The Deal

on June 17, 2005 by Mark Keizer
If there ever comes a time when the Confederacy of Arab States declares war on an America suffering through a $6-a-gallon gas crisis, "The Deal" will be the least interesting story to emerge from the conflict. An energetic if mechanical effort timed to take advantage of consumer anger at rising gas prices, the movie is not prepared to tackle its subject in any meaningful way. It wants to echo the paranoid thrillers of the '70s, but the Ruth Epstein script hews too closely to the genre's worst conventions and, let's face it, any thriller starring Christian Slater is not going to light up the multiplexes. The result is hardly a complete meltdown: Director Harvey Kahn strings together more than a few professionally rendered sequences. But until Oliver Stone snaps up the remake rights, we're stuck with a middling film too timid to really push some buttons.

In the not-too-distant future, Tom Grover (Slater) is a Wall Street hotshot called upon to complete a billion-dollar oil deal after the original negotiator is mysteriously murdered. The deal involves the $20 billion sale of a Russian oil concern called Black Star (any company called Black Star must be evil) to an American oil corporation run by uber-CEO Jared Tolson (Robert Loggia). Tolson is the kind of tough-talking cover story exec who chats regularly with the Secretary of State and, by the way, the Sheik is on Line 1. The country needs Black Star's oil badly, since gas prices are topping $6 a gallon and drilling on American soil is still politically incorrect. And with America involved in a never-explained war with the Confederacy of Arab States, the price of gas is a top government priority.

In an unrelated deal that soon works in Tom's professional and sexual favor, Abbey Gallagher (Selma Blair) is an Ivy League eco-nut who joins Tom's firm in order to push through an alternative energy tax bill. When that falls apart, the two join forces as Black Star is caught promising oil from dry wells, which can only mean the creatively uninspired participation of the Russian Mafia.

"The Deal" features a good supporting cast. Aside from the always-welcome Loggia, John Heard plays Abbey's college mentor and Colm Feore is all sinew and steel as Tom's boss. Angie Harmon scores negative points as a sex goddess chasing after Tom, until she reveals her true motives by breaking out in a chuckle-inducing Russian accent. Slater and Blair make a good team, but they seem more like two crazy kids on an adventure rather than rock-steady financial professionals navigating dangerous waters. Blair takes the whole affair a bit less seriously then all the humorless middle-aged white guys, which works to her advantage. At least she's fun to watch.

The film is well shot by Adam Sliwinski, while the Christopher Lennertz score, minus the bad needledrop music, gives the movie a bigscreen feel. Richard Schwadel goes to his bag of editing tricks too often, but he does put together a well-timed climax. It looks as if Sliwinski and Kahn ran around Manhattan for one day shooting b-roll, ultimately used for montages to convince us we're in New York. (The film was shot mostly in Vancouver.)

With its convoluted Wall Street machinations, "The Deal" features too much macho bloviating. Until Abbey's life hangs in the balance, we're not given any reason to care whether the transaction happens or not. It all seems vitally important to the characters, but not particularly important to the audience. So ultimately, the movie fails to get the viewer into any sort of lather regarding how the government provides its citizens with oil. Compounding the problem is that since buying our oil from the Russian Mafia is not realistic, the movie doesn't even work as a cautionary tale or "what if?". At one point, a character opines that America doesn't care how it gets its oil, as long as it's cheap and plentiful. If that's true, what do we need "The Deal" for? Starring Christian Slater and Selma Blair. Directed by Harvey Kahn. Written by Ruth Epstein. Produced by David Leuschen, Mark Shafir and Christian Slater. A Front Street release. Thriller. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 112 min

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