The top-billed star in 1978’s “Superman” wasn’t the guy who played Superman, Christopher Reeve. It wasn’t even Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. It was Marlon Brando, playing Superman’s father Jor-El for about ten minutes in a two and a half hour movie. That works out to the star of the film appearing on screen for just 7% of the runtime. That was always my gold-standard of disproportionate credits… until I watched this week’s selection from our new direct-to-DVD column: “Enemies Among Us,” which “stars” Billy Zane in what is basically a glorified cameo.
According to my completely unscientific calculations, the top-billed Zane appears onscreen for just three and a half minutes of this seventy-five minute movie, between 4 and 5% of the runtime. He has just one long scene; long relative to his other appearances, which are brief pop-ins during the opening credits and a pre-end credits montage. He has less than 20 lines. That’s like Bill Murray getting top billing for his one scene in “Zombieland,” or selling “The Hurt Locker” as a movie starring Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.
Before I forget, that brings us to
I just don’t know. Then again, Zane just made more money for three and a half minutes of screentime than a lot of folks make in a year. So it’s not all bad. Let’s get to the movie.
“Enemies Among Us” (2010)
Directed by Dan Garcia
Tweetable Plot Synopsis: The corrupt governor of Louisiana kills a hooker-slash-assassin; a morally conflicted cop debates whether or not to cover it up.
Salable Elements: The aforementioned Zane, plus supporting (but far larger) roles by Eric Roberts and Robin Givens and one impressive shot of a car exploding.
Biggest Success: “Enemies Among Us” achieves the sort of timeliness that only happens by chance. The film establishes the corruption of Louisiana Governor Chip Majors (James DuMont) at a press conference where he boasts that his state has “for years been a pioneer in off-shore drilling” and announces a new Aphrodite drill platform. Later, a reporter presses an equally slimy Presidential candidate about “cozy relationships with Big Oil that have cost this nation dearly.” Writer/director Dan Garcia is maybe the only guy benefiting from the BP oil spill. Without it, these references would look as shamelessly didactic as the rest of his attempts at topicality, which include characters motivated by mortgage foreclosures, and bankruptcies, and subplots about waterboarding and campaign finance violations. This is a movie about police officers, government officials, journalists, homemakers, terrorists and intelligence agents who all talk exactly the same: like indignant political pundits.
Biggest Failure: Besides the film’s inability to deliver on the promise of Billy Zane in a prominent role? That would be the film’s inability to go more than a scene without at least one brazenly cliched bit of dialogue. There’s too many to pick just one example, so let’s pick five favorites:
5)“I’m gonna kick ass and take names!” Rowdy Roddy Piper was making fun of this line back in 1988. That was 22 years ago. Piper’s line from “They Live” can legally drink now. Time to update this one.
4)“If it blows up, it’s on you!” You know why I hate corrupt cops? No sense of personal responsibility.
3)“I got some very important therapy for your sexy ass.” How many times have we heard this one before? Okay, never. But it’s such a hilarious line — especially coming out of the mouth of dirty cop Eric Roberts — that I had to figure out a way to include it in this piece. I know you’ll understand.
2)“I– I– I can explain!” Yes, it’s a little of the old wackety-schmackety, as Louisiana State Police Officers Taylor (Griffin Hood) and Cobbs (Roberts) walk in on Governor Majors as he strangles a prostitute to death. But it’s not what it looks like! You see the prostitute — that Majors has apparently visited with on numerous occasions — is actually an assassin-for-hire, working with a cabal of other mercenaries who have been hired by North Korea to kill Majors. Majors, in other words, has very bad taste in prostitutes. To his credit, that does sort of explain things, though it still doesn’t square why Majors would take time out from what he describes as “the biggest day of my life,” securing endorsements and campaign donations from wealthy elites, to sleep with a hooker.
1)“This is so far above your pay grade you can’t even imagine!” Movie heroes are always working above their pay grade. Just once I would like someone in a movie to adequately paid for the job they’re required to do. “It’s a good thing you’re here Johnson! This a job that calls for someone of your job description and approximate wage.”
Best Moment: Eric Roberts, responding to an offer of a bribe in exchange for disappearing the dead prostitute’s body, by making this face:
A close runner up to The Eric Roberts Surprise Face in the Best Moment category comes from Robin Givens, playing a cruel CIA agent who tortures a guy for information for the entire film, threatening her interrogation subject by randomly telling him “You leave me no option! You have wasted my time! Do you realize that I have missed an entire season of ‘Ugly Betty?'” That one was so out of left field, I actually made the Eric Roberts Surprise Face myself.
(By the way, nobody tell Robin Givens that “Ugly Betty” is canceled. There’s really no telling what she could do. We’re just now patching up our relations with the countries of the Middle East; we don’t need anymore war atrocities.)
Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Definitely not. The tired dialogue is really just the tip of the iceberg of “Enemies Among Us”‘ problems, including bad effects, go-nowhere subplots, and camera shots and angles that are, at best, poorly chosen, and, at worst, totally out of focus. It’s also not entirely clear who this movie is about: with the headliner nowhere to be seen, the de facto protagonist becomes Hood’s Officer Taylor, who the movie at least tries to give a backstory (his sister has breast cancer and needs money for treatment, which gives him a reason to seriously consider the governor’s bribe offer). The character with the most scenes, though, is actually the villain, Governor Majors, and there’s also a lengthy (and narratively irrelevant) “60 Minutes”-style interview with a powerful senator (Steven Bauer). This movie needs characters who make conversation, not points. And at least one of them should have been played by Billy Zane.
For Further Viewing: One YouTube user’s tribute to the greatness of The Zane. It’s a minute longer than his entire contribution to “Enemies Among Us.”
[Photos: “Enemies Among Us,” Phase 4 Films, 2010]