(director: Alan J. Pakula; screenwriters: David Shaber/story by David Sahber, Howard Kohn and David Weir; cinematographer: Giuseppe Rotunno; editor: Evan Lottman; music: Michael Small; cast: Kris Kristofferson (Hub Smith), Jane Fonda (Lee Winters), Hume Cronyn (Maxwell Emery), Bob Gunton (Sal Naftari), Josef Sommer (Roy Lefcourt), Macon McCalman (Jerry Fewster); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Bruce Gilbert; Warner Home Video; 1981)

Diverting doomsday financial-political thriller.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Diverting doomsday financial-political thriller directed with intensity by Alan J. Pakula (“All the President’s Men”/”Klute”/”Sophie’s Choice”). It’s based on a story by David Sahber, Howard Kohn and David Weir, with Sahber’s screenplay veering from the ridiculous to the nearly ridiculous.

Lee Winters (Jane Fonda) is the ex-actress who recently became a wealthy widow when her hubby, head of a big petrochemical company, was mysteriously slain in his World Trade Center office. High-powered bank troubleshooter, Hub Smith (Kris Kristofferson), is asked by the cunning bank president of New York’s Borough National Bank, Maxwell Emery (Hume Cronyn), to help Lee out in her new role at the firm for some high-priced financial considerations. Attracted to her, Hub not only helps the aggressive Lee become the company’s board chairman over the objections of the patronizing board directors but also becomes her bed partner. Through middle-man Sal Naftari (Bob Gunton) arranging for Lee and Hub to go to Saudi Arabia, she’s able to secure a $500 million venture capital loan with the Saudis. With that dough in hand, Lee purchases a profitable petrochemical company to pump up business for her struggling firm. Lee is the valued prime customer of the Borough National Bank, which unethically through crooked bookkeeping hides their financial failings from the feds so they can continue with business as usual as if they were solvent.

Lee and Hub begin a whirlwind romance despite the fact she doesn’t trust him, as the hard to follow tricky financial deals done in bank speak take root and we learn that Emery is in cahoots with the oil rich Saudis (who set up a mysterious bank account with the Borough National Bank, keeping the bank afloat, to buy gold on the sly). The sinister Saudis have their own agenda, as they plan on withdrawing all the money they lent to bankers all over the world at once and thereby hope to cause a market crash that will signal a major depression in the West and bring it to its knees. As the Saudi plan kicks in, Hub discovers the Saudis are suspiciously not rolling-over their loan paybacks to collect the huge interest and he realizes he was used by Emery in a diabolical financial plot (that’s nevertheless legal). Hub spends the third act trying to figure out this plot and how to stop it.

Compelling in spreading its paranoid message not to trust bankers, OPEC or the corruptible feds, this sometimes confusing over-plotted pic with overwrought melodramatics, featuring too many dull Hollywood-like characters acting financially important and saddled with a stodgy romance carried out in evening gowns and tuxedos, is nevertheless worth seeing because it’s so blistering in its attacks on reputable international institutions and in the belief that conspiracy theories are not always bogus. Clearly it reflects the distrust Americans still harbor for the oil rich Saudis, who played them for suckers in the 1970s by creating an oil shortage and hiking up the gas prices.

The Saudis make for good movie villains (maybe like the Nazis back in the 1940s!), as do the unscrupulous bankers protected by the big business-friendly American capitalist system.“Rollover” ends on the dubious note, with the privileged hero and heroine acknowledging to each other that money isn’t everything (after spending almost the entire film saying it’s only money that talks in this world). A perfectly phony Hollywood ending for a convoluted but enjoyable movie that envisions the worldwide flow of money as a force of nature and shifts tones so often you would think it was filmed in a wind tunnel (or a time warp).