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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Suburban Madness (2004)

"Why did all of America become so obsessed with the Clara Harris story? Because it happened to a middle-class, dual-income, respectable family. Because it happened in the suburbs...where good people like you and me live. Because if a sickness can grow inside the Harris family, are any of us really immune?"
- Bobbi Bachla (Sela Ward)

Review By: Jeff Rosado   
Published: April 07, 2005

Stars: Sela Ward, Elizabeth Pe˝a, Brett Cullen
Other Stars: Heather Allin, Kirsten Bishop, Jeff Clarke, Michelle Duquet, Kate Greenhouse, Martha MacIassac, Kennedy McKucklan, Liam McGucklan, April Mullen, Daniela Saloni, Brittany Starkman, Janaya Stephens
Director: Robert Dornhelm

MPAA Rating: R for violent and sexual content, mild language
Run Time: 01h:29m:14s
Release Date: April 05, 2005
UPC: 043396107908
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+B+B D

DVD Review

On July 24th in 2002. Houston-based dentist Clara Harris confronts her cheating husband, orthodontist David Harris, and his mistress in a Houston hotel. In a bitter irony, it was the same establishment where the once happy couple celebrated their wedding day a decade earlier. After the expected blow-up between them, Clara does medieval on David's mistress; a nearby security guard had to physically separate the two. After seemingly calming herself down, she heads back to the parking lot in an almost zombie-like trance, with equally upset daughter Lindsey accompanying her. A scheduled trip back home takes a dramatic detour when Clara eyes David escorting her nemesis back to her car. In a moment of rage, she slams on the accelerator and hits him, an act that sends his body onto the hood of the car, then back onto the pavement where Clara proceeds to run over his body. Still numb, she circles the lot and repeats the act, not just once, but two more times, not only to the horror of Lindsey, but to stunned onlookers nearby as well, who must have felt like instantly commissioned extras thrust upon the set of one of those true crime TV movies.

But it was all real.

Nearly eight months later, a Texas jury convicted Harris of murder, sentencing the doctor to 20 years in prison, a verdict applauded by some, condemned by others, in yet another high profile murder case that captivated and divided the nation. Suburban Madness is a soapy, sometimes contrived, but undeniably entertaining made-for-TV retelling that manages to rise above most factual-based fare, thanks to the heart of the story itself, top flight talent, and above average production courtesy of executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (who presided over the Oscar-winning Chicago and Emmy showered Life with Judy Garland).

To many that worked with the Texas couple in their dentistry business, it wasn't that hard to see the seams beginning to rip in the Harris' union. Clara (Elizabeth Peľa) is one of those "firmly dedicated to her job" types, but also holds a soft spot for children in need of special and potentially costly procedures that she sometimes does for free, much to the chagrin of hubby David (Brett Cullen), who's a bit more laid back but more mindful of the bottom line. Away from the office, things are a bit more clear in terms of the hidden dividing lines—Clara's spends more time playing mommy to her toddler twins than satisfying the emotional needs of daddy—and it's not long before David finds comfort in the form of Lisa (Kate Greenhouse), a willowy blonde and soon-to-be single mother to three kids who is in desperate need of employment. Despite her clumsy nature, he hires her to play receptionist, but it's not long before Lisa's doing more than answering the phones after hours (cue dimly lit obligatory cheating montage with wind blown curtains, sexy music, and carefully shot bedroom action).

But what David doesn't know is that his mistress almost got pegged as one that plays both sides. You see, her soon-to-be ex recently had Lisa spied upon by two professionals who work for Bobbi Bacha (Sela Ward), a smooth-talking southern lady with an accent that just drips molasses, possesses a calming nature, and always has tissues and home-baked cookies as soothers for the jilted. This charming technique rakes in those minimum fees quickly. But the one thing you don't do to Bobbi is waste her time as Lisa's ex does. Honestly, Bobbi's binoculars and high-tech surveillance tools would be better off pointed in the direction of the Harris clan, especially after a heated discussion between Lindsey and Pop brings out the truth about the affair. But rather than kicking him out for long, Clara accepts David back home. She goes all out with the sexy clothing, makes plans for liposuction, breast augmentation (all the usual Extreme Makeover stuff), gets the candles, satin sheets, and everything for a night of passion, but David's still indifferent and thinking about Lisa.

Suburban Madness falls into car wreck territory like a juicy episode of Dallas (remember when poor Bobby Ewing got run over in pretty much the same fashion?); when it clicks, it's extremely powerful and entertaining. However, the dueling storylines that go back and forth between the Harris' downfall and Bobbi's attitude that seems to fuel her career can't help but make you wonder who's this movie really about, anyway? But what saves it from complete mediocrity are the performances, including Emmy winner Sela Ward (who many TV lovers like me still miss from Once and Again) as the quirky but likeable snoop, and Elizabeth Peña and Brett Cullen who portray the doomed couple's complex personalities perfectly; one aspect I thought commendable as far as the latter storyline is that it didn't relegate either to party victim status. We see the virtues and the flaws of both of these people, who were basically good, decent citizens that got swept up by suspicion, paranoia, the seven year itch and so on. Rather than talking it out and communicating, they went their own ways emotionally—and by the time they chose to tentatively let each other back in, too much damage had been done. And in the end, two kids are left without a father while their mother sits in prison.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Madness is one of the most impressive transfers I've seen of a made-for-television film in a long time, right up there with the likes of HBO standards for their cable offerings. Colors are striking, exteriors and interiors blend together well and the sharpness is exquisite.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 really only amounts to filling your room up with ambient sound. Other than fleshing out extraneous noises and such, that's about it. Dialogue is well replicated and the incidental soundtrack is nicely spread in the fronts. Effective yet unmemorable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Art Heist, Face of Terror, Trois: The Escort, Boogeyman, The Brooke Ellison Story
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I know most will not be upset at all with practically no bonuses, but considering what a headline grabber this case was, I'm surprised Sony didn't spring for a commentary track that might have gathered the real life Bobbi Bacha and Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth (whose article for the magazine not only gave the movie it's title, but provided the basis for the screenplay). A true missed opportunity.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Though uneven at times, Suburban Madness is a surprisingly effective, well performed re-enactment of what led to one of the most shocking crimes of the decade thus far. Sony's transfer of one of the most watched TV movies of the 2004-2005 season is one of the best from the company in recent memory and hopefully indicative of other small screen projects to come from them in the future.

 


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