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Movie Review : Plenty of Explosions, but Few Fireworks in 'The Specialist' : PETER RAINER

October 08, 1994|TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Specialist" could have used one. Slovenly, incoherent, hootable, this Sylvester Stallone action thriller is definitely a no yo.

Stallone plays explosives expert Ray Quick, a former CIA operative who is enticed out of his shadowy confines by May Munro (Sharon Stone), a woman he has met only by telephone. As a young girl in Miami, May witnessed the murder of her parents at the hands of the criminal Leon family. Now she seeks pay-back. Insinuating herself into the Leon compound, and into the bed of the family's half-crazed heir apparent Tomas (Eric Roberts), May works with Ray to blow the perpetrators sky high.

If this were all there was to "The Specialist," which was directed by Luis Llosa and scripted by Alexandra Seros, it would be sub-routine--at best. Its only redemption is the world-class scenery chewing of James Woods as Ned Trent, Ray's ex-CIA bomb buddy and now his mortal enemy, and Rod Steiger, playing the Leon of all Leons. These actors know instinctively how to play up cornball villainy. They put on a hell of a show--it's the only way they can keep their self-respect amid all the explosions. (Everything else but the bombs in this movie fails to detonate.)

Stallone is also trying to "deepen" his role. He attempts this by looking sodden and slugged for most of the film. Ray Quick seems eerily out of it for someone who is supposedly a micro-electronic explosives specialist. Is it possible all those booms have knocked out his hearing? If so, he's lucky--he doesn't have to hear all the bad dialogue. (During foreplay--this is after they finally meet face to face--May tells Ray, "I always know you focus your detonator.")

Stallone in his recent films seems to have regressed to the Paleolithic Era--but he's a sensitive caveman. He's also buffed, and, in case we didn't notice, he displays his pecs at every opportunity. In his love scenes with Stone, the emphasis is all on him: It's like watching a Soloflex commercial with little bits of Stone--or, more likely, her body double--peeking through the musculature.

Stone once again misjudges her talents. Cast as a predator in "Basic Instinct," she was deliciously tart. But as "Sliver" so amply demonstrated, Stone loses her edge when cast as a victim, and essentially that's what she's playing here too. She's not even allowed a chance to explore May's victimization. What does May think about sleeping with the man who murdered her parents? Apparently, it's not so hot but, hey, sometimes you gotta do these things, no?

In contrast to Stallone's lunkiness and Stone's glaceed blankness, Woods seems to be having a high old time acting vehement. Nobody can do ferrety sleazoids better than Woods. He's perfectly cast as a demolition expert because, in general, he always acts like there's a bomb about to go off underneath him. He's turned the hotfoot into an acting style, and his line deliveries are as charged as a string of firecrackers.

As for Steiger, he appears to be delighting himself with his ornate Cuban accent. His crime lord is a courtly asp who can turn murderous in a blink. By contrast, Eric Roberts seems to be taking the whole thing much too seriously. He's made the mistake of trying to preserve his actor's integrity by reaching for depth. In "The Specialist," that's tantamount to high-platform diving into an empty pool.

Come to think of it, that describes the entire movie.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, sexuality and language. Times guidelines: It includes lots of explosions and dismemberments and some frontal nudity. 'The Specialist'

Sylvester Stallone: Ray Quick

May Munro: Sharon Stone

James Woods: Ned Trent

Rod Steiger: Joe

A Warner Bros. presentation of a Jerry Weintraub production. Director Luis Llosa. Producer Jerry Weintraub. Executive producers Steve Barron & Jeff Most and Chuck Binder. Screenplay by Alexandra Seros. Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball. Editor Jack Hofstra. Music John Barry. Production design Walter Martishius. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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