As one of the few people who likes Ben Affleck, I'm happy to see him take over the role of Jack Ryan in this fourth Tom Clancy adaptation. Harrison Ford, who didn't think it was necessary to wake up to play the super-duper CIA analyst, was wont to come to weird decisions like "Jack Ryan wouldn't carry a gun" in A Clear And Present Danger. (For those fortunate enough to have avoided Clancy's turgid prose, the character graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was a marine before going to the CIA, so why wouldn't he carry a gun?)
On the other hand, the filmmakers have definitely gone chicken-shit on villains. The book's evil plot -- build a small nuclear device and blow up the Super Bowl -- is hatched by Islamic terrorists with the help of an out-of-work East German nuclear physicist and is executed by a radical American Indian whose brother has been killed by the FBI.
In the movie, it's -- wait for it -- neo-Nazis, European neo-Nazis, who have the same motivation as the Islamic group in the novel. They want to set the U.S. and the USSR to bombing each other.
You gotta love it when Hollywood liberals start adapting the fiction of a right-winger like Clancy.
The film takes Jack Ryan back to being a young CIA analyst (essentially the same position as Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October) who suddenly finds himself tracking bombs and trying to deal with the Soviets and a government that doesn't trust his analysis. Affleck's as good as the script allows him to be, and Liev Schreiber adds a level of genuine nastiness as Mr. Clark, the CIA assassin.
The problem is that, as thrillers go, The Sum of All Fears doesn't, really. Clancy's better at conveying bureaucratic infighting than large-scale action sequences, but the assumption in L.A. is that it's better to have the large-scale action sequences without showing us any of the reasons for them.
When the studios streamline Clancy's novels for the movies, they tend to become skeletal frameworks for the action scenes. It's hard to say whether they're better or worse than the bloated corpses that are the novels.
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS directed by Phil Alden Robinson, written by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne from the novel by Tom Clancy, produced by Mace Neufeld, with Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Liev Schreiber and Alan Bates. 120 minutes. A Paramount release. Opens Friday (May 31). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 171. Rating: NN