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The Sum of All Fears

Starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman
Screenplay by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne
Based on the novel by Tom Clancy
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson

IN SHORT: Jack Ryan, Year One. [Rated PG-13 for Violence, Disaster Images Brief Strong Language. 124 minutes]

From our soon to be apparent in joke files: Whatever it is Jack Ryan has been slipping into his morning coffee, we want some. Lots of it. For while Mr. Ryan has been looking late fifty pushing sixty for his last two movies, astonishingly, he looks barely thirty in The Sum of All Fears which sets the clock hands on Mr. Peabody's Way-Back Machine way way back. Ben Affleck steps into shoes previously filled by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and kicks off what may be the franchise that the Jack Ryan movies always could have been. We know the studio hopes you'll take to Affleck -- he's a helluva lot cheaper than Harrison Ford and he's young enough that he can easily run the series for a good decade, which is about how long it will take to adapt the remaining books in Tom Clancy's series. We know where Ryan will end up. That doesn't mean Clancy can't figure out an extra adventure or two before the inevitable Rise to Power.

The only problem with starting at the very beginning is that Jack Ryan's (Affleck) real gig at CIA headquarters is in the research wing. There, no jacket or tie or personality is required. To call Affleck's performance bland would be kind but then again, that's exactly what it is supposed to be. Yeah, we've read all the books. Yeah, we know Ryan becomes an action figure faster than you can say "huh?" and we expect we'll see Affleck grow into those steps laid down by Ford as Ryan closing in on the end of his career. That being said, you don't have to read the book to follow this adaptation of The Sum of All Fears. The film occasionally jumps from point A to point C but there's nothing so blatant as to require a creative diss on our part.

So here is your loyal reporter, a born and bred New Yorker, sitting in a crowded theater three miles or so from Ground Zero watching a film about nuclear terrorists. How... interesting. With a prolog that explains the loss of an Israeli nuke approximately thirty years ago, The Sum of All Fears rockets into present time as said nuke has been planted to take out President Fowler (James Cromwell) introduced attending a football game with CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) in Baltimore. Our side screams bloody murder. Their side, with a leader whose political foundation is none too secure (Ciarán Hinds as President Aleksandr Nemerov), denies it.

But the nuke was just the first step.

The who and why of the true villain is introduced and dispensed with so quickly that we can't even drop a hint at who it is. In this adaptation, it isn't so much who the bad guy really is as how much they want the United States and Russia to blow each other off the face of the planet and out of the world political arena. Ryan, who had been sent into the field pre-nuke, spends most of the film just a step behind the bad guy as the transformation from nice guy with good spy senses to edge of your seat action hero begins.

Given the utter collapse of the Soviet Union a couple of years back, this kind of head to head political story may carry less weight, still, nukes is nukes and we wouldn't want to see anyone on the receiving end of one. Liev Schreiber (hopefully) joins the new recurring cast as field agent John Clark. Bridget Moynahan is introduced as Ryan's girlfriend, (year one, remember?), and the supporting cast of politicos and agents is filled with top notch talent -- Ron Rifkin, Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall and Alan Bates.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Sum of All Fears, he would have paid . . .


Even knowing it's fiction, you don't want to be squirming in your seat as the fingers of Power dance across The Button. But we did. That's the power of Clancy's story. We're not about to compare Affleck's Ryan to Ford or Baldwin 'cuz that wouldn't be fair since his character is deliberately set as a novice in the world of field ops. We'll lay in if he can't hold up in the next one, and hope for the return of Liev Schreiber (for reasons that will be obvious once you see the film).

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