High-octane paranoia


Enemy of the State" is about violence and video, among other fashionable topics.

A rogue security agent (Jon Voight) kills a congressman who's showing too much concern for civil liberties, and it's all caught on videotape by an unwitting wildlife expert.

Dumped into the hands of an easygoing attorney (Will Smith) who doesn't even know he has it, this deadly piece of evidence becomes what Alfred Hitchcock would call the "McGuffin" of the movie - an object that's uninteresting in itself, but gives the characters something to chase and fight over until it's time for the grand finale.

Two qualities separate "Enemy of the State" from the current Hollywood crop. One is its success in spinning out action so explosively energetic that you scarcely have time to notice how preposterous the story is, how thin the characters are, or how the picture pounds at your senses until it's hard to say whether they belong to you or the Disney technicians who cooked up the spectacle.

The other is its paranoid view of the United States government and, more sweepingly, the awesome technologies the Feds allegedly use or misuse. If you're targeted like our hero, sinister gizmos will make your private life public and your public life an on-the-run nightmare.

The movie has a lot of power, in a roller coaster sort of way, thanks to director Tony Scott, who gives it a sense of half-crazed commitment that many of his thrillers sadly lack.

The cast also works wonders with material that often borders on the idiotic, especially Smith and the marvelous Gene Hackman, who deserves an Oscar nomination even though he's only in a fraction of the story.

* Rated R; contains violent action and four-letter words. David Sterritt's e-mail address is

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