by Del Harvey
Kiefer Sutherland plays bad guys too well. Here’s hoping that 24 helps him break this stereotype.
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In Desert Saints he plays world class hit man Joe Banks, a professional’s professional. In between jobs he “relaxes” by committing a particular type of signature murder: he kidnaps lost and lonely women and coercing them into helping him on his jobs. Occasionally one will try to run, in which case he shoots her down using one of his trademark bullets. Only problem is that the Feds have picked up on this trademark and are hoping it helps bring him down.
Into this world wanders smart-mouthed loner Bennie (Melora Walters - Magnolia), who fits the profile a little too well, and Banks finds himself struggling not to fall in love with her.
Relentlessly tracking Banks is cop Jamey Sheridan (TV’s Law & Order-Criminal Intent), aided by the attractive and seemingly obsessed Agent Marbury (Leslie Stefanson - The General’s Daughter). Sheridan has a history with Banks which is talked around but never given enough ground to stand on, and so Sheridan comes off as a whining pinhead while Stefanson looks like a starry-eyed fool.
Sutherland plays it hard and cool, and Walters is a good foil. In fact, the entire cast is really too good for this story, by director Richard Greenberg and Wally Nichols, which looks as though it was thrown together while they were driving to the locations. Where the film suffers most is in weak character development. Banks is supposed to be a near-genius, an Ivy Leaguer who discovered his penchant for murder satisfied something dark inside. Yet he allows himself to be misled by several characters without putting up much of a fight. There are several other instances of this type of lazy plot development, none of which are worth mentioning because the sum of the whole is not worth the time it would take to do the math.
Sutherland has done many better low-budget thrillers (Truth or Consequences, N.M., Breakup, The Vanishing, Freeway, etc.), and I heartily recommend any of them over Desert Saints. Melora Walters is a talented and intriguing actress, but there are no opportunities for her to shine here as she did in Magnolia. Her brief topless scene is more sad than scintillating: what could possess any talented actor to buy into such a shoddy script when there are so many other, better opportunities? Jamey Sheridan does better work on a weekly basis in Law & Order-Criminal Intent, and any one episode of that show is a far better use of your time than this film.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He currently lives in Southern California, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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