|by Brian Orndorf
The last time David DeFalco stepped behind a camera, it was for the 2005 shocker, “Chaos.” A morally bankrupt, technically abysmal reworking of “Last House on the Left, “Chaos” strived to be the final word on screen inhumanity; instead, it was insufferable, highlighting DeFalco’s diseased world view and inability to coherently piece together a feature film. Dialing back the gruesomeness to fiddle around with the DTV action market, DeFalco returns with “Wrong Side of Town,” a burly, brainless exercise in tough guy cinema, with a slew of D-list celebrities and professional wrestling buddies to help fill out his limited vision for weightlifter heroism.
Accepting an invitation from their new neighbors to visit the city’s hottest nightspot, Bobby Kalinowski (Rob Van Dam) and wife Dawn (Lara Grice) are eager to hit the club, run by vicious crime boss Seth (Jerry Katz). When Dawn is nearly sexually assaulted by Seth’s coked-out younger brother, Bobby steps in to save the day, inadvertently killing the young stooge. Enraged, Seth orders a $100,000 reward for Bobby’s capture, encouraging local gangs (including Ja Rule, Omarion, and David DeFalco) to run down the beefy suburban dad and return him to headquarters for punishment. Bobby, forced to fight his way out of the city, turns to an old military buddy, Big Ronnie (David Bautista), for help.
“Wrong Side of Town” announces its cockeyed tone right away, commencing with an opening act of cartoonish criminal cruelty (snitch chained to a concrete block, pushed into a river), only to launch into a Bondesque title sequence, complete with animation (the budget kind, but effective) and a tuneless soundtrack offering. Sadly, it’s the one and only surprise DeFalco has in store for his audience, skipping an opportunity to cash in on the lunacy of the opening five minutes to craft yet another shapeless, knuckle-dragging, bottom-shelf warmer for action fanatics.
“Wrong Side of Town” is made on the cheap and looks it, with plenty of needlessly twitchy handheld camerawork, dank Louisiana locations, and bulky bad guys on the hunt for our hero. The film is nothing more than a procession of clichés, using rusted structure to shape a bullet and bicep bonanza. DeFalco isn’t thinking outside of the box here, he’s hiding inside of it, abusing tired formula as Bobby sprints around on a periodically wounded leg (continuity isn’t the film’s strongest point), offering knuckle sandwiches to a cast of assembly line baddies. In fact, “Town” seems to be a variation on “The Warriors,” as Bobby battles his way through various gangs of diverse racial makeup. Only instead of pitch-perfect suspense and evocative locations, DeFalco cranks up the cruddy metal and iffy fight choreography, slipping in and out of action beats with little fanfare.
Made primarily for wrestling fans (and believe me, being both an Orndorf and raised in Minneapolis, the thrill of the “sport” is not lost on me), “Town” hasn’t exactly invested in world-class thespians. The acting is staggeringly dreadful, with clunky lines of hard-boiled dialogue handed to hulking men who don’t have the training for such a challenge. Still, I found myself enjoying Van Dam’s performance as the ponytailed human target. The man can barely spit out his lines, but he creates a winky screen presence, daring to give into the campiness of the film. He’s loose where everyone else is clenched and dull, including Bautista, who’s the central face of the film’s marketing, yet only enjoys a good 15 minutes of screen time. It seems the only warm body able to match DeFalco’s drowsy expectations is porn queen Stormy Daniels, here playing the blonde highlight of Big Ronnie’s harem of strippers, spending more time with her clothes off than on.
Trust me, it’s the best performance of the picture.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) image on the “Town” DVD doesn’t exactly bring out a dynamic range of colors to backdrop the violence. While passably clean and detailed, the image looks a touch washed out, due to both artistic intent and a semi-slack presentation. Skintones are handled well and create the needed aura of plausible strength, while black levels remain in check, giving life to the picture’s nighttime tangents. Also, keep in mind there are several intentional blurring effects included here to indicate disorientation.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix is thin, lacking necessary fullness to push metal-crunching score cues over the top. Dialogue is crisp and discernable, kept in play as shootouts heat up and assorted brutality is summoned. Bottoms seem to be missing any vitality, and while the mix is loud, it’s rarely enveloping. Surrounds are only engaged for random bits of atmosphere, best deployed during a beat-happy club sequence.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered.
“Set Life with Rob Van Dam” (1:46) simply features the star of the film discussing his playful annoyance with long shooting hours and costume continuity. Again, Van Dam comes across a likable fellow with a big personality. Hopefully he’ll find a script that hugs his gifts more tightly.
“Interviews with the Stars” (3:52) spends a few minutes chatting with the cast, which consists primarily of professional wrestlers. Van Dam takes the lead here, explaining to the viewer how the film is crossing all sorts of genres to attract the maximum audience.
“Stunts with Rob Van Dam” (2:05) showcases the actor working out some moves for director DeFalco.
“Kali Training with David Bautista, Marresse Crump, and Oscar Lugo” (4:08) highlights the Filipino martial arts used in the grand finale of the film. Frankly, it looks far more impressive here in static shots than in the herky-jerky film.
And a Trailer is also included.
“Wrong Side of Town” is expectedly silly, but a little cleverness and confident craftsmanship never hurt anybody. DeFalco is dragging the bottom of the lake with this forgettable nonsense, stumbling through a series of blunt encounters that offer little imagination and less enthusiasm. I’m delighted to find the picture considerably less hateful than “Chaos,” but any possible filmmaking panache remains in a vegetative state.
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originally posted: 02/20/10 05:09:03