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Warner Home Video presents
"It's a nothing thing. One hundred and eighteen minutes to get a little hemorrhoid 16 blocks."
DVD ReviewSometimes the little things that should be easy turn out to be a lot more difficult than you expect. That's the situation in the latest Bruce Willis actioner helmed by veteran Richard Donner. Given the constraints of action, threat, high stakes, and a ticking clock, one would expect the suspense factor to be pretty high, but for a variety of reasons this would-be thriller disappoints.
Willis stars as NYPD detective Jack Mosley, burned-out, alcoholic, discouraged and exhausted. At the end of a bloody night shift, on his way out the door he's handed a quick little assignment: transport a witness, Eddie Bunker (rapper Mos Def) from a holding cell to a courthouse 16 blocks away no later than 10 AM so he can testify before a grand jury. Mosley grudgingly accepts, but finds out that he has more trouble than he counted on when people start taking shots at Eddie. Before long, Mosley realizes it's not just crooks that are after Eddie, but other cops as well. Torn between personal loyalties and his duty, soon Mosley is on the run himself, trying to find a way to get Bunker to the grand jury without getting them both killed. Only the entire NYPD stands in their way.
Although there's plenty of gunfire, car chases, even a bus chase, the film doesn't quite work from a suspense angle. Perhaps a native New Yorker would have a good sense of where they are and what the situation is on the ground, but I found myself clueless as to where the principals were in relation to their goal for nearly the entire movie. They seem to keep getting sidetracked, but there's no indication of how far off the track that might be, and what the time frame might be for them to get back to the goal. The clock does make an occasional appearance, but not frequently enough to really put the time pressure up front. There are too many slow spots where Donner seems to get interested in the scenery of New York neighborhoods, particularly Chinatown, and funky alleyways. Part of the slack is attempted to be pulled up by the ADD-inspired quick editing that only helps make the gun battles completely incoherent. The result doesn't hold the viewer's attention nearly as well as it should. Perhaps trimming 20 minutes from the running time would have helped.
On the other hand, the main characters are extremely well drawn for your typical action flick. Mosley has a lot of depth, and Willis conveys a sense of despondent and hung-over weariness jolted into life by sheer adrenaline. Bunker is rather whiny and obnoxious at first, but he soon develops a well-defined character that has a number of interesting aspects. One point that is a little too labored is his repeated raising of an ethical hypothetical, which parallels Mosley's real-life ethical dilemma. A bit more subtlety could have been afforded here. But Mos Def turns in a reasonably good performance (large bits of which seem improvised) in a role that could easily have turned into the cartoonish character played by Joe Pesci in Donner's Lethal Weapon films. The supporting cast doesn't fare nearly as well, with the police given little depth beyond wanting to kill anyone who might reveal their secrets.
At its heart, the picture is a tale of corruption and redemption coming from the most unlikely of sources. Despite the possibility of redemption being extended, however, the overwhelming impression being conveyed here is a relentless hopelessness at the level of decay in the justice system, permeating the entire police force and much of the district attorney's office, protected by the code of silence. It's on the whole quite depressing (the film's only answer seems to be to run away to Seattle), making the viewer want to disappear into the bottle just as much as Detective Mosley.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The disc is released as a combo HD and standard DVD, with one version on each side. The HD version gives substantial improvement in the grain rendering and color differentiation, but there's quite a lot of use of soft focus (especially on Willis), which doesn't exactly make this an HD showpiece. For that matter, Donner uses a quite limited palette, mostly in versions of black, white, and grey, so don't expect a lot of flashiness on the HD color front. There is some minor ringing but nothing too obnoxious. The SD side has a fair amount of aliasing and artifacting, but on the whole it's not too bad.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The HD side features DD+ 5.1 tracks in both English and French; the SD side is limited to standard 5.1 English only. Both sides are quite clean, with plenty of surround information. Range and bass are excellent, with plenty of oomph to the gunshots. The sound of the city is often quite enveloping and works well in putting the audience into the situation.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Extras Review: All of the extra material is in standard definition 480p and is only on the SD side of the disc. The principal extras are deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The seven deleted scenes include nonoptional commentary from Donner and writer Richard Wenk, who also appear in PIP (picture-in-picture) at times during the deleted scenes. Most of these were wisely cut from the picture and would have just slowed things down even further. There's an alternate ending that's even more grim than the present one, which can be played either by itself, with an introduction by Donner and Wenk (though in nonanamorphic widescreen), or integrated into the movie in anamorphic fashion. The only other extra is an anamorphic widescreen trailer. Donner makes a comment about this being a loaded disc, making one wonder if a more generous special edition might not be lurking somewhere down the road.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA bleak actioner that doesn't quite fire on all cylinders, though it is redeemed somewhat by Willis and Mos Def, who make their roles into something a bit more special than the run of the mill. There are quite a few deleted scenes if you want more.
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