Ethics & Public Policy Center

Most Wanted

Published in EPPC Online on October 1, 1997



Most Wanted, directed by David Glenn Hogan, is not without signs of talent, and it has one or two finely managed scenes. I especially liked the one where Keenen Ivory Wayans in the role of James Dunn, a stock innocent con on the lam (and boy is he innocent! he only got put in jail in the first place because he refused a superior officer’s order to murder a ten year old boy) takes the stock pretty woman (Jill Hennessy) hostage and asks her if she lives alone. “No!” she replies quickly. “I have a boyfriend. He’s a cop!”

“You don’t have a boyfriend,” says the man.

“How do you know that?”

“Because there are five empty cartons of Haagen Dazs in the trash, your legs are stubbly and you haven’t touched up the grey in your hair.”

Even better, for an action movie, is the scene in which the real bad guys, the stock millionaire industrialist (Robert Culp) and the stock out-of-control right-wing general (Jon Voight), decide that the best way to capture the stock innocent con on the lam (who is rapidly gathering evidence of their stock fiendish plots) is to offer a $10 million reward. We see him being recognized on the street by one, two, three people, and suddenly a whole mob of ordinary folk, from kids to grannies, is chasing him down the street. It is also rather clever that he gets out of this one by running across a busy freeway at considerable risk to his own life but drawing the determined mob after him, causing huge pile-ups in the process. This is the kind of thing that action movies ought to do.

Yet, as the careful reader may have gathered, the number of stock characters and situations is such that it is impossible to take the film seriously—except as yet another unfortunate indication of the growing tolerance for sheer paranoia in the popular culture. At one point, after the first lady has been assassinated for reasons that make no sense, the investigating authorities call on any citizen who may have been filming or taping the scene at the time to bring their films or tapes in. “Yeah, right!” says one of the audience watching the TV announcement. “You know that everybody who witnessed the Kennedy assassination is dead; if I had a tape, I’d burn it.”

This kind of attitude seems to partake of the various conspiracy theories with which the black community, especially, has been awash for years (such as that AIDS was developed by government scientists specifically to kill black people), and it is implicit in every frame of this film. What price we as a nation shall have to pay somewhere down the road for the incessant teaching of the popular culture that the government and the corporate world are controlled by ruthless killers one can only guess. But in the meantime, it is up to the voices of sanity and common sense to call the attention of people to what the conspiracy-mongers are selling, and what shoddy goods they are, and not allow it all to be dismissed as “just a movie.”

As the X-files puts it: “The truth is out there.”

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