FORGIVE THE pun, but you know the drill. James Dunn, played by Keenen Ivory Wayans, was once a Marine sergeant, Persian Gulf war hero and keen-eyed sharpshooter. But when his commanding officer ordered him to open fire on a 10-year-old boy, Dunn couldn't do it. The officer pulled a pistol, Dunn put up a struggle, and the gun went off. Now Dunn's on a prison bus, convicted of murder and headed for death row.
But high-tech bombs blow up the bus and Dunn is rescued. He wakes up tied to a chair in a small room, where a steely-eyed general (Jon Voight) offers him this choice: Go back to death row or join a team of disgraced Marines known as the "Black Sheep."
Dunn makes his choice, and we all end up paying for it.
Like the lowliest Marine, "Most Wanted" moves without thinking and blindly follows orders from its superiors -- namely, Hollywood execs who demand familiar characters and borrowed plots. The movie waits until the last minute to do a halfhearted about-face, but by then it has marched itself right into a dead end.
Suffice it to say the story involves a high-level conspiracy, some computer files and some unsurprising double identities. David Glenn Hogan directs as if suspense were the furthest thing from his mind.
As Dunn, Wayans is almost good. He has a likable face, a certain athletic grace, and seems to be doing the best he can. But the character of Dunn is just a tracing taken from countless mediocre action films. Wayans can't make this one-dimensional character either interesting or funny, and it's obvious from the very first scene.
Surrounding Wayans is a coterie of top-notch actors who are wasted in half-written roles. Paul Sorvino, now known as the father of Mira, plays a levelheaded CIA director. He's one of Hollywood's most versatile character actors (see "Oh, God!" and "Dummy" for proof), but he hasn't had a truly good part in years (see "Money Talks" and "Most Wanted" for proof). The same could be said of Robert Culp, who almost exclusively takes bit parts in forgettable films such as this one.
The most depressing appearance in the film is that of Eric Roberts, whose performances once had an almost tangible power. Dorothy Stratten's creepy boyfriend in "STAR 80," the hopeless screw-up in "The Pope of Greenwich Village," the boyish convict in "Runaway Train" -- Roberts played them with a weird, awesome intensity. Now he takes odd jobs in flicks such as this, where he gets perhaps five minutes of screen time as a CIA operative.
Then there's Jon Voight as the villainous general who frames Dunn. Voight is an actor of nuance and subtlety, not a cartoon character. Here he tries to bring this Southern psychopath to life, but it's no use.
Only Jill Hennessey stands out as a doctor who has proof of Dunn's innocence. She's sexy and seems to be smart. She last appeared in "A Smile Like Yours" but there, as here, she's brushed aside just when it gets interesting.
Keenen Ivory Wayans plays a dishonored Marine drawn into a government cover-up. Jon Voight also stars. Directed by David Glenn Hogan. Rated R, opens today in area movie theaters.