In the late 1990s, while the Clinton presidency was in its waning days, there were a series of mediocre films that brought the Presidency to a human level. You may recall Absolute Power or Air Force One – two films I’ll probably write about in the weeks ahead – but one of the stranger ones is the Wesley Snipes vehicle Murder at 1600. This is a pre-Blade Snipes, back when he could reliably lead a thriller, and here he plays an MPD detective who must solve the murder of a secretary who was found dead at The White House.
Before we continue further, this premise requires us to accept jurisdictional insanity. Any death on White House grounds would automatically be a federal matter, and MPD would have nothing to do with the investigation. Still, the intersection of “Washington” and “The District” creates some interesting tension between the Snipes character and the White House staffers with whom he is forced to work. And for a film made in 1997, there is some surprising room for Snipes to worry about the city’s gentrification (his apartment building is being razed for a parking lot). That parking lot would probably be ultra-expensive condos right now, but that’s beside the point.
Ultimately, Murder at 1600 is not a good Washington movie or a good District movie because it does not do adequate service to either. Instead, it is a simple procedural that relies on one too many silly twists to tell its story. In one of its more implausible moments, Snipes sneaks into the White House while dressed as a janitor. Still, the film is amusing as a time capsule of 1990s pop culture. There is a sub-plot involving the White House potentially escalating war with North Korea, for example, and Dennis Miller of all people appears as Snipes’ wise-cracking partner. Oh, to live in such innocent times.