Ben Affleck is dealt in as Jack Ryan in 2002’s THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, the fourth movie to feature Tom Clancy’s character. This is based on the 1991 novel of the same name and has been variously described as a reboot of the series and the fourth movie in a series, but that hardly seems to matter. You don’t have to have seen PATRIOT GAMES, for example, to get into this.

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS is directed by Phil Alden Robinson, who directed and wrote FIELD OF DREAMS. Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne are credited with the screenplay of this Clancy adaptation and the author was not a fan. Once again, he felt critical details were omitted. Go figure.

THE SUMS OF ALL FEARS introduces us to Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), a billionaire from Austria who wants to procure a nuke because he wants to start a war. He figures if he drops the bomb, war will come between the Russians and Americans and his fascist dictatorship can step into the vacuum and rule with its pallid fist.

CIA analyst Ryan (Affleck) is pressed to work for the Director of the CIA (Morgan Freeman) at trying to figure out just what in the hell is going on. He investigates the Russians and trusts President Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds). This irks the American President (James Cromell). Things come to a head when things go boom in Baltimore and the world is on the brink of catastrophe.

Now, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS has big ideas. Blowing the crap out of an American city is something generally left to careless superheroes and their heinous counterparts, at least these days. In 2002, just months shy of the events of September 11, watching Baltimore go down can’t have led to many good feelings.

That THE SUM OF ALL FEARS takes such a big risk is the product of being made before the events of 2001, but it still gives Robinson’s movie an eerie resonance even now. The scene in question is searing and almost otherworldly. The characters walk through it in a daze. Ryan walks through it like a fragmented idiot with too many right answers.

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS is the weakest of the Ryan movies so far and that’s largely because Affleck is so uninspiring. He’s “cute,” we’re told, but who the hell cares? When you spend most of the film wishing it was Harrison Ford or even Alec Baldwin sucking up to Nemerov, you know there’s an issue.

Affleck’s not a bad actor, but he’s outdone every time he’s on screen and he’s just far too goddamn young to be taken seriously. Baldwin was garden-fresh when he went against Connery on the submarine in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but he had at least a sense of misdirected gravity. Affleck’s “aw shucks” routine leaves him wobbling in the dust of such pressing events.

Freeman is always good and the character actors’ stock is strong enough, plus the plot moves at a fair click, and the action scenes are sharp if undistinguished. There’s nothing like the sheer awesomeness of PATRIOT GAMES’ opening volley, but it’s not an altogether terrible movie either. Any time you can take a good whack at fascists is cool by me, even if this is on the lacklustre side.

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