As "The Hidden" (citywide) opens, a neatly dressed man (Chris Mulkey) holds up a bank, hops in a black Ferrari 308 and leads the L.A. Police Department on a long and totally reckless chase. This destruction derby is just a taste of things to come, for this action thriller is as unstintingly violent as it is crudely ingenious.
Its sheer energy and imagination are seductive but finally the awesome body count becomes a turnoff. Director Jack Sholder, who did "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2," and writer Bob Hunt have set up an entertainment clever enough to snag us, but they can't seem to resist going all out in appealing to the lowest common denominator. "The Hidden" has enough smarts that it doesn't need to be so total and unrelieved a massacre. The caustic dark humor with which it begins ends up drowning in an ocean of blood.
Mulkey is just the first of a group of law-abiding types, including a stunning stripper (Claudia Christian) and even a pet dog, who mysteriously turn into robot-like mass killers whose appetites, whether for fancy cars, sex or food, must be gratified immediately--the consequences of delay are dire in the extreme. However, so many people are likely to flock to this film that there's no point in giving away its gimmick; it suffices to say that it's appropriately gruesome.
LAPD detective Tom Beck (the rugged, mature Michael Nouri) reluctantly teams up with FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (pale, boyish Kyle MacLachlan), who seems a little weird, especially when Beck takes him home to dinner. Even so, Gallagher clearly knows more about what's going on than he's prepared to reveal to Beck. MacLachlan, to whom seeming strange must come easily in the wake of "Blue Velvet" and "Dune," and Nouri offer an amusing contrast to each other, and there's the larger contrast of Nouri's solid, normal domestic life and the nightmare that's beginning to engulf the city.
There's no denying that "The Hidden" (MPAA-rated: R) looks great and moves like a tornado. It even ends on a quiet note of touching self-sacrifice, but by then you may find yourself too numb to care.
'THE HIDDEN' A New Line Cinema/Heron Communications presentation of a Robert Shaye production in association with Mega Entertainment and Michael Meltzer. Executive producers Stephen Diener, Lee Muhl, Dennis Harris, Jeffrey Klein. Producers Robert Shaye, Gerald T. Olson, Michael Meltzer. Director Jack Sholder. Screenplay Bob Hunt. Camera Jacques Haitkin. Music Michael Convertino. Production designers C. J. Strawn, Mick Strawn. Special effects makeup Kevin Yagher. Film editor Michael Knue. With Michael Nouri, Kyle MacLachlan, Ed O'Ross, Clu Gulager, Claudia Christian, Clarence Felder, William Boyett, Richard Brooks, Catherine Cannon, Larry Cedar, John McCann, Chris Mulkey.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).