Sony // 2002 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 8th, 2003
This Time, Her First Shot Could Be Her Last
Alex McGregor has, unfortunately, seen it all before. Two years earlier, militia groups angry about the policies of President Jonathan Hayes (and with the institution of the Federal Government in general) kidnapped his young daughter while she was on a hiking trip. Alex, with the help of a backwoods tracker named Grant, rescued the First Daughter and saved the day. Then an elaborate plot was hatched to concoct the perfect assassination of the world leader. Again, Alex saved the day. Now the angry activists are back again, and want to settle the score. This time they double up on their targets. First they breach the military from the inside. After a bombing on an Oregon Army base, an older and wiser President Hayes arrives to make a speech. And Special Agent Alex McGregor is again along for protection. During the televised memorial service, there is gunfire. President Hayes is struck and left in critical condition. McGregor is grazed and immediately starts looking for clues. She traces the act of terrorism to the same group responsible for the previous abduction and it appears that these rebels have more than a coup d'état in mind. They may also want retribution for those fellow members killed years before. And the person responsible for their loss/anger beside the Commander in Chief? The agent-in-charge back then -- none other than Alex McGregor.
For most of its 90 minutes, First Shot manages to be a taut, intense political thriller, offering a realistic tale of terrorists targeting the President, his family, and those around him. Not so much a sequel to 1999's First Daughter (leaving the Darryl Hannah starring First Target aside for now) as a continuation of said storyline, we are treated to a logical next act to the events that played out previously, offered in a manner that stands up on its own as a very good action film. The first act, in particular, is superb. It provides unexpected twists and turns, plus enough in-depth police procedural work to sell the truth of the movie. Even if the villains are merely buzzwords, they still come across as menacing and meaning business. However, it's about the time when these angry nationalists turn their terrorism on Alex and her new backwoods hubby that the movie starts to stumble a little. Up until then the motives of the militia were clear-cut, and their methodology precise and powerful. But the minute the whole "you killed my brothers" bravado starts spewing from the mouth of the main militant, the movie loses its focus and turns maudlin and melodramatic. Killers who before were cold blooded and efficient turn convoluted and expository as they have to make sure that everyone -- the other cast members, the passersby, the awake members of the audience -- clearly and convincingly understand the messy motives for their sudden penal punishment procrastination. Thankfully, the movie pulls itself up by the bootstraps and straightens out enough to render a meaningful, matter of fact style ending, which completely satisfies. First Shot is far from perfect. But when surrounded by other lame as LBJ made for TV treacle, it stands out as a well crafted bit of political intrigue.
The casting is first rate. Mariel Hemingway does an especially good job of playing vulnerable and tough within the same lithe frame. This role seems custom made for her (even though, as said before, it was essayed by Darryl Hannah once) and it would not be a surprise to see it turned into more of a franchise, with several further adventures of Alex McGregor offered down the line. Doug Savant is also engaging, if just a tad whiny, as the outdoorsy new husband Grant. True, his wife's busy schedule and duty to the nation has caused them to miss a few planned trips to Cancun for a honeymoon, but by the fifth time he mentions it, you want to buy him a frozen margarita and a chimichanga and simply tell him to shut up. Most of the other cast members are sketches, characters obviously created to have minimal impact at present, but more than capable of full fledged fleshing out the minute these movies go to series. It would be nice to learn more about the President's new girlfriend (played with nice quiet dignity by Wanda Cannon). She seems so devoted to her man and yet torn by the huge loss of privacy that loving him requires that the private battle between her personal, professional, and public feelings warrant further exploration. Surprisingly, the flattest characters are the bad guys themselves. Fanatical to the point of being hugely flawed, we never get the chance to accept or understand their hatred for the United States beyond the Pavlovian response one has to the term "militia." It's little things like this that keeps First Shot mired in its broadcast bandwidth barriers. The fact that it manages to exceed them time and time again to create a compelling drama is a credit to director Armand Mastroianni and screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes. They fashion a first class thriller out of what usually are coach accouterments.
Columbia TriStar offers First Shot is a beautiful 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that shows off the Northwestern locales spectacularly. There is no compression or digital defecting in this transfer, and all the colors are crisp and clear. Sonically, the Dolby Digital 2.0 is average, offering nothing exceptional in the aural presentation. There is very little ambient noise, what action scenes there are do not make good use of the separation, and the not ready for prime time soundtrack is overly dramatic, emphasized as it is in the audio mix. We then get a set of trailers that run the gamut from Hollywood hoopla to direct to video drivel. Maybe a behind the scenes featurette would have been nice, a way of giving those without information on the first two installments of this series a little background on what proceeded and how the actors approached reprising their roles. Since there is almost non-stop reference to the events in First Daughter and First Target, some context was definitely needed here. Still, what is offered is a professional, plausible, and completely enjoyable thriller, simply packaged, which never tries to overextend itself or flaunt its conventions. Suspenseful and satisfying, it's proof that when approached in an intelligent and honest manner, even the most maligned genres of film can come alive on the small screen. First Shot is first rate.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13