Murder at 1600 starts with all the clever thriller set-ups and intriguing plot grabbers of slick Hollywood at its best. It ends with all the pointless, cliché-ridden thriller hokum of slick Hollywood at its worst. What makes it work as well as it does is the appealing, intelligent performance of Wesley Snipes, an actor whose career has disintegrated into ego, bad tax advice and second-rate macho movies. Most of Murder at 1600 is an exciting ride, and I've always enjoy boarding this roller coaster. The destination, however, is a yawn.
It's all about the body of a young woman, one of the secretaries, discovered in a White House bathroom. Detective Harlan Regis (Snipes) of the D. C. Police Department is assigned to investigate. The head of the White House Secret Service detail, Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali), isn't having any of that. The White House is his turf. Matters get complicated when the murdered woman is identified as the girl friend of the President's son. She might even have been the girlfriend of the President. Regis makes clear he's not going away. Spikings assigns one of his team to work with Regis. She's Agent Nina Chance (Diane Lane), small, attractive and, more to the point, smart. She's also a sharpshooter. That's a talent that will come in handy later. But is she assigned to help Regis or to spy on him and report back to Spikings?
Will this be an investigation of a murder or a cover-up for a murderer? Or is the murder part of something worse...something like, say, political intrigue at the highest levels? What we quickly realize is that Benzali and Alan Alda, as National Security Advisor Alvin Jordan, are going to chew the scenery.
By the time this complicated, high-potential mystery movie limps to its conclusion, we will have spent most of the time enjoying Wesley Snipe's charm and resourcefulness as he unthreads a conspiracy and Diane Lane's talent as an intelligent sidekick. Of course, Hollywood also gives us a few mysterious and nearly unkillable hit men, a convenient tunnel to the White House, massive explosions with people flying through the air, untrustworthy helicopters, the cliche of car chases, plus kicks, grunts and a climax in the White House that involves a lot of people, including the President.
I enjoy Murder at 1600, most of it, and I like Snipes' performance so well I can even get past the last 25 minutes. He was one of several actors who made vivid impressions in the great, odd King of New York. In a sidekick role, he nearly edged Sean Connery off stage center in Rising Sun and he proved he could handle comedy easily in White Men Can't Jump. Watching an actor with Snipes' abilities and potential self-destruct is a sad thing.