By the late ’70s, the cinematic marketplace was clogged with so many like-minded conspiracy thrillers that filmmakers had to struggle to contrive credible new conspiracies—and in some cases they didn’t even bother with credibility at all. The latter circumstance is true of The Domino Principle, which was inexplicably directed by venerable Hollywood filmmaker Stanley Kramer, a man best known for hand-wringing dramas about Big Issues like injustice and racism. This profoundly stupid movie follows Vietnam vet Roy Tucker (Gene Hackman), a prison inmate offered clemency by mysterious but high-powered conspirators in exchange for committing an assassination.
Right away, the film raises bizarre questions it never answers. Why bother recruiting a convict instead of simply hiring a criminal who’s walking free? Why go through all the trouble of bribing and manipulating prison personnel to engineer Tucker’s “escape”? Why go through an extended negotiation with Tucker about his desired terms, when the simpler thing to do is simply threaten his beloved wife (Candice Bergen) in order to pressure Tucker? Why send Tucker to an expensive hideaway in Mexico after the assassination is over, instead of just cutting him loose or gunning him down? And why does the supposedly savvy Tucker think all this will end well?
Instead of raising intriguing questions about why the bad guys are scheming, the film stacks idiotic plot contrivances upon each other until the viewer’s brain is numbed. It’s even unclear what sort of reaction The Domino Principle is supposed to generate. Tucker is a callous son of a bitch, so it’s not as if we’re supposed to care that he’s in trouble. The stakes of the assassination are never made clear, so it’s not as if we’re supposed to worry about the world order getting overthrown. Worst of all, the movie is so confusing, talky, and tedious that it’s not as if viewers can simply cast logic aside and groove on the thrills.
Hackman seems peevish throughout the entire movie, as if he’s upbraiding himself for agreeing to yet another pointless paycheck gig; Bergen is upstaged by the horrific perm she wears throughout the picture; and villains Richard Widmark and Eli Wallach sneer happily even though they probably can’t make any damn sense of the inane dialogue they’re spouting. (Plus, the less said about the pointless supporting character portrayed by an out-of-place Mickey Rooney, the better.) By the time the movie sputters to an overheated conclusion that’s as nonsensical as it is merciless, The Domino Principle has bludgeoned viewers so badly that only one mystery remains: Were the conspirators behind this cinematic atrocity ever brought to justice?
The Domino Principle: LAME