The ''Arlington Road'' stars explain why their film's message is an important one

By Liane Bonin
July 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Michael Tackett

Call it the Summer of Yuks. Some of this season’s biggest hits have been the lightweight fare of ”American Pie,” ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” ”Big Daddy,” and ”South Park.” So it’s no big surprise that the dark, politically themed thriller ”Arlington Road” made a limp seventh-place debut last weekend. But there still may be an important reason to skip the high jinks and hit the ”Road.” ”This film could be thought of as a kind of wake-up call,” says star Jeff Bridges. ”It’s saying, Look around, pay attention to what’s going on around you, and do something about it.”

What’s going on, according to the film, is a growing threat of domestic terrorism. ”Road” suggests that a little healthy paranoia may not be such a bad idea, since the next Unabomber or Timothy McVeigh could be your nice next-door neighbor who spends an awful lot of time tinkering in the garage. To drive home the point, the movie tosses in references to the tragedies of the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1992 siege on Randy Weaver’s ranch in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. ”All the hot issues of the day are in there,” says director Mark Pellington, ”because evil exists, and we can’t close our eyes to it.” Costar Tim Robbins warns, ”There are fundamentalists everywhere, throughout the world. Whether they’re Islamic or Christian, there are those who believe God is telling them to commit violence, and I take them very seriously.”

Despite the film’s noble goal of tackling serious issues (instead of creative uses for apple pies and flutes), the bone-rattling ending may count as the summer’s biggest bummer. Robbins admits to having had ”mixed feelings” about concluding on a down beat, and says that a meeting among the cast and crew to discuss whether the finale should be scrapped for something a little cheerier ”was a discussion that had to be had,” even though no changes were made.

Still, Bridges hopes that people will find a little brain power refreshing in the midst of this summer’s goofy fare. ”We like to lull ourselves into not being aware, almost falling asleep,” says Bridges. ”But this is the kind of movie where you never know what’s going to happen, like in real life.”