"You're either very smart or very stupid," a mysterious surveillance expert played by Gene Hackman says to a falsely accused lawyer on the run played by Will Smith twice in the new movie, "Enemy of the State."
That's not a bad description of the picture, either. At times very slick and clever, all too often this movie settles for stock cliches, ham-handed speeches and developments that make suspending belief a real chore.
Will Smith appealingly plays Robert Clayton Dean, a young slick labor attorney. While shopping for lingerie for his wife Carla (Regina King) - in a shop that wouldn't exist anywhere but in a men's fantasy magazine - Dean is slipped evidence by a friend on the run (Jason Lee) that a National Security Agency official named Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight in what has become his stock performance of late) murdered a congressman (Jason Robards in an unbilled cameo).
Soon, Dean is discredited in both his personal life - Carla receives doctored evidence that he has renewed his affair with Rachel Banks, a former lover (Lisa Bonet), and his law firm is led to believe that he is bought by the Mafia, not fighting their influence in a local union.
If that's not enough, soon he is under surveillance on every side, and then on the run from mysterious thugs. Dean assumes his enemy is Pintera, (Tom Sizemore) the Mafia wiseguy he has been investigating. He contacts Rachel and asks her to set up a meeting with Brill, (Gene Hackman) the hermit-like investigator he has been using with Rachel as a liaison.
Brill not only refuses to help, he tells Dean to stay away from everyone he loves and start over. This is not an option for Dean, and, of course, he and Brill are eventually thrown together to beat the bad guys.
"Enemy of the State" is one of those conspiracy movies where the villains are both omniscient and stupid at turns. They try to keep a secret by calling out an army to stop a man who isn't even trying to get them. Rogue operator Reynolds seems to be able to use all of the assets of the NSA without permission or the notice of his superiors. Isn't someone likely to say, "Hey Tom, whatcha doin' with our satellites and helicopter?"
Director Tony Scott certainly knows how to frame a scene. Nearly every technical aspect of "Enemy of the State" is first rate.
Pacing, however is a problem. Dean's life falls apart way too rapidly, leaving him - and the movie - about an hour to spin its wheels before Gene Hackman makes a dramatic entrance. Every once in awhile, the action stops dead while someone makes a speech about the loss of privacy rights and the threat of big government.
Fortunately, once Hackman becomes involved in the movie, he almost saves it with a great and grouchier reprise of his character from the Copolla-directed 1970s classic "The Conversation." Thanks to him, the last half hour of "Enemy of the State" is everything the first hour and a half should have been - and might have been - had the two characters joined forces earlier.