In Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Cold War catastrophe was narrowly avoided thanks to CIA historian Jack Ryan’s insight into a Soviet submarine commander’s psyche. An even more volatile near-miss scenario appears in The Sum of All Fears (PG-13). This time it’s Ryan’s detailed understanding of a newly appointed Russian president that barely keeps the jittery superpowers from swapping warheads.
It’s 1992. Several rogue fascists want to spark a full-scale nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia with the intent of taking over while those nations are busy sorting through radioactive rubble. So the terrorists nuke Baltimore. Convinced that the Russians are responsible, the U.S. must react or appear weak. Can Ryan get them the facts in time? Of course. And the bad guys get their comeuppance—not that it will help the 2.5 million people caught unaware in Maryland’s most thriving metropolis.
Beyond its depressive aftertaste, this violent drama shows men being strangled, shot, blown up and crushed by a rolled helicopter. About half of its 30 profanities are blasphemous. Also, previous Clancy tales have benefited from tender moments involving Ryan’s family. Not here. In this prequel, the bachelor is introduced waking up beside his girlfriend after their third date.
The Sum of All Fears is not escapist, feel-good fun. In light of current events, it’s part political thriller, part cautionary tale ... part horror film. What’s really scary is the thought of a U.S. president (Cromwell) with his finger on "the button" who is quick to invoke the Lord’s name as profanity, yet seeks no divine guidance amid crisis. God forbid.