Sunchaser

on October 26, 1996 by Ed Scheid
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   "Sunchaser" is the first film since 1990 directed by Michael Cimino, who won an Oscar for "The Deer Hunter" (1978) before punching his own one-way ticket to Palookaville with 1980's celebrated failure "Heaven's Gate." "Sunchaser" was also the only American studio production that was presented in competition at Cannes, which may say something about the lingering affection for Cimino's work overseas. Unfortunately, the special qualities of Cimino's best work are largely absent; "Sunchaser" is predictable from its opening scenes.
   Dr. Michael Reynolds (Woody Harrelson) is on the fast track. He is expecting to become the youngest department head of UCLA's Medical Center. In contrast, Blue ("I Like It Like That's" Jon Seda) is a bullet-scarred 16-year-old who is in prison for murder. Blue also has a rare tumor. When he hears the diagnosis that he has only a short time to live, he kidnaps Reynolds in a desperate attempt to reach a lake described by a Navajo medicine man as having healing waters. Reynolds begins to have maudlin flashbacks of his own brother dying of cancer, and the two protagonists start to bond. At first doubting the existence of the lake and the medicine man, Reynolds ends up breaking the law to help Blue on his quest. They have the usual passel of off-the-wall complications: They are pursued by armed bikers and meet an aging eccentric (Anne Bancroft). They even find a sexy mountain woman ("Licence to Kill's" Talisa Soto) who happens to be a relative of the medicine man. The characters of Reynolds and Blue are cliched opposites. Neither the superficial script nor Harrelson's performance makes Reynolds' change of heart believable. Seda at least projects Blue's intense rage, but the film is without any surprises. Cimino's direction alternates standard car chases with shouting matches or shallow discussions between Reynolds and Blue. "Sunchaser" then lapses into melodramatic sentimentality. The mountain scenery is spectacular, but it wouldn't have to be to dwarf any of the human activity in the film.    Starring Woody Harrelson, Jon Seda and Anne Bancroft. Directed by Michael Cimino. Written by Charles Leavitt. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael Cimino, Larry Spiegel, Judy Goldstein and Joseph S. Vecchio. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for strong language and some violence. Running time: 118 min. Screened in the Competition category at Cannes; opens 9/27 in L.A.
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