Rebel With A Cause

UNDER THE ALIAS RORY DEVANEY, IRA terrorist Frankie McGuire (Brad Pitt) finds himself in New York hiding ""in plain sight'' with the family of cop Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford), who has no idea the charming Irish lad camped out in his basement is on a mission to buy Stinger missiles for the republican cause. This will not sit well with the honest cop, who prides himself on never having killed anyone in his long career. Frankie, on the other hand, is a trigger-happy Belfast fanatic whose cause always justifies his violent means. Just as the righteous cop and the hot-headed rebel are working up a nice father-son bond ... kaboom, Pitt's world of violence comes crashing in on Ford's family. Once the Irishman's cover is blown, the cop's gotta do what a cop's gotta do--bring the fugitive to justice--and, with any luck, keep him alive before his many other enemies get to him.

This is the serviceable, if hokey, setup of The Devil's Own, a topical thriller that manages to be watchable despite director Alan J. Pakula's best efforts to take all the fun out of it. Having once made such prestigious films as ""All the President's Men'' and ""Sophie's Choice,'' Pakula seems determined to invest all his movies with a similar gravity, whether the material warrants it or not. Here the invocation of the Irish Troubles leads him to set the tempo at a solemn funeral march: you could drive several wagonloads of hops through the stars' brooding pauses. The screenplay, embellished by five screenwriters from a Kevin Jarre story, is jerry-built pulp, yet everyone involved seems to be pretending they're in ""Long Day's Journey Into Night.''

Fortunately for us (and for Pakula), Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt are bona fide movie stars: their charisma is a considerable compensation. Both Pitt, sporting a very respectable Belfast accent, and Ford, shedding his superheroic nonchalance, bring a heavy-duty emotional investment to their roles. I admired their performances even when I didn't believe for a moment that their characters would express themselves with such teary-eyed sensitivity.

Like the vastly superior ""Donnie Brasco,'' this is at heart another male love story, and the women in the piece get predictably short shrift. Margaret Colin is Ford's sweet, steadfast wife, and Natascha McElhone plays a rather murky IRA accomplice who was probably Pitt's lover in an earlier draft of the script. Neither of these good actresses makes as strong an impression as the three young girls (Julia Stiles, Ashley Carin, Kelly Singer) who play the O'Meara daughters. Theirs are small parts, but they stand out because they supply the movie's only whiff of spontaneity. A few mundane but memorable moments of their teenage small talk make the high-minded melodrama of the rest of ""The Devil's Own'' look weirdly artificial.