MOVIE REVIEW : 'Face of Enemy' Loses Soul to Plot Formula

It's probably a mistake to think you can take the conventions of sleazy melodrama and purify them by tacking on serious themes, social consciousness. Sleazy melodrama has its own level of artistry; you can't graft integrity onto it.

In "Face of the Enemy" (at the Monica 4-Plex), a low-budget independent thriller with a "torn from the headlines" plot, the protagonists are a beefy security guard (George DiCenzo) and the terrified Iranian woman (Rosana DeSoto) he ties up and imprisons in his cellar.

The movie isn't done in a tawdry, opportunistic way. It doesn't try much for cheap shocks, dirty shocks or too many shocks of any kind. But there's something tawdry and opportunistic about the set-up. "Face of the Enemy" can't really be a movie of ideas, because it's too tied to its melodramatic plot, and it can't explode the melodrama into any physical or sensual excitement, because it's trying to be tasteful, responsible--even when the security guard is glowering while his victim strips in the bathroom.

The crux of the story is the guard's belief that his captive is an Iranian who interrogated him as a hostage; now he's putting her through the same hell. Director Hassan Ildari loads the movie up with flashbacks to show the guard's obsession, torment, his brooding over pains past. But the movie wilts on its own good intentions, becomes an empty technical exercise.

Ildari, an Iranian immigrant and AFI graduate, also wrote the original story but, together with his Australian screenwriter, Philip Alderton, he's concocted a vision of American life that seems foreign, edgy, empty of any kind of solid, day-to-day routine. The characters, despite good acting by DiCenzo and DeSoto, are figures in a landscape that's never been filled in, trapped in a house that doesn't seem lived in, doomed to keep tumbling into the same obsessive flashbacks and surly interchanges, until the cops or the final credits finally show up.

"Face of the Enemy" (Times-rated Mature for violence and partial nudity) tries to prod us into some soul-searching about the nature of political and personal tyranny. But it can't. The so-called "ideas" can't disguise the sordid plot formulas--and, since these movie makers aren't willing to dive down into the sleaze, they can't give us any real ideas, or emotions, worth keeping.

'FACE OF THE ENEMY'

A Tri-Culture Pictures release. Producers Bruce Gueramian, Elizabeth Lynch Brown, Catherine Rocca. Director Hassan Ildari. Script: Phillip Alderton, Aldari. Camera Peter Indergrand. Production design: Pierluca DiCarlo, Marina Keiser. Music Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh. Editor Toby Brown. Executive producer David Sahakian. With George DiCenzo, Rosana DeSoto.

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