short takes (2)

Some critics take a lot of notes while the movie is still on the screen. This can be helpful to the memory, but it can make you miss a lot of the picture. Does this explain why some reviewers raved about Blow Out without mentioning the interminable dull stretches, full of pointless dialogue and predictable plot twists? Maybe we should all bring pencils along, and fill in the lulls by jotting our observations, or at least doodling a little.

Aside from the boring parts, "Blow Out" is a mixed bag. John Travolta is more mature than usual as the main character, a sound-effects technician who turns crime-buster after accidentally recording a political assassination. The supporting roles are capably handled. But the real star of the show is filmmaker Brian De Palma, the thriller specialist whose work ranges from the bravura fantasy of "The Fury" to the hokey bombast of "Dressed to Kill."

This time he keeps his worst instincts under control, limiting the shock effects to a few brief sequences, and managing not to imitate his favorite chillers too blatantly. While he avoids the overstuffed horrifics and Hitchcock quotations of his weaker pictures, though, he never quite finds the inspiration that would give "Blow Out" a life independent of such distinguished predecessors as "Blow-Up" and "The Conversation." It's a solidly made movie, with moments of keen emotional effect. But its story and situations are a little too derivative to pass muster, despite the fascinating n ew forms De Palma works so hard to fashion for them.

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