White Sands (1992)
“The most dangerous way to solve a murder… Become the victim.”
Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Mickey Rourke
Synopsis: A small southwestern town sheriff finds a body in the desert with a suitcase and $500,000. He impersonates the man and stumbles into an FBI investigation.
White Sands is one of those films that begins brightly but loses both momentum and coherence somewhere around the halfway mark. It’s as if writer Daniel Pyne began writing before he had figured out an ending, and you can virtually identify the exact moment when he started winging it. There are some decent performances from both those you’d expect to deliver (Willem Dafoe and Samuel L. Jackson) and those who are always something of a wild card (Mickey “before-he-was-a-boxer-and-got-his-face-mashed-in” Rourke). M. Emmet Walsh also makes his mark in a brief role as an ethically dubious coroner, while Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who appears to have wandered in from a neighbouring set, constantly appears on the verge of bursting into laughter at the sight of what she has stumbled upon.
Willem Dafoe is Ray Dolezal, a small-town sheriff investigating the discovery of the body of a dead man with a suitcase full of cash in the desert. From such beginnings classics are made, and this one begins promisingly as Dolezal decides to assume the dead man’s identity to find out who his killer is. Of course this is all as likely as snow in July, but Pyne manages to hold our incredulity at bay for a while with some nice plot twists that see Dolezal becoming involved in a gun smuggling deal with charismatic villain Gorman Lennox (Mickey Rourke) and posh totty Lane Bodine (Mastrantonio), the world’s only altruistic gun dealer. The waters are muddied, however, when the FBI, in the form of a typically abrasive Samuel L. Jackson catches up to Dolezal and everything becomes impossibly complicated.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with White Sands, and only a few nuggets to take away — chief of which is a strong performance from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in a patently ridiculous role. She provides a touch of class to a movie that shouldn’t really be looking for any, while Willem Dafoe’s Dolezal is a character whose stubborn persistence fails to arouse the viewer’s admiration and simply leaves you asking ‘why?’ Why lay his life on the line for a body in the desert? Why abandon his family to pursue this anonymous body’s killer?
Watching White Sands, it soon becomes clear that director Roger Donaldson and editor Nicholas Beauman were still tinkering long after the cast had all moved on to their next project. Mimi Rogers, as Dolezal’s wife, disappears the moment her husband temporarily deserts her and their young son who, judging by the way the camera lingers on his final shot (about ten minutes into the film) was also intended to play a larger role in the proceedings. There’s also too much exposition in the final half-hour, which not only slows the pace but further confuses an already convoluted plot and fails to surprise the viewer in the way it obviously intended.
For every good film Willem Dafoe makes he produces half-a-dozen duds. Some of them you’ve heard of (Speed 2, Boondock Saints, etc) many of them you haven’t. This is probably one of those you haven’t, and there are very good reasons why…
(Reviewed 8th August 2005)