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MOVIE REVIEWS : 'One False Move': Taut Thriller

May 08, 1992|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you are thirsting for an evening's light entertainment, be forewarned: "One False Move" (Cineplex Odeon Fairfax) opens with the massacre of an innocent family in South-Central L.A. by three drug criminals.

Pluto (Michael Beach), a black ex-con with a genius IQ, is the group's tactician; his white-trash ex-con-mate Ray (Billy Bob Thornton) is the strong-arm; his black girlfriend Fantasia (Cynda Williams) is the small-time Arkansas beauty who came to Hollywood to be a star and ended up a coked-out, third-rate moll. Their escape from the law, represented by L.A. cops Dud (Jim Metzler) and McFeely (Earl Billings), wends its way through Houston and, finally, Fantasia's hometown, Star City, Ark.

For most of the way, "One False Move" (rated R for strong violence, drug content and language) is taut and sure-footed. Director Carl Franklin, working from a script by Thornton and Tom Epperson, is trying for a Jim Thompson effect--film noir with heat and dust. He has a good feeling for how to build tension: One sequence, in particular, when the trio is stopped in their car by a Houston cop, has a you-can-hear-a-pin-drop suspense. There are a few too many cornball motifs, like the ominous whippoorwill that presages a character's death near the end, but for the most part the action is effective and no-nonsense.

This no-nonsense quality is also a key to the film's limitations. The script doesn't have the breadth to do justice to its most interesting character, the Arkansas sheriff nicknamed Hurricane (Bill Paxton). Hurricane is hepped-up and convivial--a good ol' boy whose boisterous streak masks a gnawing discomfort. Paxton is a superb actor, and he clues us in early that Hurricane is more complicated than he lets on. (Hurricane doesn't fully recognize his own complications either.)

He has a comfy hometown situation, an adoring family, and yet he has a TV-cop-show-inspired dream of becoming a high-powered L.A. policeman. (Dud and McFeely have a good chortle over that one.) Hurricane is a potentially great character; his policeman's instincts are all screwed up with his media-fed fantasies, and with his racial fantasies too. He's an amalgam of the New South and the Old South, and his predicament bursts the bounds of this tight-fisted melodrama.

'One False Move'

Bill Paxton: "Hurricane" Dixon

Cynda Williams: Fantasia

Billy Bob Thornton: Ray Malcolm

Michael Beach: Pluto

An I.R.S. Releasing presentation. Director Carl Franklin. Producer Jesse Beaton, Ben Myron. Executive producers Miles A. Copeland III, Paul Colichman, Harold Weib. Screenplay Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson. Cinematographer James L. Carter. Editor Carole Kravetz. Costumes Ron Leamon. Music Peter Haycock and Derek Holt. Production design Gary T. New. Art director Dana Torrey. Set decorator Troy Meyers. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (strong violence, language and drug content).

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