White Sands (film)

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White Sands
White sands ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Produced by William Sackheim
Scott Rudin
Written by Daniel Pyne
Starring Willem Dafoe
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Mickey Rourke
Samuel L. Jackson
Music by Patrick O'Hearn
Cinematography Peter Menzies Jr.
Edited by Nicholas Beauman
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • April 24, 1992 (1992-04-24)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $9,011,574

White Sands is a 1992 crime film directed by Roger Donaldson and written by Daniel Pyne for Warner Bros. Starring Willem Dafoe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Samuel L. Jackson and Mickey Rourke, the film is about a U.S. southwestern small-town sheriff who finds a body in the desert with a suitcase and $500,000. He impersonates the man and stumbles into an FBI investigation.


Torrance County, New Mexico Deputy Sheriff Ray Dolezal is called to look at a body in the desert alongside a suitcase with $500,000 discovered by two tourists. A mortician is content to let the death remain a mystery, but Dolezal sees a chance to escape the boredom of being a family man and a law officer in a small town where not much seems to happen.

He tracks the victim, Bob Spenser, and his last known residence to a local motel. During the autopsy they find a phone number written on paper in the stomach. Dolezal calls the number, posing as Spenser, to set up a meeting. At the meeting, two women force him at gunpoint to give up the money and instruct him to meet Gorman Lennox at a restaurant.

Dolezal is intercepted by FBI agent Greg Meeker, who informs him that Spenser was really Artie Green, an undercover agent. Now that Dolezal has lost the buy money, Meeker concludes he may as well continue pose as Spenser in an effort to either recover the money or help the FBI make a bust.

Dolezal meets Lennox and his wealthy associate Lane Bodine and learns that the money is being used to buy illegal arms in an effort to fund left-wing freedom fighters, who are apparently being slaughtered by right-wing militia somewhere in South America. However, the arms dealers have run into problems and demand an additional $400,000 for the weapons, although Dolezal manages to talk them down to $250,000. Meeker, unwilling to cough up more money, pushes the responsibility of raising the additional quarter-million on Dolezal, who ends up romancing his way into Lane's life so that she will attract rich humanitarian donors to fund the deal.

Meanwhile, two FBI men from the internal affairs division are hunting for Dolezal, believing he killed Spenser and took the money. Dolezal is eventually forced to admit to Lane that he is not really Spenser, but she agrees to help raise the money because she finds Dolezal an attractive, honest alternative to the volatile Lennox.

Dolezal suspects that something else is going on when he attends a rodeo with Lane and meets Noreen, who had an affair with the real Spenser. It turns out Spenser was working with someone else from the FBI who likely killed him when he tried to run off with the money. Noreen runs away in fear at the sight of Meeker (whom Doezal doesn't see) and Dolezal is grabbed by the internal affairs agents. The FBI agents and Dolezal are run off the road by Lennox; Dolezal flees and returns to Lane at the rodeo, where he discovers Noreen shot dead in her car. In her glove box is a Polaroid of her with Spenser and Meeker.

While an FBI agent monitors Lane's house and listens in on what he thinks is Lane and Dolezal having sex, Dolezal breaks in to the surveillance van and beats him unconscious. He confronts Meeker, accusing him of killing Spenser and Noreen. Meeker admits that he procured the $500,000 without authorization to both steal it and capture Lennox, but Spenser lost his nerve and tried to back out; Meeker confronted him out in the desert and talked him into shooting himself. He taunts Dolezal with the fact that the Polaroid proves nothing, and no one will believe his word against that of a minority agent with a spotless record.

Dolezal is then met by Lennox, who reveals the two internal affairs agents tied up in the trunk of his car. They drive out into the desert, where Lennox drops another bombshell — he knows Dolezal is not Spenser, because he is really a CIA agent doing everything in his power to make the arms deal go through, in order to ensure the survival of the military-industrial complex through warfare. Lennox kills the two agents and informs Dolezal that he has also kidnapped Lane. Dolezal must find where she hid the $250,000 and then meet Lennox on a deserted military base in the White Sands desert.

Dolezal uncovers the money in a briefcase buried in Lane's horse's stall. He kidnaps Meeker and takes him out to the White Sands base, handcuffing him to a pipe inside an abandoned building. Dolezal explains that Lennox is CIA, that the FBI will be arriving soon due to a phone call he made, and that Meeker can either face punishment for killing Spenser and Noreen and stealing the money or try to flee. Dolezal leaves a gun behind, so that with some effort Meeker is able to grab it and hide behind a bathroom stall.

Lennox arrives and reveals that Lane is down the road at the base entrance. Dolezal has placed the briefcase in the abandoned building, but when Lennox walks in, Meeker shoots and kills him. After disabling Lennox's car, Dolezal drives away and picks up Lane. He drops her off at her estate and, even though she still has hopes - however remote - that he'll stay with her, he explains that he loves his wife and needs to return home to his family. Before leaving, he hands her a plastic garbage bag containing the $250,000 she had obtained through her pseudo-fund raising event.

A small army of FBI arrive in cars and helicopters. Meeker has broken the pipe he was cuffed to and is running through the White Sands desert with the briefcase. Dolezal has left the original $500,000 he was originally suspected of stealing so that the FBI will no longer be after him, but one of the agents notices footprints going out into the White Sands and so they head off in pursuit. Just as the FBI catches up with him, Meeker stumbles and drops the briefcase, causing it to open. It does not have any money in it, just sand.



Based on 14 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 43% of critics gave White Sands a positive review, with an average rating of 4.9/10.[1]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine wrote that the storyline was both predictable, and, when Lennox is revealed to be a CIA agent, utterly confusing.[2] Most reviewers did feel that the film's highlights include work from cinematographer Peter Menzies and composer Patrick O'Hearn, but that neither man could make up for the problems with the script. As Desson Howe of the Washington Post wrote, it is never really explained why Dafoe's character has this obsession to find out the truth about Bob's death, or the various other unexplained oddities that occur in the film such as the fact that Mastrantonio falls in love with Dafoe's character for no apparent reason.[3]

Leonard Maltin gives the film two stars and says it's "competently performed (even by Rourke) but with little else to distinguish it from dozens of its ilk”.[4]


The film is available on DVD with a few special options. It includes English- and French-language and subtitle options, a filmography of the some of the cast, and trailers for this and a few other films by Morgan Creek.


  1. ^ "White Sands (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 9, 2012. 
  2. ^ White Sands : Review : Rolling Stone
  3. ^ "‘White Sands’ (R)". The Washington Post. April 24, 1992. 
  4. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2009), p. 1541. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. ISBN 1-101-10660-3. Signet Books. Accessed May 9, 2012

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