Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Here’s another Tom Clancy movie. I don’t have a copy, but it came up on Amazon Prime Video recently. It’s Clear and Present Danger, released by Paramount Pictures and starring Harrison Ford as CIA operative Dr. John “Jack” Ryan. This came out in 1994, following The Hunt for Red October (1990) and Patriot Games (1992), also by Clancy and featuring Harrison Ford in the lead. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video, and details are from Wikipedia. I’m not going to detail the plot, but here is a bit of insight. First some background:

Clear and present danger was a doctrine adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States to determine under what circumstances limits can be placed on First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, or assembly.

Where this comes in is with the President of the United States using this principle to justify a war against some drug cartels in Colombia. What kicks it off is a routine traffic stop in the South Caribbean by the Unites States Coast Guard.


Two crew members are apprehended, and the findings are grisly. A wealthy American citizen and his family have been murdered and dumped overboard. They were personal friends of the President, and he decides to take executive action, especially after he learns his old school chum had lifted $650 million from a cartel, and that money could be obtained.

CIA Deputy Director for Operations Bob Ritter (Henry Czerny) goes south to engage an operative named John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to coordinate with an American Special Forces team that will be sent in.


One of those recruited is sniper specialist Captain Ramírez (Benjamin Bratt). He is to become indispensable to the plot.


Shortly a force of special troops is inserted into the Colombian jungle, and they begin to wreak havoc with the operations of Ernesto Escobedo, head of the Cali Cartel. They destroy airplanes and blow up drug processing plants.


Meanwhile, Col. Félix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), formerly of Cuban Intelligence, is doing intelligence for Cortez. He travels frequently to Washington, where he romances Moira Wolfson (Ann Magnuson), Assistant to the Director of the FBI. After he learns from her that her boss, Emil Jacobs (Tom Tammi), will be coming to Colombia, he murders her and arranges to have Jacobs ambushed in the streets of Bogata.


There ensues a massive fire fight, leaving Jack the sole survivor.


Following Jacobs’ funeral back in Washington, Jack learns from his wife, Dr Caroline “Cathy” Ryan (Anne Archer), of the murder of Wolfson. The pieces begin to fall into place, and an intelligence assault is initiated to identify Cortez. The Electronic Intelligence operation at Fort Huachuca in Arizona picks up a phone conversation involving Cortez, matching a voice message on Wolfson’s phone.


When that flashed on the screen I thought to myself, “Oh, yeah!”

Fort Huachuca in 1996

Fort Huachuca in 1996

The game escalates. A strike by an F/A-18 is ordered on a meeting of cartel chiefs. This succeeds in wiping out a luxurious country estate packed with cartel leaders plus assorted women and children. Things are going to get nasty.


Ritter cuts a treacherous deal with Cortez. It requires the black-ops team be abandoned and pinpointed. The group is ambushed and wiped out, with a handful taken prisoner. Captain Ramírez avoids capture and goes into stalking mode.


With the recorded conversation of Cortez planning to usurp Escobedo, Jack plans to put the kibosh on Cortez, but it’s too late. Cortez has already enlisted the upper echelons of Escobedo’s organization, and Escobedo is murdered by one of his security guards. A fierce fire fight ensues.


Jack, Clark, and Ramirez rescue the prisoners and depart in a helicopter, with Jack hanging on for dear life. Ramírez finishes off Cortez with a spray of bullets from the door of the helicopter.


And that’s all the action. Writer Tom Clancy is known for his technical insight, but some this went by the board in production:

  • We see the F/A-18 unloading a (supposed 2000-lb) Paveway bomb while operatives on the ground paint the target with the laser designator. Only we see the bomb passing through a cloud layer that obscures the target. The bomb can’t track the laser spot through the clouds, even though we hear the pilot saying the target has been acquired just before he releases the bomb.
  • We see the F/A-18 being launched with a payload slung under its belly, and we see a sequence of the aircraft releasing that payload. But it’s not the same bomb the movie follows to the target.
  • The black-ops team puts the laser spot on the side of a yellow monster pickup truck parked out front, but the movie shows the palatial estate being blown up from the inside.
  • We see the cartel gunmen executing wounded soldiers, and we wonder why they decided to take a few prisoners. Who’s to figure? It’s not in the book.
  • Jack needs to crack Ritter’s computer password so he can obtain incriminating files. A techie assistant works the problem by entering various combinations of numbers from Ritter’s personnel file. Date of birth, date of birth reversed, wedding anniversary date… He hits pay dirt after working just a few minutes. Never going to happen. Nobody builds password protection like that these days, and likely did not when this movie was produced. Any sensible system will lock you out after three wrong passwords. Any sensible system will require a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, symbols.

The book came out in 1989, and during the five years following before the movie related technology was undergoing a major league surge. You can see some of that when comparing the book and the movie.

What appears to have happened is the movie writers (Donald E. StewartSteven ZaillianJohn Milius) read the book, tossed it aside, and said something like, “Hey! I have a great idea for a movie.” As a result, similarities between the book and the movie are striking:

  • Both involve the United States government, the CIA, and CIA Deputy Director (Intelligence) Jack Ryan.
  • Both involve a friend of the President and his family being murdered on the high seas due to transgressions against his Colombian drug cartel associates.
  • Both feature Paveway strikes on cartel mansions, except the book goes the movie one strike better.
  • Both involve elite American soldiers infiltrating into Colombia to mess with drug cartel operations.
  • Both feature a deal struck between the President’s Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs that involves betrayal of the American troops.

What makes for the differences is that Clancy wrote a novel, albeit an inch deep, and the movie script would only occupy two chapters in the book.

  • In the book the Coast Guard interception on the high seas involves a crusty mustang skipper who devises a mock execution of one of the captured killers, resulting in some interesting intelligence.
  • This is a Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) movie from start to finish, but the book brings him completely on board only after half the action has already been drained.
  • The book involves many more locations and much more action, including the contract killing of an Alabama cop, and retribution upon the Caribbean pirates. Two local gang bangers are given a pass in exchange for slipping the shiv to the pirates in a jail house shower.
  • Cortez and Escobedo don’t die off in the blaze of gunfire that close off the movie. They are captured in a raid conducted while Ryan and Carter are rescuing American soldiers from the jungle. Escobedo is handed over to his cartel associates in exchange for a large sum of money. They want to talk to him concerning word that he has been engineering a coup against them. Cortez is taken to Guantanamo, where he talks freely on camera. He is then escorted to the gate, with a copy of the video stuffed in his back pocket, where Cuban officials are happy to see their intelligence chief who defected a few years back. Moira (not killed) is there to see him off.

Obviously there is much more. The book has a prologue that deals with the development of the aerial bomb. The book also goes to great length with the legal ramifications of extra-judicial proceedings. If all were included, the book would make a six-hour movie. I will attempt to get out a review in a few weeks.

When I saw Joaquim de Almeida pop up as Félix Cortez I flashed back to the third season of 24, the TV series featuring Kiefer Sutherland. In the movie he’s a Cuban transplanted to Colombia. In 24 he plays Mexican drug cartel leader Ramon Salazar. He’s actually Portuguese.


2 thoughts on “Bad Movie Wednesday

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Sea Chase | Skeptical Analysis

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