No Exit

Everyone's raving about the limo scene in No Way Out. Every time the movie is reviewed on TV, steamed-up film critics seem to talk of nothing else.

In one of the opening scenes, stars Sean Young and Kevin Costner make it on the screen, in a limo, for about 10 minutes--just about 10 minutes after they first meet.

Young plays Susan Atwell, the mistress of Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman). Kevin Costner, this summer's hot man in the box office, co-stars as naval officer Tom Farrell. Tom and Susan meet at a hoity-toity Washington inauguration gala, but they've got better things to do and better places to do them--like the back seat of a limousine cruising around our nation's capitol. Sure enough, the sequence includes a nice, long shot of the Washington Monument.

Newspaper ads for the movie hone in on the romance angle in this supposed tale of intrigue. "Is it a crime of passion, or an act of treason?" the ads ask. These words sit, innocently enough, next to a big close-up of Young, who appears poised to bite a reclining Costner's neck. That's the passion part.

Real tiny, in the corner of the ad, is a picture of Costner--with clothes on this time, a military uniform--running away from something. That's the treason part.

The people promoting this film are smart. They have a couple of gorgeous stars, whose good looks they're playing up for all they're worth. You're so busy watching the relationship between Costner and Young develop that neither you--not all the potential blabbermouths on TV--have much time to concentrate on the "act of treason" line.

And at first, a little romance is all that's necessary--who wants to see a suspense movie whose ending was given away on Entertainment Tonight.

Then, about halfway through the movie something big happens--if you want to know what, go see the movie--that changes everything. Suddenly Costner, who has netted a job at the Pentagon, is pitted against his boss, Hackman, in a battle that may or may not affect national security.

Costner plays the honest naval officer to the hilt, challenging his superiors, toying with would-be assassins and maneuvering his way through a minefield of sycophants and spy-chasers.

But whereas it is the simplicity of Costner and Young's love affair that charms viewers (there's never any doubt from first eye-contact on that they will make a picture-postcard couple, romping hand-in-hand through D.C., sailing happily in Annapolis Bay...), simple doesn't quite make it in the world of high-stakes political intrigue.

And in the end, it's the treason, not the passion, that has to carry the movie. Judged as a pure suspense movie, No Way Out doesn't rank up there with 39 Steps or Dr. No. It does toss in a clever conclusion--casting the rest of the plot in a more intriguing, although confusing, light--but no snappy ending can compensate for an hour's worth of mediocre machinations.

But then again, the first 10 minutes just might make up for everything.