Former model Rene Russo’s first dramatic role of note was on the 1987 TV series Sable, in which she played Eden Kendall, the literary agent to a children’s author-turned-crimefighter. Her breakthrough theatrical feature was Major League (1989), wherein the statuesque blonde actress was saddled with portraying the “misguided” heroine who foolishly prefers marriage with a stable, secure lawyer over a relationship with boozing, philandering ballplayer Tom Berenger.
Since then, happily, the message conveyed by Russo’s characters has been “Don’t mess with me: I can cope.” In One Good Cop (1991), she played the strongly supportive wife of police officer Michael Keaton, for whom she successfully tackles the sudden responsibility of caring for the surly children of Keaton’s late partner. In Lethal Weapon 3 (1993), Russo could be seen as the karate-chopping cop who wins the confidence (and the love) of “loose cannon” Mel Gibson by proudly showing off her line-of-duty wounds and evincing a fascination with the Three Stooges. In In the Line of Fire (1992), Russo was once more partnered on an equal basis with the leading man, in this case Secret Service agent Clint Eastwood; one of her best scenes featured her wired for sound — despite a most revealing evening gown — at a Washington social affair.
Apparently there are still reviewers out there who can’t quite grasp the concept of a leading lady who can match her leading man blow for blow in a tight situation. In 1995, some observers seemed surprised that Russo, playing a biohazard-suited military research operative in Outbreak, was “as good as” her male counterparts Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman. Despite such ill-founded critical misgivings, Russo has continued to do strong work playing strong women: The acclaimed Get Shorty (1995) featured her as a B-movie actress, while she re-teamed with Gibson for Ron Howard’s crime thriller Ransom (1996) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998). She also played a psychologist who puts the swing back into washed-up golfer Kevin Costner’s game in the well-received Tin Cup (1996), and generated considerable heat as a crime investigator who hunts and then beds down with art thief Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.