Stranger On My Land (1988, directed by Larry Elikann)

The Air Force wants to build a new air base in Utah but the Whitman family refuses to sell their ranch.  Bud Whitman (Tommy Lee Jones) served in Vietnam and he disapproved just as much of forcing Vietnamese villagers to move as he now disapproves of the idea of allowing the government to force American citizens to move.  When a judge rules that the Air Force can force the Whitmans to vacate their property under the rule of eminent domain, Bud announces that he still will not be moving.  With several of Bud’s old combat buddies showing up to support Bud, the villainous county surveyor, Connie Priest (Terry O’Quinn), prepares to take matters in his own hands.

Tommy Lee Jones vs. Terry O’Quinn?  That sounds like it should have the makings of a classic but Stranger On My Land is a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie.  A huge part of the problem is that O’Quinn’s character doesn’t have any real motivation beyond just being a prick and that seems like a waste when you consider the number of interesting villains that Terry O’Quinn has played over the years.  This is the actor who, in The Stepfather, actually made a multiple murderer seem a little bit likable.  Connie Priest seems like a villain that O’Quinn could have done a lot with if only the film’s script hadn’t been so simplistic.  Tommy Lee Jones is always well-cast as a modern day western hero but again, the script doesn’t do much with his character.  He’s just Tommy Lee Jones yelling at people to get off his property.  You could probably go to Tommy Lee Jones’s own ranch and have the exact same experience without having to sit through the rest of this movie.  Even Bud’s ethical objections to the Vietnam War feel like something that was just tossed in to assure the people watching at home that he’s not meant to be some sort of gun-toting militiaman.  The best performance in the movie comes from Ben Johnson, who is plays Tommy Lee Jones’s father.  That’s prefect casting.  If Ben Johnson wasn’t actually Tommy Lee Jones’s father, he probably should have been.

The main problem with Stranger On My Land is that it was made for television and it had to operate within the limits of what was acceptable for television in 1988.  The entire movie seems to be building up to a fierce battle between Bud and law enforcement but instead, it settles for a personal fight between Bud and Connie.  The film’s sudden ending doesn’t feel authentic but it does feel like what you’d expect to find on ABC in the late 80s.

Fever (1991, directed by Larry Elikann)

Ray (Armand Assante) is a formerly viscous ex-con who has just gotten out of prison and is now determined to go straight and live on the right side of the law.  After spending nearly a decade behind bars, all he wants to do is to reunite with his girlfriend, Lacy (Marcia Gay Harden), and make her his wife.  However, there’s a problem.  While Ray was locked up, Lacy moved on.  She’s now engaged to Elliott (Sam Neill), a liberal attorney who, unlike Ray, is a pacifist.  Even though Lacy is still attracted to Ray, she does not want to get back together with him.

Unfortunately, there’s a second problem.  Ray may have gone straight but his former criminal associates don’t believe him.  They want Ray to help them pull off a major crime and when Ray says that is no longer his thing, they react by kidnapping Lacy.  If Ray ever wants to see Lacy again, he’s now got to return to his life of crime.

There’s also a third problem.  Ray may be an experienced criminal but Elliott insists on tagging along with him while he’s following the kidnappers’s orders.  So now, Ray not only has to commit several crimes but he has to do it with an inexperienced partner who doesn’t even believe in firing guns!

Fever is one of those HBO films that used to show up all the time on cable in the 90s.  I watched it a few times back in the day, just because I was a teenage boy and the movie featured a good deal of nudity.  Even at that time, though, I thought it was a slow and frequently boring movie.  Rewatching it for this review, I was shocked to discover that it was even slower than I remembered.  It seems like it takes forever for Ray and Elliott to finally team up and for the movie to get going.  Though the plot description may make it sound like a buddy comedy, it’s actually a very tough and grim picture.  Armand Assante and Sam Neill are not actors known for their light touch and they both give very serious and gritty performances.  Unfortunately, the film’s pace never really matched the intensity of its stars and the film’s storyline isn’t strong enough to hold up under scrutiny.  Once you start to wonder if Ray would really let Elliott tag along with him, the movie itself falls apart.

Armand Assante is a good actor who rarely seems to appear in good films.  Fever is a good example of that.  Assante gives an excellent and complex performance (and both Sam Neill and Marcia Gay Harden are pretty good too) but Fever itself never really clicks.