DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
RANDOM ENCOUNTER (director: Doug Jackson; screenwriter: Matt Dorff; cinematographer: George Archambaud; editor: Robert E. Newton; cast: Elizabeth Berkley (Alicia "Allie" Brayman), Joel Wyner (Kyle Jones), Frank Schorpion (Det. Ed Royko), Barry Flatman (Blake Preston), Mark Walker (Avery Shaw), Frank Fontaine (Frank Brayman), Joanna Noyes (Ellen Brayman), Mary Bradley (Madeleine Barton), Alan Fawcett (Jack Barton); Runtime: 90; Libra Pictures; 1998-Can.)

 
"The film annoyed me more than it enlightened or entertained me."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An ambitious 28-year-old public relations executive in Chicago finds herself knee-deep in blackmail, deception, and murder. Allie Brayman (Elizabeth Berkley) has just been informed by the new owner, Avery Shaw, of the PR firm she works for, Vasco, that she is slated to take over running the company from her mentor Blake Preston (Barry). He is taking an early retirement, as the new owner is demanding certain changes in restructuring the firm.

This thriller is directed by Doug Jackson; it will best explore the fast-paced business world and its sterile atmosphere, where not telling the truth or stretching the truth in different ways is the norm. It succeeds in capturing that frenetic yuppie need for material things and tells how greed blinds the quality of life. But what it fails to do, is build a mystery that goes beyond what could be read in the newspapers. You get a few spine tingling moments out of the heroine's self-made misfortunes and a surprise twist in the ending, but you don't get a lasting sense that this isn't all manufactured tension to fit too neatly into its premise of how anyone can be a victim of a random act of violence and have their life put through the ringer.

The film opens with a Japanese family of three arriving in Los Angeles and renting a car. They are soon gunned down by an assassin for no particular reason. Allie, as the spin doctor for the rental firm, makes the best of that situation, giving out newspaper reports that take the blame away from the rental car agency by reassuring the public that it is still safe to rent a car from them: that the murders were random acts.

We next see this go-getter, workaholic, ideal girl, relating well with her co-workers and being the best daughter parents could possibly have, except as the mother says -- Allie should be married by now.

Asked to arrange a party for the firm, Allie puts together one in the Chicago train yards. Among all the familiar guests, is a handsome stranger who keeps looking at her. Encouraged by her friends to talk to the handsome stranger, they finally get together over a drink. He introduces himself as Carl Jones (Joel), telling her he is an Ivy League graduate and a lawyer who is now into business ventures. The two "yuppie" appearing romantics get off on a materialistic conversation. His most revealing comment is, "I love to surround myself with beautiful things. I love beautiful women, smart and powerful women." The ideal girl seems to get aroused by this banal materialistic conversation, enough to go back with the young man to his Lake Forest mansion.

In the middle of getting it on, Allie is attacked by a lady with a knife. Allie reacting with fear that Carl will be killed, fatally hits the attacker over the head with a vase. Allie's immediate response is to call the police, but Carl talks her out of it. He plays with her fears that the cops wouldn't believe her and all the adverse publicity in the newspapers would ruin her career. Allie buys into this, putting her ambitions above the truth, as she follows Carl's plans to put the dead body in the car and have her car go off the side of the road to look like an accident.

The next day at work Allie finds out that the lady owned the mansion they were in and she was a future client of the firm. She was someone who had an alcohol and drug problem, and also was known to have been seeing a younger lover. Things start to get tight for Allie as a homicide detective, Royko (Schorpion), comes to her office to question her as a witness. He says the gas attendant took down the license plates of her car near the scene of the so-called accident. All the cop wants to know is what she saw and what was she doing around there at that time, and if she was alone. Allie manages to tell him complete lies and digs herself into a deep hole.

Allie becomes suspicious of Carl, and is able to sneak into the cheap hotel room he lives in and go through his meager belongings. She also finds a card in his wallet that says he's a parolee with the first name of Kyle. She later finds out he was in prison for murder.

The film became difficult to watch from here on. Its chills revolved around the danger she was in from this psychopath, from the police suspecting foul play in the rich lady's death, and that she might be involved in it and is having a tough time balancing these personal problems with dealing with her increasingly tense job situation. She is affected that her new client's wife was the victim, but she is more concerned with protecting her career than anything else. It was hard to warm up to her plight, though it was remotely possible to see how she got into this messy situation.

The script was too thin and had to be padded with too many non-involving scenes. It took this bright young executive way too long to realize that she had been set-up. It also became hard to root for her because of that chink in her personality, she was almost as unethical as the criminal.

The film annoyed me more than it enlightened or entertained me. There didn't seem anything special about the acting and too many of the secondary characters were put in there as props to echo the director's point he was making of greed influencing corporate decisions. It didn't have the suspense of a Hitchcock film, instead it had more the look of a second-rate movie made for TV which could be entertaining for a late night audience that is not that demanding.

REVIEWED ON 5/27/2000     GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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