Little Nikita

An intermittently watchable but ultimately rather thin and bewildering attempt to update the communist spy thrillers of the 50s, this movie with a San Diego setting teams Sidney Poitier as an FBI agent with River Phoenix as the son of onetime Soviet agents who gradually discovers his parents’ secret. For all his misguided red-baiting, Leo McCarey created a deep and troubling melodrama out of a related scenario in 1952 with My Son John, but here the filmmakersscreenwriters John Hill and Bo Goldman (working from a story by Tom Musca and Terry Schwartz) and director Richard Benjaminaren’t concerned with digging very deeply into much besides a few timeworn conventions, leavened by a few traces of Yankee glasnost (the parents are redeemed by being former agents, while the Soviet villains are strictly formulaic). Marvin Hamlisch contributes a pleasant score, and Laszlo Kovacs handles the cinematography capably, but Phoenix can’t give the material any emotional depth, and the story never rises much beyond TV tepid. (JR)

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