Sneakers (1992) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some violence
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast: Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn, George Hearn, Stephen Tobolowsky, Timothy Busfield, James Earl Jones  
Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Screenplay: Phil Alden Robinson, Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Review published March 25, 2004

Sneakers is a clever, much overlooked comic thriller that shows how entertaining such films can be if done with intelligence and a commitment to its characters.  Directed and co-written by Phil Alden Robinson, the man responsible for the equally entertaining, Field of Dreams, the film works on many levels, mixing comedy, action, suspense, drama, and even a little romance.  It's actually the balance between irreverent fun and underlying seriousness that makes Sneakers such a good film, with the humor never offsetting the importance of any situation, while it also never takes itself so seriously that the tone of the comedy loses edge.  Even the left-leaning political commentary is done with a playful wink.

Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Spy Game) plays Martin Bishop -- well, actually that's just an alias he has gone by for the last 20 years since running from the authorities for hacking into things he wasn't supposed to, causing quite a bit of mischief in the name of his bleeding-heart causes.  Nowadays, he and his team of security experts regularly break into high-security establishments to check for security holes, so that these places can keep bad guys with the same means out.  Bishop's past catches up with him when he's visited by two men ostensibly from the National Security Agency, who make him an offer to clear his record and receive a tidy bonus for retrieval of a black box thought to be able to crack codes.  However, Bishop begins to suspect they won't be able to get away with it when the box is revealed to be able to break into every system in the country, and their lives would be expendable to insure no one knows about its powers.

There's more to the story than my plotline above reveals, but telling you any more would spoil the intrigue.  Not that the twists and turns reveal much, as it isn't too hard to figure out many of the surprises in store long before they occur.  The real joy in watching Sneakers comes from the camaraderie among the veteran players, who all seem to be having a blast working with each other, and we have fun watching them have fun with each other.  Even with a terrific supporting cast, Redford is the most important component, lending intelligence and charisma into a role in which it is crucial to have both. 

I don't always credit the score of a film in my reviews, except when it catches my ear, and this is one of those instances.  In fact, the music by James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart), with accompaniment by jazz veteran Branford Marsalis, makes the movie much, much better, perfectly hitting the right notes at the right times.  If anyone wants to know how vital a great score can play in the outcome of a movie's quality, look no further than Sneakers 

Although it flirts with being a cutting-edge thriller, Alden quickly retreats back into a more populist mode, which does cash in some intellectual chips in an effort for more mass appeal.  That's not really a bad thing, as there are still few mainstream movies that offer as much in entertainment value without assuming the audience is too dumb to understand the high-concepts.  The technical aspects of the film are explained in such a way that most should be able to figure out what's going on (The black box is the MacGuffin, so all you have to know is that it's important enough to kill for). 

Sneakers is classy fun, recommended for everyone.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo