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TV Reviews : 'Enemy Within' a '90s 'Seven Days in May'

August 20, 1994|RAY LOYND

It's been 30 years since the thriller "Seven Days in May" spun its suspenseful tale of a U.S. military coup threatening to topple a politically shaky White House.

Now get ready for the remake, HBO's "The Enemy Within," which effectively updates the novel (by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II) and screen adaptation (by Rod Serling) into a military coup for the '90s.

Set in the late 1990s, the Pentagon is chafing under dwindling budgets and lost influence, and a liberal President (Sam Waterston) with a popularity rating of 28% is about to veto a defense appropriation bill and redirect the money to social programs.

The remarkable similarity between this besieged chief executive and President Clinton is not coincidental. It's also part of the fun. Waterston's President Foster even has the nation's first female chief of staff (the no-nonsense Dana Delany).

The production's star and unlikely hero is Forest Whitaker as a loyal, by-the-book officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who stumbles across plans on his computer for a covert military takeover of the government. The ultimate patriot, Whitaker grows into the ultimate whistle-blower.

Chief villain, among many jackals surrounding the President in and out of his Cabinet, is Jason Robards as the nefarious head of the Joint Chiefs, who makes a good traitor by affecting a kind of Oliver North sincerity.

The screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan and Ron Bass, despite irrelevant domestic scenes that dog the plot, is essentially faithful to the ever-timely idea of John Frankenheimer's 1964 movie while also mirroring the world's changes since that time.

Although this conspiracy yarn may have lost its freshness, the strength of the movie lies in its gathering acceleration and a knockout finale in the Oval Office.

* "The Enemy Within" premieres at 8 tonight on HBO.

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