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And Part I of II is now followed by Part II of II, this time about second feature The Negotiator:

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“Mor Theatre,” the ticket said. “Umatilla, Oregon,” it said after that, “50 c,” it said below that, in large green type.

I was holding a paper antique in my hand: a fifty-cent ticket from the Mor Theatre, which sits closed on Sixth Street in Umatilla. Does anyone remember when it closed? I know someone who went to a Grease-Saturday Night Fever double feature there, and that probably was a revival showing 15 or so years ago – in other words, it may have been later than the late 1970s, when these films came out. So it may have been open in the 1980s. Maybe.

But the tickets are still around.

And somewhere along the line, the Hermiston Cinema glommed onto them. Or maybe they were only using them that night, Aug. 28th [1998], when I finally went to the town drive-in to watch two films on that especially large screen. Who knows? I can’t cite earlier local drive-in experience to be sure.

This is simply one of several signs of age at the Hermiston Drive-In. There were other signs of age on Monday the 8th, when the drive-in closed for the season – and, possibly, for good (a story which might be elsewhere in the Hermiston Herald by the time you read this) – with a classic car invitational plus a screening of The Wild One starring Marlon Brando.

It may have lasted longer than the Mor, but it may not outlast the Mor’s tickets. That’s strange. We should want more. (And maybe we also should want Mor – you know, get it back in some useful capacity. But that’s another story for another time.)

Now for the review. Again, like last week, this is just me spouting off on a film I didn’t plan on seeing until it appeared on that big outdoor screen.

There’s that old saying which goes The key is sincerity – if you can fake that, the rest is easy. (And to paraphrase something that someone has said, “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”) Both lines go through my head when working as a reporter, which often consists of hacking through politically-motivated statements to get to what’s most truthful. This added to my reasonable appreciation of The Negotiator, which turned out to be tidier and more interesting than I’d been expecting from its flat-footed ad campaign.

This film makes the point almost immediately that police hostage negotiators have to pull off the sincerity thing in order to save lives – Samuel L. Jackson rescues a hostage while establishing a rapport with the ex-Marine-turned-hostage-taker by claiming to be a Marine himself. Once that’s out of the way, we’re into the plot: Jackson’s partner dies while looking into some sort of office scam, and it looks like Jackson is the scammer. But since he’s the best negotiator in his precinct, he decides to catch his fellow cops off-guard by taking hostages himself, leaving the force without its own properly-trained negotiator in this crisis. (Jackson believes that one of these cops, after all, is behind the frame-up, and he doesn’t know who to trust.) He then demands that Kevin Spacey, a negotiator from another precinct, be brought in to solve the crime and resolve the crisis.

This sure isn’t a late-night film; there’s too much going on, and as I was tired I lost track of the plot until I realized that certain characters had died. (I can be so tired even Desperado won’t keep me awake.)

The Negotiator got made, so I’ve heard, because Jackson and Spacey are friends from way back who had only acted together before in some scenes of A Time To Kill, and they wanted to do some more substantial acting together. So let’s make a movie!

It sure looks good – moody and dark, though when this is viewed on an already dark drive-in screen, the action can get hard to follow. Some of the camera work tries to blend the flowing-and-floating-and-darting cinematography of both The Fugitive – which The Negotiator resembles more than a little bit (both take place in Chicago) – and The Rock. There are even two actors from The Rock, John Spencer and David Morse.

It’s also funnier than I expected, but in a way that fits the mood. Jackson manipulates people for a living, so he knows how to toy with them when it suits him. He knows all the tricks for making hostage takers comfortable, so he also knows just how to make his fellow cops uncomfortable while he waits them out. Before Spacey shows up, no cop on-site is qualified to negotiate, so the cops choose one guy whom Jackson plays with mercilessly.

Still, The Negotiator feels more like a marking-time sort of film – with Jackson seemingly waiting to start his Star Wars Episode I gig while Kevin Spacey hopes that he gets to play Lex Luthor when Superman Lives finally gets made. In other words, beyond the two leads, the energy level isn’t high enough for this to be a thriller. Maybe I’d’ve felt different if The Negotiator had shown first at the drive-in that night and the higher-energy Snakes Eyes had run second.

It’s also bad that this film feels like a marking-time movie, because one of the actors marking time is the late J.T. Walsh. Maybe with the technology filmmakers have now, they can insert his image into future films that they can try to make better.*

Nothing earth-shattering in the column this week. But that’s true of the film, too.

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2009 footnote:
* I didn't know about Pleasantville, J.T. Walsh’s last film, at the time.