The twists and turns taken by "White Sands" are alternately fascinating and frustrating. Nobody is who he seems and just about anything can happen.

On the whole, however, this thriller is anything but by the numbers, and that alone is almost worth a recommendation - we've just had so many lately that have been completely predictable."White Sands" casts Willem Dafoe as an honest cop, a New Mexico deputy sheriff who thinks he may have stumbled onto the mystery of his career. As such, he can't resist diving into it with everything he's got.

In the middle of nowhere, a body is found - a man who seems to have committed suicide and is holding a briefcase filled with $500,000. Who was he? Why did he have all this money? And did he really commit suicide?

Dafoe is obsessed with these questions and before long decides to impersonate the dead man to try and find the answers. Naturally, it isn't long before he's in over his head, in the middle of an apparent arms deal with sinister Mickey Rourke and seductive Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

He also confronts two sets of FBI agents - one investigating the other - and a couple of tough, gun-wielding lesbians who seem to have wandered in from "Basic Instinct." (There's also a brief, funny cameo by Fredrick Lopez as an American Indian helicopter pilot, who seems to have wandered in from "Thunderheart.")

The film's best supporting characters, however, are those that get short-shrift: M. Emmet Walsh as a sardonic, wise-cracking pathologist, and Mimi Rogers as Dafoe's innocent but smart wife. Both deliver promises of intriguing performances, but both are dropped from the film about a third of the way in.

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Dafoe makes an interesting innocent, who is tempted by Mastrantonio but wants to remain faithful to Rogers (there is as gratuitous a nude scene as we've had in awhile when Mastrantonio climbs into a shower with Dafoe).

Meanwhile, Rourke is his usual slimy self, his hair no cleaner than usual - just taller. And, especially in closeups, he appears to literally spit his dialogue into the camera.

The script, by Daniel Pyne ("Pacific Heights," "Doc Hollywood") is a bit too complex for its own good at times and director Roger Donaldson ("No Way Out," "Cocktail") occasionally lets the pacing lag. But there are some genuine surprises here, and most of the cast is appealing. And the New Mexico locations are used to great advantage.

"White Sands" is rated R for violence and profanity, as well as the nudity and sex.

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