembles in both story and craft.

Another great asset of "Enemy Territory" (MPAA rated R, for violence and language) is the clever manner in which it makes social points through character. Frank is an unsympathetic, failed yuppie whose race prejudice comes from self-developed tunnel vision. Parker (Jan-Michael Vincent), a Vietnam veteran, seeks an embattled environment to fulfill his need for paranoia.

Objectively humorous, the truth of the observations is undeniable too. Also obvious is the talent of the film makers, which shouldn't in any way be diminished by considerations of budget or theme--they deserve unqualified praise.

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