New Line // 1992 // 84 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 30th, 2003
Water isn't always safe
It's common knowledge that members of Congress are so full of hot air that if you put a lit match up to their perpetually in motion mouths, you'd turn the Rotunda into a blast furnace. Well, an unnamed terrorist who is angry at these bi-cameral buffoons determines that, by merely giving them a glass of ersatz hydrogen dioxide, you can make them explode like an overly ripe boil. So he wrecks his highball havoc all over D.C. because an arms deal dealt him out of the dinero. After a second Senator discharges like a blood-bloated leech, the FBI calls in their top explosives specialist. Unfortunately, he's still pining away for his ex-wife whiner named Danny O'Neal whose modus operandi is to get pissed off, guess a lot at wire colors, and then hope that his life insurance is paid up. As the liquid pieces start falling into place and more and more officials hydrate themselves into death, O'Neal and his cohorts argue with and antagonize everyone. But wouldn't you know it, adultery and misconduct by members of the nation's legislature tie O'Neal, his Senate spelunking spouse, and a weird Congressmen in a bad Prince Valiant wig together in a romantic triangle that's decidedly non-isosceles -- especially since the terrorist has got to fit into the figure somehow. Will the radical get his financial payback? Or will he have to buy the Evian plant, mass market his volatile Volvic, and threaten the entire bottled water-consuming planet with virgin Molotov cocktails? It's just too bad that O'Neal's desperation can't deaden his aqua Live Wire?
Live Wire could have been such a good action movie. It has one of the most promising and inventive premises in recent memory. The notion of a faux water / boom inducing beverage that causes the ingester to explode in a sort of nuclear spontaneous human combustion is more than ripe for a rip-roaring big screen work out. And Live Wire offers many gloriously gory scenes of people making like potent potable potato bugs in a microwave. But then it fumbles the fun and buries this ingenious plot gem into a narrative made up, primarily, of the main character's interpersonal issues. Our hero can't get over his child's accidental drowning and he is equally ill at ease over his wife's inadvertent Congressional affair. Each and every time we get a little conflagration enjoyment going, just as the non-entity terrorist manages to get another unknowing victim to sip their way into a crazy kaboom, our henpecked FBI irritant shows up and starts whining about being cuckolded. International incidents could be popping off like Fresca firecrackers and all our bomb squad square can concentrate on is the fact that his wife no longer wants to do the double dutch with him. True, the plot does sets it up so that the Senator Mr. Mope's Misses is sharking is at the center of some weaponry flea market gone money mad, but this tryst then total preoccupies the entire film. And after about twenty minutes of O'Neil's "me so horny" histrionics, it becomes insufferable. And that's really too bad. In the hands of a better director, with a less "lost love" oriented screenplay, Live Wire would be a taut, tantalizing thriller. As it stands now, it's an excuse for people with extramarital relationship issues to squander valuable screen time.
Casting also creates its own irritating issues in this movie. Pierce Brosnan is a lot of things -- a suave secret agent, a self deprecating private eye, a rather lanky British dandy -- but he is not a tough talking, cursing a blue streak, MacGyver-in-training bad ass like the film wants us to believe that he is. No matter how gruff the rough accent or spittle addled the swears, Brosnan is just not believable here. Unless he is handling high explosives or ducking for cover, he comes across as reading the lines in the script for the first time in a very self-conscious performance. Nor does Ron Silver come across as a possible Senatorial candidate. Maybe it's the pageboy haircut that makes him look like a middle-aged member of Flock of Seagulls. Maybe it's his dumpy for the sake of doughiness hobbit like stature. Whatever it is, he appears more stocky than cocky when it comes to exuding confidence and authority. Basically, Ronny Sterling sleepwalks through a role he had already somnambulated through in Timecop. And to think, these two horribly miscast actors are the bottom foundation to a three-sided love rendezvous that is supposed to make us feel like caring and having concern for the outcome of all these explosive events. At least Ben Cross acquits himself with his Hans Gruber as villainous void performance, creating a recognizable maniac purely through his own performance skills since the filmmakers fail to even give him a viable identity. The Internet Movie Database says the character's name is Mikhail Rashid. So...he's an Arab? With an Oxford accent? And a Kings Row wardrobe? Whatever you say. But this is typical for Live Wire. It has a wonderful basis for a thriller. It has a good, generic villain. And the effects presentation of the human bottle rockets is very tasty. And then they go and move the entire focus of the movie away from the beverage bombs and bore the audience with marriage counseling malarkey.
The presentation of this DVD by New Line raises a lot of interesting issues, like does anyone really need four different versions of this one movie? Offered on the encoded aluminum disc here are two letterbox and two full frame editions of this film. In either a rated or unrated presentation, you get more Live Wire than you can possibly consume comfortably. Thankfully, there is very little issue with compression as a result of cramming these extra forms of the film onto the recording. The best of the quartet is the unrated widescreen version. You get a little extra gore, a bunch of excess booty time (there is a completely out of place bump and grind between Brosnan and his ex-wife that seems to go on for 20 minutes), and a composition-keeping image that enhances the wonderful action sequences. Sonically, both the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and 5.1 only excel when the bombs are exploding. Otherwise, the channels are relatively silent except for the dialogue-reliant front end. As for additional features, the idea of having a quadraphonic series of viewing options must have seemed like marketing overkill to the manufacturer, as they cut back on anything that would remotely offer insight into the creation of this irrigation inflammation. We do get some trailers and there is supposed DVD-ROM content (this reviewer did not have access to it), but that's all. No behind the scenes sales pitch. No "this is how we did it" commentary track. Just your choice of the same movie sans/plus a couple of seconds and some black bars. Like the less than stellar packaging, the movie Live Wire is gosh darn irksome in the way it is scuttled by misguided ideals. It could have been so good. It could have turned that age-old travel adage "don't drink the water" into an action hero mantra. But instead, it lets you imbibe all the ancillary plot pitchers you want. And all you end up with is a glorious dose of motion picture Montezuma's revenge.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Both R-rated and Unrated Versions of the Film
* DVD-ROM Content