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MURDER AT 1600 (1997)
When the body of a young female staffer, Carla Town, is found in a White House washroom, D.C. Homicide Cop, Harlan Regis is called in by Alvin Jordan, National Security Advisor, to put the pieces together and catch the elusive killer, despite the huge barriers put up by others.
"He's a D.C. cop on the outside. She's a Secret Service agent on the inside."
"Tracking a White House homicide to the First Family's front door - This address changes all the rules."
While a crisis with North Korea confronts President Neil (Ronny Cox), as they hold 13 American soldiers hostage, a woman mopping a washroom in the White House finds Carlas body in a pool of blood. Detective Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes), and his side kick, Detective Steve Stenge (Dennis Miller) are assigned to this case, to investigate this grisly murder, despite the fact that their investigation is hampered by a lack of cooperation by the Head of White House Secret Service Security, Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali), who not only refuses to let Detective Harlan view the security tapes, but has his agents take most of the evidence from the dead womans apartment as well, freezing her phone records, etc. making all evidence classified. The generous Mr. Spikings does give Harlan a liaison agent, Nina Chance (Diane Lane), assigned to them, to keep an eye on their investigation.
However, Harlan is a pretty sharp fellow, with great hunches, and finds some evidence that the Secret Service missed in Carla Town's apartment, which he uses to his advantage, as he puts two and two together and consequently leads him to other insights, allowing him to get deeper into his investigation. When an innocent floor scrubber, Cory Allen Luchessi (Tony Nappo) is accused of the dastardly deed because of planted evidence, Harlan immediately suspects a cover-up, and confronts Nina on what she knows, and indirectly influences her to get some evidence needed to continue the investigation. Harlan says to Agent Chance, "Nina, if I were you, I don't know what I would do. But, I couldn't live with myself if an innocent man is put away for something he didn't do."
Because Nina got Harlan some needed information, they start working together on this case. As they get closer to the truth, they find themselves in trouble. Trying to keep one step ahead of the bad guys, they steadily continue to figure out who was truly behind the murder, and why it was done. They do get unexpected help from various sources which leads to the identification of the bad guys, which is a complete surprise to the audience, until the exciting ending of the film.
This entertaining action - murder mystery screenplay was written by Wayne Beach and the late David Hodgin. The script could've used one more rewrite to make it a truly fabulous story, but the screenplay is still a solid, very good "who-done-it". The audience is kept guessing from the very beginning, with many possible suspects and motives, which are all explored by Harlan. Like all great murder mysteries, the screenplay has misdirections, twists and turns in the plot, which keeps the characters and the audience alike guessing, great action sequences, as well as good detective work by our courageous heroes and heroine, and is all brought together nicely with an exciting surprise ending.
The fine direction, by Dwight H. Little, keeps things tight and well-paced.
The casting, by murder mystery experts, Amanda Johnson and Cathy Sandrich, is top-notch, and brings the screenplay alive to fulfill its potential.
I enjoyed seeing Wesley Snipes play a sharp, tenacious, stalwart detective, that not only finds himself being kept on his toes mentally by this difficult case, with plenty of opposition and bad guys to deal with, but also has a secondary personal problem concerning his apartment building, that was scheduled to be torn down. He must find a way to convince The Inner-State Commerce Commission not to tear down his apartment building for their parking lot because the entire building's occupants are counting on him to stop it. Besides this, he has a huge display of various Battles of the Civil War done in diahrama form in his living room. "It's cheaper than a shrink," he tells Agent Nina Chance.
Diane Lane does a great job playing Nina Chance, a Secret Service agent with a gift for sharp shooting, who is torn between doing her job, as defined by her boss, Nick Spikings, and doing what is right. She winds up doing both by the end of the film. One of my favorite suspenseful scenes is when Agent Chance takes the plunge and gets the needed information for Harlan's investigation.
Lane and Snipes had pretty good chemistry in their scenes together. Refreshingly, there was no effort to have the typical love relationship between Harlan and Agent Chance. It was strictly a professional relationship, as they covered each other, and worked together as a team, to bring the bad elements to justice, end their planned mischief, and uncover the conspiracy just in time.
I also enjoyed Daniel Benzali's performance, as the arrogant, menacing Head of White House Security, Nick Spikings, who deeply resents Detective Harlan's investigation efforts, and is by nature a real cranky, hard-headed pill to deal / work with - Any employee's nightmare.
Dennis Miller does a pretty good job being Snipes' sidekick, and adds some humor to the script. He has good chemistry with Snipes, a nice contrast to Snipes' straight arrow character. It would've been nice to have more of him in the story.
Alan Alda, as Alvin Jordan, National Security Advisor, continues to surprise me at his versatility as an actor. He can do well in diverse roles, and isn't afraid to stretch himself creatively.
Murder At 1600 is rated R because of the risqué opening scenes of the film, the finding of the body, some salty language, and the action sequences. It is a most enjoyable film for the over 17 crowd.