Harrison Ford is in peak form in Clear and Present Danger. It’s the summer’s smartest thriller: a gripping blend of suspense and surprising humor. There’s more talk than action in the third of Tom Clancy’s best sellers to reach the screen, after The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, but the talk is prime and the action, when it comes, is smashing. Ford is back as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, cajoled to fill in temporarily for his ailing friend, Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), the CIA’s deputy director of intelligence. It’s a desk job, or so Ryan tells his doctor wife, Cathy (Anne Archer). He doesn’t figure on an angry president (Donald Moffat) launching an undeclared war against Colombian drug cartels that pits Ryan against something equally lethal — all the president’s men.
Who’d have thought director Phillip Noyce (Sliver) could have milked so much fun out of bureaucrats? The president can’t even say the word war; he leaves that to James Cutter (Harris Yulin), his national security adviser. Cutter turns to Robert Ritter (a terrific Henry Czerny), the CIA deputy director of operations. But Ritter won’t give his operative, Mr. Clark (Willem Dafoe), the OK to send in troops and bombs until he gets what he calls “I don’t go to jail” card from the White House. There are lots of explosions when Ryan visits Colombia, but the film’s tensest and funniest scene is Ryan’s raid on Ritter’s computer. Ryan is furious at being deceived. “It’s the old Potomac two-step,” says the prez. “I don’t dance,” says Ryan. Cheers to top screenwriters Donald Stewart (Missing), Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and John Milius (Apocalypse Now) for keeping Clancy’s flag-waving in check without losing his gung-ho fervor. Clancy’s never had it this good onscreen.