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White Sands (1992)

A dead body with a suitcase of cash turns up in the New Mexico outback and when a voice over the telephone says, “Bring the money,” Willem Dafoe’s life as a Deputy Sheriff is about to take a sudden turn towards the chaotic world of undercover agents, arms dealers and the F.B.I. Just who should he trust is anyone’s guess.

dafoe and walsh

Directed by Roger Donaldson, this is a 1990’s take on the Noir genre with Dafoe attempting to find out just who the corpse is down at the county morgue where M. Emmet Walsh is conducting his autopsy with plenty of black humor thrown in as he narrates just what he’s cutting up and planning on having for dinner. Finding an all important phone number in the deceased’s stomach (no fooling) provides the first clue and the line, “Bring the money.” Dafoe figures on following up this lead with some undercover work. He takes it upon himself to take the place of the dead man and makes the appointment.

The plot is going to take both Dafoe and us viewers on a ride that culminates with a dynamite cast involved in the shady world of government agencies.

mary e mastrantonio

One meeting leads to another for Dafoe after being stripped of the half million dollars he was carrying. When federal agents Samuel L. Jackson and Miguel Sandoval turn up demanding Dafoe turn the funds back over to the agency he’s going to be led deeper into the covert operation. It seems the money was in the hands of an agent who happens to be the body Dafoe discovered. He has inadvertently taken the man’s place in a sting operation aimed at taking down underworld figure and man of mystery, Mickey Rourke. His contact is the very tempting Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Sparks are sure to fly when it’s obvious that dangerous men excite her. That and the fact that she knows Dafoe is an impostor.

Money exchanges and arms dealers are at the heart of the plot. Adding to the fun is the fact that two unbilled pros turn up as the men holding onto the weapons that Rourke wants. It’s Fred Dalton Thompson and John P. Ryan. Both coming off perfect in their parts making me wish the roles were enlarged. Dafoe will only find more confusion when agent James Rebhorn turns up as well prompting him to wonder if Sam Jackson is to be trusted.

jackson in white sands

And so we go round and round.

It’s hard to argue with the cast that is presented here in this far from dull mystery that finds Dafoe at it’s heart. While I can’t really see what his motive might have been other than boredom to get involved in a case far over his pay grade, at least it introduced him to some interesting characters. Most notably the dangerous Mickey Rourke. Rourke dominates every scene he’s in this time out and all comparisons to a young Brando are warranted. Rourke had that aura that the camera seemed to capture during this period of his career. I can’t argue the fact that he’s had a long career but it does give pause to a “what if” scenario concerning the years that lay ahead. Shades of Brando there too I suppose. Some might prefer to say “what happened.” Whichever, I still find Rourke watchable. It’s just unfortunate that the material has been beneath him on far too many occasions.

dafoe and rourke

Give this one a look if you can find a copy and be taken back to the early nineties when Dafoe, Rourke and Jackson were up and comers, Mastrantonio was stunning and guys like Ryan and Thompson were go to character players who carried a nasty edge to them.

john p ryan

It’s the performers that make this one worth while and didn’t I hear Dwight Yoakam on the soundtrack?

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