Center of the Web (1992)

As we progress further into the 1990s with David A Prior, we happen upon what might be called, if you squint and are extremely generous, his attempt at a homage to Alfred Hitchcock. There are double and triple crosses, innocent people being mistaken for assassins and drawn into plots, romance, murder and a variety of colourful locations. Okay, there’s nothing quite like Mount Rushmore, but they try!

Our “hero” is John Philips (Ted Prior), an acting coach who has a bit of a weird introduction as he’s asking a couple of his students to act out a love scene on stage. He gives a bit of instruction to his class about rolling with the punches, like if you’re acting and something goes wrong, you’ve got to improvise. Fine advice, and not at all foreshadowing. He’s dating a lawyer, Kathryn (Charlene Tilton), and while he’s waiting outside a building for her to get her purse, he’s bundled into a car by a bad-looking fellow, Tony (William Zipp, making a return to the Prior-verse), and instructed to kill some Governor, or something. But before he’s had the chance to say much more than “no idea what you’re talking about, mate”, some other car is chasing their car and peppering them with bullets.

From this misunderstanding (or is it?), a web begins to trap John, with every turn being a bad one for him, getting more and more entangled in the world of the Department of Justice, hitmen, the CIA (I think), and, er, Tony Curtis. The DOJ want him to continue playing the part of the hitman to infiltrate the bad guys, the bad guys want him to kill people, you know the drill.

Tony Curtis. We’ve encountered him before (“Bounty Hunters 2”), at the back end of a glorious career, owing an alimony payment and therefore doing a quick few days’ work on whatever garbage movie wanted his name on their poster. Here, he’s the friend of Kathryn’s dead father who promised to look after her, but as you don’t have Curtis in your movie for such a nothing role, and they make zero effort to hide that it’s him, it’s no surprise when he’s revealed as some sort of kingpin – although to confuse us, they don’t tell us why he’s doing what he’s doing or what he hopes to gain from it.

As I mentioned in my review of “Raw Nerve”, this second stage of Prior’s career featured bigger names and budgets. We get Robert Davi (“Maniac Cop 2”) in a great role, and (for some reason top billed) Charles Napier as a guy who turns up in one scene just to get shot. There’s some fun stunts, too, like the school bus chase scene, and the one where Ted has to climb over a speeding truck, but during the end credits they – for some reason – play it at normal speed and it looks embarrassing.

I also mentioned that things became somewhat duller. With that pivot towards more mainstream thriller fare, and the smoothing of the rough edges that made Prior’s earlier movies so memorable, there’s a definite loss somewhere. Perhaps when you’re aiming for Hitchcock rather than some cheesy war movie, your failures become more apparent – or the reverse, you’re aware of just how skillful Hitchcock was at generating plot and suspense.

So, another movie that’s bad because it’s not as bad as what came before, if you catch my drift. The sheer volume of twists and double-crosses and reveals becomes wearying after a while, too – it would be more of a twist if they just told a straight story once in a while.

Rating: thumbs down

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