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With The Peacemaker, Dreamworks SKG tries to live up to its own hype -- only to stumble with a smirk.

By Zak Weisfeld

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  Imagine the pressure. After all, they are the top men. Top. Each a wunderkind in his day, now a mature talent in the prime of his manhood. They are like the Three Musketeers, The Justice League of entertainment—The Director, The Studio Boss, The Record Guy—each with his own talent, each with more money than sub-Saharan Africa. And each day the expectations grow, because eventually, eventually they're going to have to do something more than discuss opening virtual reality theme parks and re-signing washed-up bands to new record contracts—eventually they are going to have to, as they say in the trade, step up to the plate. They are going to have to release a feature film.

And the pressure is incredible, because they are living the dream; they can green light, and bankroll, any film they want. Anything. So do they go bold, arty, and small? Do they go for ground-breaking effects? Gripping historical drama? Enlightening children's movie? No.

Several years and several hundred million dollars after Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen formed Hollywood's most watched and most talked-about new studio, Dreamworks SKG, the company has finally released its first film, The Peacemaker.

Even in a summer not overburdened with good action movies, The Peacemaker can barely blast its way into mediocrity. The Peacemaker takes as its central plotline the boldly original idea of a stolen nuclear weapon—ground that was well-plowed back in the days when James Bond was still Scottish—and grafts on the inventive characters of the maverick soldier/agent and the beautiful but brainy nuclear physicist. All that's missing is the charm, sense of fun, and semi-coherent plotting in order for The Peacemaker to be a forgettable, Timothy Dalton-era Bond film.

That the viewer is going to suffer is apparent from the unending title sequence—the boredom of its stalled pacing is brought to a fever pitch by Hans Zimmer's relentlessly dramatic score. It is an ominous prophecy fulfilled with the introduction of the main characters and the first of a multitude of glaring plot holes and incomprehensibilities (they ship nuclear weapons on steam trains?).

Nicole Kidman plays Dr. Julia Kelly, the director of some Defense Department think-tank that analyzes nuclear something or other, and George "The Smirk" Clooney plays Colonel Tom Devoe, who also is somehow opposed to nuclear explosion on American soil. I do feel a little bad for Kidman, who made a few fine movies in her homeland Down Under and one great one here (see To Die For), but has been generally ill-used by American directors. She can play mean and tough and makes a great femme fatale—but she makes for a terrible romantic tag along. Left to splutter and tut at the swashbuckling Clooney, Kidman seems barely able to conceal her disdain for this one-trick pony.

Luckily, I don't have to conceal it at all. I realized, while watching The Peacemaker, that Clooney is the Tom Selleck of the '90s, minus the warmth (and the mustache). While he makes a fine Dr. Doug, Clooney's range is binary—there's the smirk and the sulk, and that's about all she wrote. He lacks the gravity to pull off even as banal a role as the quasi-tortured Devoe. And with the colossal failure of his Batman and the poor prospects of The Peacemaker, I wouldn't be surprised to see Clooney next make it to the big screen in Quigley Down Under II.

The ineptness of the script and the acting is exacerbated by first-time director (and fellow ER alum) Mimi Leder. With the exception of mission-control-room-type settings where her ER choreography comes in handy, Leder's direction is breathtakingly amateurish. Her compulsive use of the ever-moving steadicam quickly comes to look sloppy; add some head-scratching shots and a few edits that wouldn't make it on Must See TV, and you've got the recipe for The Peacemaker.

The Peacemaker? All the hype, all the stories, all the lawyers, all the waiting—for The Peacemaker? It's as though Plato, Kant, and Hegel got together and wrote Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, or if McCartney, Harrison, and Starr got together and wrote...

Looking back, it's strange that there were any expectations at all.

Spielberg, once lauded as America's storyteller, has been riding computer-generated bluster and Oscar cachet for half a decade. With the exception of Schindler's List, he hasn't made a great movie since the first Indiana Jones. Jeffrey Katzenberg got famous for being a tightwad who stumbled across our almost limitless desire to subject our children to the slick, musical pabulum of Disney cartoons. And Geffen? Whatever.

The truth is, The Peacemaker in all its unholy blandness is exactly what we should have hoped for from the portentously titled threesome at Dreamworks. Together they have dreamed the immortal dream of Hollywood—a good opening weekend and a strong international box office.

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