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Reviews: April 30

30 Apr, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Running Scared

Running Scared
Prebook 5/2; Street 6/6
New Line, Thriller, B.O. $6.9 million, $27.95 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual content/nudity and drug use.
Stars Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Chazz Palminteri, Vera Farmiga.

Running Scared is a loopy roller-coaster of a thriller. Writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) trades in the Black Forest of the Grimm Brothers for pre-Giuliani, gritty, dark New York City in this urban fairy tale that's full of enough blood, gun battles and F-bombs to make Quentin Tarantino blush.

Joey (Walker) is a mob trash man, cleaning up his boss's messes. The neighbor kid Oleg (Bright of Birth and Godsend) steals a gun that was used to kill a cop and shoots his abusive stepfather. Oleg runs off into the night — which is a veritable rabbit-hole full of crack addicts, molesters, pimps and hookers — with Joey hot on his tail, looking for the gun that ties his mob bosses to a cop killing.

Kramer's skewed fairy-tale vision is unexpected given the straightforward action marketing of the film. It adds a bizarre feel to a brutal tale that will likely polarize viewers. I find myself on the liking-it side of the fence. The more I roll it around in my brain, the deeper my appreciation goes for Kramer's unlikely inspirations and graphic novelist's eye for storyboarding; the tightly choreographed camera work and special effects; and the sane (Joey, his family and Oleg) and insane (everyone else) characters barely reined in by the ensemble cast.

Selling Points: This in-and-out-of-theaters flick should attract hardcore action fans who like stylized films by Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (especially Sin City), and those who want to see The Fast and the Furious' Walker play it dark. — Laura Tiffany

The Ringer
Street 5/16
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $35.4 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some cruelty, sexual humor and drug use.
Stars Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox, Katherine Heigl.

I loved the crude MTV show “Jackass,” and I'm thrilled to see one of its stars, Knoxville, in film. Unfortunately, I couldn't sit through his starring role in Daltry Calhoun, which perfectly cast Knoxville as an estranged dad who sells lawn grass and then left him in a story that didn't break the heart enough with family issues and didn't mine the humor enough.

Knoxville's latest foray, the Farrelly brothers' The Ringer, is a victim of more of the same. It starts out promising, with Knoxville as loser Steve Barker girding himself to ask for a promotion. Then it drives into a comedy of errors worthy of There's Something About Mary that leads the well-meaning doofus to the brink of disaster. His good-for-nothing dad's idea to bail him out? Rig the Special Olympics. After that, what we get is clich?-driven fluff, with Barker faking his way into the competition, surrounded by actors whose lines are unfunny and mentally challenged actors whose lines are very funny.

I hope someone finishes the first part of the film with Knoxville as a loser and gives the mentally challenged cast their own flick.

Selling Points: The Farrellys, Knoxville and movie love-interest Heigl (“Grey's Anatomy”) will draw them in, but the mentally challenged cast will yield the most laughs. Brendan Howard

What's on DVD?

  • Six deleted scenes
  • Special Olympics featurette
  • Making-of featurette
  • Message from Special Olympics chairman
  • Commentary with the director, the screenwriter, the producer and actors Knoxville, Edward Barbanell and John Taylor.

  • BloodRayne
    Street 5/23
    Visual Entertainment, Action, B.O. $1.6 million, $26.99 two-disc set (‘R'-rated or Unrated available).
    Stars Kristanna Loken, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez.

    Director Uwe Boll is developing his own niche: video games turned movies. It started with 2003's disappointing House of the Dead, based on a zombie shooting game.

    Now comes Boll's next project, BloodRayne,M based on a pair of games about a half-vampire/half-woman Dhamphyr who's out to kill Nazis and her vampiric father's side of the family.

    It's the latter quest that occupies the feature film, with Loken (the cyborg villainess from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) playing the gorgeous redhead who escapes from a circus sideshow in 18th-century Romania to get revenge on Kagen (Kingsley), her vampire father who raped and murdered her human mother. Kagen also is intent on becoming a super-vampire, and the Brimstone Society of human heroes is trying to stop him.

    That simple plot becomes convoluted through extraneous subplots and side characters (Meat Loaf Aday and Billy Zane), but the bloody action of swords, crossbows, fisticuffs and vampire neck-bites is satisfying.

    Despite poor performances from Kingsley, Madsen and Rodriguez, Loken takes her orphaned Dhamphyr character seriously, getting us to to follow her on her quest for revenge and her softening through a steamy sex scene with Matthew Davis.

    Selling Points: This is a fun, flawed actioner that barely registered in theaters. The included PC game, BloodRayne 2, follows Rayne's quest for revenge. Boll is at work on movies based on the games Dungeon Siege, Postal and Far Cry. — Brendan Howard

    What's on DVD?

  • Commentary
  • Stunt outtakes
  • Deleted scenes
  • Making-of featurette
  • BloodRayne 2 PC video game

  • Black and Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop
    Prebook 5/16; Street 6/27
    Image, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, Rating pending.

    “Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That's Benjamin Franklin years ago, but the sentiment lives today. In an era of endless detention of “combatants” in Guantanamo Bay and Bush's wiretaps, even terrorism-frightened Americans must ask: How much privacy and freedom do we give up to the authorities to keep us safe?

    While its scope is far narrower, Black and Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop deals with that question. When rumors were verified of the existence of a hip-hop task force charged with surveilling, investigating and following rappers and their entourages, the American Civil Liberties Union and newspaper reporters smelled blood. At the center of it was Derrick Parker, a former New York Police Department detective who started the unit when violence among rappers got out of hand. Parker started a “rap binder,” with mugshots and criminal histories, but also information on vehicles seen at rappers' houses and personal information.

    Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Ja Rule and others have interview moments on the subject, but the real time is taken up by reporters, lawyers, former cops and Parker himself, a man who segued from cop work to private investigation and drew paranoid criticism from his former colleagues that he'd crossed over to the other side.

    Black and Blue is an interesting and relevant documentary, presenting both sides of the issue but not likely to sway those who think all rappers should be followed.

    Selling Points: This doc might be a little slow for short-attention-span music fans, but if they stick with it, it'll make for great conversation. Brendan Howard

    The Complete History of America: Abridged
    Prebook 5/23; Street 6/20
    Victory, Comedy, $29.98 DVD, NR.

    The Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC), known for parody renditions of Shakespeare's plays and the Bible, set its sights on American history for a recent performance recorded live in San Francisco.

    The funny three-man show — an updated version of a production that has been touring since 1996 — is loaded with bad puns, bawdy jokes and a keen sense of irony, inter-cut with modern pop culture references.

    One running gag finds a magic bullet navigating through most of the major tragedies that shaped America.

    The performance culminates with a Q&A with George W. Bush, a couple of musical numbers and a film noir spoof that finds “I Love Lucy's” Ricky Ricardo in prison at Guantanamo Bay.

    In a commentary track, the actors describe the history of the show and allude to additional scenes that didn't make it to the DVD. They also talk about how audience interaction is essential to RSC productions because it adds that element of unpredictability.

    For example, the actors are so distracted during an early scene when a woman walks into the theater late, they actually stop the production to talk to her. According to the commentary, going after latecomers is a common tactic for the RSC.

    But since this woman happened to stroll into the production that was being taped for DVD, she will be forever enshrined as the poster child for those poor souls who have no idea how rude it is to show up late to a live performance.

    Selling Points: This rousing piece of sketch-comedy will best be enjoyed by history buffs and fans of “The Daily Show's” America: The Book. — John Latchem

    The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
    Prebook 5/8; Street 6/6
    Palm, Drama, B.O. $0.03 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for intense depiction of child abuse/neglect, strong sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence.
    Stars Cole and Dylan Sprouse, Peter Fonda, Jeremy Renner, Michael Pitt, Marilyn Manson.

    Starring the controversial Manson and based on the autobiographical novel by J.T. LeRoy, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things explores how easily the na?vet? and pliancy of children are abused.

    After being taken from his foster family, a very young Jeremiah (the Sprouses) — LeRoy's cinematic counterpart — is forcibly returned to his once teen-mother, Sarah. Portrayed by director Asia Argento, her character gives a philosophical insight into the dark potential of the infallibility children assume of their parents.

    Embarking on a journey through the Midwest, the not-yet-10-year-old boy is groomed into a cross-dressing hustler by his mother. Soliciting various men for shelter, the two travel on the commercial backbone of America through a depressing adult world of alcohol, prostitution and drugs.

    With a raw, earnest realism, the film captures the utter sadness of the neglect and abuse of LeRoy's childhood. A disjointed storyline reflects the haphazard lifestyle of Sarah and the chaos that ensues. The film boldly handles the appalling subject matter without dilution. The Sprouse twins give amazing performances, with a presence and genuineness not common to such young actors.

    Selling Points: A real J.T. LeRoy never existed (check out www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/ for the scoop), but many will anticipate the filmic version of the novel. Manson fans will be on the look out for their creative idol. Justin-Nicholas Toyama

    Miracle at Sage Creek
    Prebook 5/9; Street 5/30
    Universal/Screen Media Films, Western, $19.98 DVD, NR.
    Stars David Carradine, Irene Bedard, Wes Studi.

    Just before Christmas, a lot of bad stuff happens to two families in 1888 Wyoming Territory. A grandfather (Carradine) who lost his wife to Native American murderers tries to oust a mixed family of white and Native American homesteaders on his land. His Scroogy-ness extends to his workers when he won't give them Christmas day off. Then the father of that mixed family goes missing and is presumed dead after getting jumped by thieves on the way back from town. A kid in the other family gets sick after two kids get lost in the night searching for the missing dad. And the Native American mom goes all the way to town and finds out they'll lose the property to the mean cavalry men who show up to repossess it because their homestead needs one more week to stick.

    But don't worry: Grandpa has a change of heart when the Native American grandpa pours some herbal medicine down sick kid's throat and waves some feathers over his head and saves the kid. It's the same Native American who keeps having visions of the missing father being hurt and falling off horses. Wow, Native Americans have cool powers.

    I won't spoil the surprise, but if I tell you it all ends in a happy ending, you can figure out if the missing dad shows up by Christmas morning.

    This modest Western has some moments of family suspense and lots of love, but the way the plot unravels everyone's lives and puts them all back together again stumbles because of too many elements that don't hang together.

    Selling Points: This Christmas-time Western is all about people overcoming their prejudices and their fears, and it'll be well-received by fans of Lifetime Channel movies. Brendan Howard

    Louis L'Amour's Shaughnessy: The Iron Marshal
    Prebook 5/16; Street 6/20
    Allumination, Western, $24.98 DVD, NR.
    Stars Matthew Settle, Sarah Paulson, Linda Kozlowski.

    A diamond in the rough: It's a clich?, but it's the truest praise for Shaughnessy: The Iron Marshal. Among the direct-to-video film fodder that crowds shelves, it's with gleeful surprise that viewers will find this perfect mix of the Wild West of its Louis L'Amour source material, the stereotypical but sympathetic townspeople, and the title character — a runaway Irish boxer from New York City who finds himself in the midst of murder and intrigue as the marshal in the tiny town of Haven, Kan.

    In this 1996 Australian performance — way before his turn in the Western miniseries “Into the West” — Settle loses his put-on Irish-American accent occasionally, but never gives up the innocent kindness and deep-down integrity of the young fighter who wouldn't throw a match in New York City and won't back down when an innocent woman is killed in Haven. What could have been a trite Western turns out to be an engaging adventure for a young man and a town yearning to trust.

    The story even has a surprise twist ending and keeps revealing answers into the last minutes. It's perfectly satisfying as is, but also ready-made for a sequel. In the last five minutes, a New York City criminal hot on Shaughnessy's trail finds out he's in Kansas, and his long-lost love finds out he's still alive. But this is one great story that will have to unfold in viewers' imaginations.

    Selling Points: This tale will warm the hearts and tickle the funny bones of Western fans and should find an audience with anyone looking for 90 minutes of old-fashioned fun. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: That Persky!
    That Girl — Season One: Bill Persky wrote for the 1980s sitcom “Kate & Allie” and co-created and wrote for the 1960s sitcom “That Girl,” but the difference in the DVDs is night and day. Universal's Kate & Allie: Season One (reviewed last week) had only a few minutes of star Susan St. James and Persky talking. Shout Factory's “That Girl” set (street May 16; five-DVD set $39.98) has featurettes with Persky and star Marlo Thomas as well as commentaries. They're both great shows, but one has the extras to prove it. Brendan Howard

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