A convoluted political thriller with knee-jerk paranoid underpinnings, CENTER OF THE WEB lacks the edge it takes to distinguish itself from other examples of this popular genre.
John Phillips (Ted Prior) is an acting teacher, and his girlfriend Kathryn Lockwood (Charlene Tilton) an ambitious young prosecuting attorney. As he waits on the street one night for Kathryn, Phillips's life takes an unexpected turn. A limousine pulls up and he's ordered inside by two men with
guns. As they speed down the streets, another car pursues and opens fire. His abductors clearly think Phillips is someone else, but who? When the shootout is over, Phillips is arrested and thrown into jail; Kathryn bails him out. When Phillips returns home, he finds his possessions gone and a
mysterious stranger from the Justice Department, Richard Morgan (Robert Davi), waiting for him.
Morgan explains that Phillips was mistaken for a murdered hit man named John Logan, and tells him that unless he impersonates Logan so the Justice Department can find out what Logan was up to, Phillips will go to jail. Phillips reluctantly agrees, and he and Kathryn are sworn to secrecy. She
immediately breaks her vow, consulting an old family friend, Stephen Moore (Tony Curtis), with ties to the intelligence community; Moore has looked out for her ever since her father's suicide in the wake of a scandal that threatened to ruin his political career. Phillips, meanwhile, is drawn ever
deeper into a conspiracy he can't figure out, no matter how hard he tries.
When he tries to stop the assassination of the Governor (the very man who ruined Kathryn's father years earlier), he instead finds himself framed as the killer. Phillips returns to Kathryn, arriving at almost the same time as her boss, District Attorney Frank Allesendro (Bo Hopkins) and two cops.
They claim they're there to arrest Phillips, who forces Kathryn to escape with him and reveals that he's not an acting teacher at all, but a "deepcover" federal agent. He also convinces her that even Allesandro is part of the plot. Kathryn lures the unsuspecting Phillips to Moore, thinking he'll
help her, only to discover that Moore is behind the entire complex scheme. It was he who murdered her father and made it look like a suicide, so that if the Governor ever needed to be killed, Kathryn could be framed, with vengeance for her father's death the motive. Morgan arrives and tries to
kill Moore, who shoots him. Kathryn grabs Phillips's gun and kills Moore.
Though clearly produced on a limited budget, CENTER OF THE WEB is an acceptable paranoid political thriller that never transcends the form (as does, say, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), but does manage to avoid becoming hopelessly mired in its own complicated plot. The cast is a direct-to-video dream
(though the film did receive a limited theatrical release, even playing New York's Times Square, it was clearly intended for the home market), a collection of marginal has-beens and never-quite-weres who rescue the material from the curse of out-and-out bad acting without ever being good enough to
make viewers forget the film's low-budget origins.
Surprisingly, the film's worst performance comes from Curtis, who's simultaneously wooden and over-emphatic; it also hurts that the man at the center of the web--who's carefully shot from behind furniture and cloaked in shadows to hide his face--is revealed as Curtis far too early in the film,
courtesy of his distinctive, grating accent. (Violence.)
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