“The Sum of All Fears” is a quaint film. It makes the Russians bad guys, and uses Nazis (well, neo-Nazis) as foils, too. It’s about a nuclear bomb. The technology and the presence of Ben Affleck will assure you of its modernity, but otherwise, you’d swear you were watching a dour, forgotten James Bond flick.
In fact, it is the latest Tom Clancy story centering on CIA agent Jack Ryan (previously played once by Alec Baldwin and twice by Harrison Ford). Jack is now much younger and does not have a family; instead, he has a girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan) who is a nurse and who does not know what Jack’s real job is. She thinks he’s a historian, and she wonders what historical emergency could possibly beckon him so early in the morning.
Jack is an expert on the new Russian president (Ciaran Hinds), who seems to be making threatening overtures in the direction of the United States. Simultaneously, a nuclear bomb lost during a 1972 Israeli-Egyptian conflict has found its way onto the black market. Russian scientists seem to be missing, too, apparently constructing a secret bomb. It all connects — or occasionally doesn’t, which is not to the movie’s credit — and Jack Ryan’s in the middle of it.
The heart and soul of the film is Morgan Freeman as CIA director John Cabot. When he is no longer a strong presence in the film, his absence is felt. I am not a knee-jerk Ben Affleck detractor — I think he’s a good actor when he wants to be — but he’s lost here. His role is underwritten; he seems like a guest star in his own film. He gets beaten up once, and that’s about the extent of his action-hero maneuvers.
Freeman, meanwhile, is cool and respectable. I don’t know why this Oscar-nominated actor keeps doing meaningless stuff like this (he was just in the Ashley Judd non-thriller “High Crimes”), but in a way I’m glad. If the choice is between Freeman in garbage and Freeman in nothing, I’ll take the Freeman in garbage.
Not that “The Sum of All Fears” is garbage. It does a few major things right, like the finely overwrought war-room sequence these movies always have, with serious actors like James Cromwell and Philip Baker Hall and Bruce McGill saying things like, “We can’t bomb the Russians, dammit!” There’s also a spectacular and harrowing sequence in which a football stadium is bombed, though it may be that such an event with real-life counterparts ought to be treated with soberness and terror, not reduced to a throwaway plot point like it is here.
Surely this is the least of the Jack Ryan films (“The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” being the other three). Its climax is dull — beware of films that think people typing at computers is exciting — and there is little of wit or style anywhere to be found. Thirty years ago, it would have been groundbreaking. Now it’s just tired.
C+ (; )