Live Wire

Director: Christian Duguay  
Pierce Brosnan, Ron Silver, Ben Cross

Living where I am for quite some time now, I am able to see that there are some definite advantages to living in Canada, advantages that are not found in Canada's neighbor The United States. One obvious example is that there are a great deal less guns out there than there are in America. Another advantage is that no matter which province or territory you live in Canada, chances are that you'll find a whole bunch more social services than in any American state. And the minimum wage is generally higher any place in Canada than almost anywhere in The United States. On the other hand, there are a lot more taxes in Canada to pay for all those social services, and while the minimum wage may be higher, so is the price of just about anything in a store compared to what's found in stores in America. So there are bad things as well as good things when it comes to living in Canada. I want to talk about one of the bad things about living in Canada, an aspect where The United States has a great advantage. And that is working in the entertainment industry. If you are a Canadian and decide to work in the Canadian entertainment industry, more likely than not you have a tough climb ahead of you. Let's say, for example, you decide to be an actor. You'll soon find out that there are only a limited number of television shows and movie projects hiring actors. To make matters worse, these productions are typically low budget, so you won't be paid that much. And even if the project you appear in is sold around the world, Canadian movie and television producers are notorious for juggling the books in a way that actors get little to nothing in the way of residuals.

If you decide to be a screenwriter in Canada, you'll find the same problems that Canadian actors have in Canada - few projects hiring writers, pathetic salaries, and little in the way of residuals. Then there are Canadians who decide to become directors in Canada. The same problems Canadian actors and screenwriters come up - limited projects and low salaries. But there are additional problems. Most Canadian movies get funding from the Canadian government's film funding agency (Telefilm), and they have a notorious reputation for generally only funding film projects that are "high art", "good taste", and little to no commercial potential. If you want to make a "fun" film, more likely than not you'll strike out with them. But I want to talk about a certain Canadian film director who managed to make it on his own, making "fun" movies without any support from Telefilm, and making a name for himself. And that director is Christian Duguay. Doing research on him, I found very little information. Fortunately, his work speaks for himself. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, he suddenly struck the world with his first movies Scanners 2 and Scanners 3. While the scripts for those two movies may not have been very cerebral, Duguay made up for them by injecting great style and energy, as well as some good gory bits. I know I was not the only one who saw great talent in those movies, because several years later Duguay was chosen to direct several amply budgeted Canadian movies that played in theaters. There was the underrated The Assignment, which got a number of good reviews (though unfortunately a scant release.) Much better released were Duguay's movies Screamers and The Art Of War, movies that may have had standard scripts, but Duguay took these scripts and injected a great deal of style and atmosphere and made these movies fun to watch on a B movie level.

If you have watched these and other Canadian movies directed by Duguay (including Joan Of Arc and Boot Camp) as I have, it doesn't take long to see that this guy definitely has a lot of talent, and can give any script a serious jump start on its way to the big screen. The question that comes Live Wireup as to why Hollywood has not noticed this great talent and recruited him. Well, it may be possible that Duguay is one of those directors who is comfortable working in his home country, but there was one time when he did agree to work on a major Hollywood studio production. That movie was Live Wire, an amply budgeted production with notable actors Pierce Brosnan, Ron Silver, and Ben Cross. However, despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, it seems that the studio backing the project ultimately decided to send the movie straight to video. That might send up a danger flag to some people, but for me, the fact that Duguay was the director meant that the movie couldn't be completely terrible. The situation of the movie revolves around a FBI bomb disposal agent in Washington D.C. named Danny O'Neill (Brosnan, Seraphim Falls). His personal life is a wreck; earlier, his young daughter drowned in the family pool, and the resulting turmoil has him separated from his wife Terry (Lisa Eilbacher, 10 To Midnight). To make matters worse for Danny, Terry is making no bones about having an affair with a man named Frank Traveres (Silver, Lifepod), a sleazy D.C. senator. But a new pressing problem has come up for Danny, secretly hatched by a mysterious man by the name of Mikhail (Cross, Star Trek). At a local restaurant, an explosion kills a dining senator, and Danny is told to investigate. But in the investigation, no bomb parts are found. Soon after, another senator is killed in an explosion in his limousine. Eventually Danny stumbles upon the answer to the mysterious explosions - Mikhail has stumbled upon a certain odorless and tasteless chemical liquid that, when ingested, reacts to stomach acid and causes the drinker to explode into numerous bloody pieces. Danny also finds evidence to suggest that Mikhail's next victim is Senator Traveres, and with Traveres in Mikhail's sights, that means that Terry is in great danger.

Although I have seen my share of movies that involve characters with crazy plans and outrageous schemes, the threat that's posed in Live Wire does seem on the surface to be an extremely silly one. People chemically treated to become literal human bombs? Although new scientific achievements are made all the time, this one is harder to swallow than the formula the movie's victims unknowingly ingest before blowing up. But if you are willing to accept this crazy premise, the movie does offer some genuine rewards. For one thing, while David Cronenberg was only able to explode heads, here we are talking about entire bodies blowing up. Though director Duguay does approach these scenes with a more tasteful presentation than you might think (no doubt to make sure the movie could be sold to video stores that wouldn't take anything stronger than an "R" rating), these sequences are all the same entertaining. Bodies bloodily bulge just before they explode, passer-bys get engulfed in flaming explosions, and there's an unintentionally funny moment during the limousine explosion when a motorcycle cop gets caught in an explosion - funny because the cop suddenly turns into an obvious dummy when the explosion actually happens. Before you start thinking from that that Live Wire was done on the cheap, it wasn't. The rest of the movie looks extremely slick and professional, with enough money spent to conclude that this movie was originally planned as a theatrical release. The movie was also shot on actual Washington D.C. locations, which help to sell the various going-ons more than if the filmmakers had taken the easy way out and shot the movie in southern California.

So on a technical as well as visual level, Live Wire is professionally made. However, while Duguay was able to make the movie look good, he was unfortunately dealt with a screenplay that has a number of shortcomings. It doesn't take long for the movie to show its first flaw with the screenplay, and that is with the characters of the movie. For one thing, the protagonists in the movie are unsatisfying. The main character of Danny O'Neill is hard to warm up to. Yes, we learn he lost his young daughter and is suffering for it, but he is often quite nasty to other people, even to the wife that he's trying to get back together with. Though he does prove to be heroic by the time of the climax, all the same the memories of his harsh behavior before that point tarnish him. Danny's estranged wife Terry is even more badly written. For a long time she is shown to be actively resisting the idea of reuniting with her husband, and has found peace with Traveres.... seemingly, since she seldom actually expresses what she is feeling or thinking. Then abruptly during the second half of the movie, she is all of a sudden lovey-dovey towards her husband without a scene showing her slowly changing feelings towards him. (Though all of this does result in an admittedly hot sex sequence.) As for the movie's antagonists, the character of Senator Traveres is a scumbag that you'll hope gets punished, though that's more thanks to Silver's performance than the screenplay, since the character doesn't get that much to do or say. Not getting that much to do or say also extends to the movie's main villian Mikhail. True, he's the mastermind of the bombings, but he gets his henchmen to do most of his work for him, and he's offscreen for such big chunks of time that actor Cross is simply unable to make this villain a memorable one. Mikhail is one of the most mediocre villains I have seen in a long time.

There are further problems with the characters in Live Wire. Some of them are badly introduced; the character of Danny is introduced right in the middle of a bomb diffusing situation, which is a little awkward. Also, while Senator Traveres plays a major part in the story, he's oddly only seen for the first time when almost a third of the movie has played out. He's referenced several times beforehand, but it's hard before his actual introduction to understand what part this unseen character plays in this story. There is also a problem in the screenplay with his connection to the terrorist who is aiming to kill him and his fellow senators. It seems to have something to do with an arms bill that Traveres and the other senators voted for. But it's revealed that it was an anti-arms bill, and despite the bill being against arms, Traveres and his fellow senators somehow got rich over it. Just how is never explained, nor is it really explained exactly how the terrorist character of Mikhail got involved in all of this and why he thinks he deserves a multi-million cut of the money the senators made. These garbled motivations really hurt the movie, because it's hard for the audience to care about what's happening if they don't understand why people did what they did or what they are doing what they are doing. As you can see by now, Live Wire is a movie that should have had its screenplay heavily worked on more before filming actually started. But at the same time I have to admit that I'm not thinking in a very hostile way towards the movie. Yes, the movie has more than its share of problems, but I have to admit that despite the problems, I was never once bored by the movie. For one thing, it has some good things, like those aforementioned exploding bodies, as well as some exciting action here and there (including a good climax.) And while it's garbled and often lacking sense, it never feels terribly painful at any point. Although I'm not sure if I would want to see the movie again, it did pass almost ninety minutes of my time in a brisk fashion. Under the right circumstances, like a slow day where you can't find a better movie, it just might do the trick for you.

(Posted May 4, 2016)

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See also: Executive Target, Lethal Tender, Timebomb