One False Move (1992)
Release Date: May 8th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Carl Franklin Actors: Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, Jim Metzler, Earl Billings, Natalie Canerday, Robert Ginnaven
n Los Angeles, Fantasia (Cynda Williams) arranges for her extremely violent boyfriend Ray Malcolm (Billy Bob Thornton), and highly intelligent, sadistically psychopathic colleague Lenny “Pluto” Franklyn (Michael Beach) to visit Robert Post’s (James D. Bridges) house, hoping to locate an associate named Marco (Loren Tyler). After tying up everyone in the house (and eventually ruthlessly executing them), they journey to Marco’s home to similarly murder everyone in that abode (men, women, and children alike) – having discovered their target of cash and cocaine. The following day, the police investigation turns up an audio recording that leads them to Star City, Arkansas, where police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton) is eager to lend a hand.
In Deming, New Mexico, Pluto dictates that they’ll sell the drugs in Houston, despite Ray’s insistence that they use some for recreational purposes. Dissent begins to stir. Meanwhile, LAPD detectives Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings) fly in to Little Rock to meet with Dale – whose small town tactics, irreverent familiarity, and unshakeable enthusiasm irk the big city cops. Dale’s thrilled to be involved in a significant homicide case, especially since his usual routine involves subduing drunks; plus, he hasn’t found a reason to use his gun in nearly six years. As the authorities close in on their suspects, Dale must stifle his exuberance and focus on his skills to not only apprehend the villains but also prove to himself that he’s every bit as integral to the situation as his hotshot superiors.
Thornton is in fine form as a filthy, tattooed, foul-mouthed, white-trash ex-con, who unpredictably does whatever anarchical thought enters his mind. He’s unintelligent and jittery but also spontaneous and vicious, making for an unusually cold-blooded criminal. It’s an amusing role for Thornton, especially since he co-wrote the screenplay. Beach turns in an equally singular performance as the coolly inhuman prison partner, who favors a knife and exhibits no compassion for his eventual victims, most of whom are slaughtered indiscriminately as they accidentally cross his path.
Although it’s not a particularly fast-paced thriller, there are a few notably suspenseful moments, primarily when police unwittingly interfere with the killers’ course, and when all parties are inevitably united at the conclusion. Unfortunately, those sequences are spaced very far apart. Nearly the entire last act is a waiting game as Fantasia is holed up on the outskirts of town, stalling for time. The focus shifts toward character development and relationship complications as the past comes back to haunt Dixon, and as he contemplates the importance of respect, duty, and capability. Soulful electric guitar notes and a nonchalant harmonica preside over most of the film, dating it and failing to bestow any extra levels of tension – while nerve-wracking orchestral music is curiously absent.
“One False Move” is partly a road movie, with countless location designations unnecessarily sprawled across the screen as the antagonists trek through the Midwest. Viewers are intended to know roughly where the hunted are moving, but it’s rarely critical, especially when tiny towns are largely unknown to general audiences. And when city names are printed onscreen to explain where the detectives are traveling, it’s virtually pointless (since their pursuit is obvious). The final destination allows for a brief showdown and a welcome, unpredictable finale, with stimulating themes and watchable characters, but the overall journey is slow and in great need of editing or reworking to create keener emphasis on the motives that lead to specific choices and confrontations.
– Mike Massie