Thirteen years ago, Eric Roberts was on the top of the world. Fresh off an Academy Award nomination for Runaway Train and a string of memorably intense performances in films such as Star 80 and The Pope Of Greenwich Village, Roberts seemed to have a bright future. Unfortunately, while brilliant playing such marginal characters as a playmate-dismembering psychotic hustler in Star 80, he was less convincing in roles that did not require him to play intense, bug-eyed psychotics. Though the quality of his roles has diminished over the last decade, the quantity has increased exponentially, as evidenced by the recent release of three direct-to-video epics. Roberts stars in Saved By The Light as a sadistic working-class Southerner whose life is changed forever after he is struck by lightning and briefly dies. After being brought back to life, Roberts not only becomes a far more compassionate and loving person, but develops the ability to predict the future. An odd mixture of low-key inspirational drama and minimalist science-fiction thriller, Saved By The Light is ultimately a sort of a shaggy-dog story: After establishing that Roberts has remarkable psychic powers, the film then fails to do anything interesting with his newfound ability. A subplot involving the deterioration of Roberts' relationship with his wife—who inexplicably preferred him when he was an angry, hard-drinking redneck bastard—also never really amounts to anything. Based on a true story and directed with workmanlike craft by Lewis Teague (Alligator, Jewel Of The Nile), Saved By The Light is at its best when it focuses on Roberts' random, meaningless existence as a small-town bully. When it starts getting metaphysical, it resembles an uninspired episode of Unsolved Mysteries: During the scene in which Roberts leaves his body and walks into the white light, you expect to hear Robert Stack's solemn intonation as Roberts stands in front of what is obviously a blue screen and ponders the great, albeit extraordinarily cheap-looking, beyond. Roberts plays a similarly schizoid character in the science-fiction action-thriller Past Perfect. As a renegade police officer in the dystopian present, Roberts is faced with a pair of foes: a group of nihilistic, drug-addled teenagers and a trio of law officers from the future who figure they will save time and energy by killing off big-time adult criminals while they're still in their teens. For its first 20 minutes or so, Past Perfect is a thrillingly over-the-top pulpfest, at times suggesting a cheap, tawdry, direct-to-video A Clockwork Orange. But things deteriorate shortly after the film kills off its gang of entertainingly psychotic teens, the better to concentrate on the one troubled kid who ends up relying upon Roberts and his partner for protection. While Past Perfect starts off gleefully amoral, it loses nerve about halfway through, transforming Roberts' character from a barely controlled vigilante cop to a warm, paternalistic protector concerned with giving troubled teenagers a chance at redemption. Still, Past Perfect is not without its strengths, particularly Roberts' lead performance and a couple of entertainingly slimy supporting turns by direct-to-video staples Nick Mancuso and Saul Rubinek. While Roberts is the main attraction in Past Perfect, the excruciatingly awful Olivier "The French Jeff Speakman" Gruner vehicle TNT reduces him to playing the guest villain, the sort of role previously occupied by such luminaries as John Ritter. Gruner stars in TNT as a trained killer working for the titular organization, a paramilitary group which he eventually learns is not an unusually violent wing of Greenpeace, but an evil bunch willing to kill women and children if required. Playing a high-ranking TNT official who orders Gruner assassinated, Roberts demonstrates his character's wicked nature not only by sporting malevolent facial hair, but by delivering all his lines in a menacing rasp. Stuck playing a minor, poorly written villain in an awful action film, Roberts nevertheless seems to be trying. But the main problem with TNT—aside from the fact that all its foreign action set-pieces look like they were filmed in the location scout's backyard—is that the anti-charismatic Gruner makes a terrible action hero. He spouts his badly written lines in a such a lumbering, demented Gallic monotone that he seems almost to parody himself. The film's lowest moments—aside from an unintentionally hilarious scene in which former mercenary Gruner is shown at his new job as a suspiciously perky aerobics instructor—are Gruner's cringe-inducing bonding scenes with amiable bumpkin sheriff Randy Travis. Gruner's leaden way with a one-liner is enough to prompt nostalgia for the comparatively nimble, sparkling wit of Jean-Claude Van Damme .

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