Above Suspicion
directed by Steven Schacter
(Rysher Entertainment, 1995)

For 15 years, Dempsey Kane has been the perfect cop. Now he's planning the perfect crime.

Or so we're led to believe in Above Suspicion, a 1995 cops-and-more-cops film starring Christopher Reeve and Joe Mantegna as two police investigators whose very different methods lead them to very different conclusions.

Reeve stars as Kane, who's not only the perfect cop, but the perfect dad and perfect husband, while Mantegna does his usual brooding turn as Alan Rhinehart, an intuitive investigator who lacks formal training and a life, but whose hunches are eerily on target.

The two of them might well have gone on forever agreeing to disagree were it not for two things: Kane's discovery that his younger brother, Nick, is entertaining his otherwise-perfect wife with something other than family anecdotes, and a drug raid in which Kane is disabled, paralyzed from the waist down.

At this point, Above Suspicion, which begins as a fairly typical detective film and evolves briefly into an action-adventure flick, suddenly turns itself into a kind of inside-out version of the 1944 classic Double Indemnity.

In that film, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray bump off Stanwyck's husband to collect on the insurance policy MacMurray sold them. In Above Suspicion, the plot sickens as Kane, depressed by his career-ending injury, takes out the policy himself and tries to convince his wife and brother to collect on it.

In theory, all of this could work fine, but in reality, Above Suspicion is barely above average, for a number of reasons.

First, it lacks the emotional intensity with which Stanwyck and MacMurray infuse Double Indemnity. Mantegna is his old solid self as the obsessive Rhinehart, but Reeve is much too bland as Kane, and Edward Kerr is completely unconvincing as Kane's younger brother Nick.

Second, director Steven Schachter, who co-scripted the film, tries to keep too many balls in the air at once: Is this a cop film? A crooked-cop film? A drugs-and-thugs opus? An action-adventure flick? A murder mystery? Or all five at once? Double Indemnity works because it has singleness of purpose. Above Suspicion fails, in part, because it has trouble finding itself.

Finally, Schachter leaves no cliche unturned in his search to discover something to move his viewer. He cuts back and forth between Kane grunting at physical therapy and Kane's wife and brother grunting in the shower, then subjects the viewer to dialogue like this exchange between Nick and Dempsey: "You're not afraid of dying?" "I'm more afraid of living."

For all its flaws, Above Suspicion does manage to keep its head above the water with an occasional plot twist or interesting variation on an old theme. But in the end, a film that can't deliver anything new, can't deliver.

Above Suspicion could deliver, but doesn't. That's the only real mystery here. And we never find out why.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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