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Missed Target

Patient: Enemy at the Gates Profile: A Russian sharpshooter's talent for picking off Nazis is exploited by Soviets to rally support during the Battle of Stalingrad, causing Nazis to send their best shot to hunt him down. Think Sergeant York meets My Darling Clementine and pins Hail the Conquering Hero.

Symptoms: It begins like Saving Private Ryan with young innocents dropped into maelstrom, most of whom are soon cut down. Like Ryan, Enemy's revelatory points are: (1) war is a messy business with lots of people getting killed regardless of age, goodness or even (sometimes) marquee billing, and (2) our side won because we had hunkier soldiers (Enemy does add the bold argument that if one gets shot in the head, it sounds like an overripe cantaloupe hitting the floor). Like Ryan, in Enemy, the entire war comes down to the search for a single soldier. But what should be taut, cat-and-mouse, edge-of-your-seat-type stuff feels remote and generally lacking in suspense. This has something to do with the lame, tacked-on love story; but even more, it's that the two sharpshooters don't really stalk each other so much as just kind of show up at various locations around town and stare through their rifle sights while breathing rhythmically. For guys sworn to kill each other, they are remarkably disconnected from the battle they are supposed to personify.

Diagnosis: A tense thriller peculiarly lacking in tension and thrills.

Prescription: The idea of a mano a mano showdown amid the sprawl and devastation of World War II's most significant battle is a good and intriguing one. The movie should be about that. Lose the love story. What we want is these two hunting each other. We want to see how they go about tracking their prey—you may think about renting Patton, in which an unnamed German officer is assigned to study George S. in order to predict the wily American general's movements. We want them getting into each other's heads, setting traps and double-crossing. As it is, most of their time is taken up with kids, chicks and Nikita Khrushchev. All we get is shootouts when what we really want is everything leading up to the moment they empty their guns. Damn it, this physician is man enough to say, I want foreplay!

Prognosis: Ahhh, that was good. Smoke?


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