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Stone Cold Dead
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Sometimes-Intriguing Serial-Killer Tale"
3 stars

Filmed in just thirty-five days with a mere below-one-million-dollar budget, this is a pretty decent time killer that won't win any awards but suffices.

Based upon the superb novel The Sin Sniper by award-winning Canadian author Hugh Garner, Stone Cold Dead, written for the screen and directed by debuting filmmaker George Mendeluk, tells the flawed but entertaining tale of a serial killer knocking off prostitutes in Toronto's red-light district with a high-powered rifle with a camera affixed to the barrel, thus capturing a victim at the moment of their death. The photos are tauntingly mailed to the police, the press has nicknamed the killer the "Sin Sniper," and the city's top cop, Inspector Sergeant Boyd, is on the case. While bearing just a mere pittance to the novel (it breezes over the scathing social critique of murders of low-rent victims being given scant police-departmental focus -- something akin to Spokane's Green River killings a few years ago) the screenplay is involving but a bit overplotted in that Boyd must also contend with the city's number-one criminal, a pimp/drug trafficker named Julius Kurtz, a dirty cop, an ambitious female undercover cop, and a kind-hearted call girl whom Boyd falls in love with -- and the audience must contend with a few unintentional laughs that Mendeluk would have been wise to excise: the chief one being a chase sequence through the streets and into a building and into a trash dumpster that boasts pathetic spatial cohesion and a run-and-tackle that's as fake-looking as an Enron stock report. But, more often than not, the seedy atmospherics of the film absorbingly cling, and the pacing, while never as taut as it should be, is even-handed and agreeable. (There's even a neat bit where the rarely-home Boyd feeds his fish with a mechanism rigged to his phone.) The film is more of a character-oriented suspense drama than a nerve-jangling thriller, and while this lessens the sense of immediacy, some texture rubs off as part of the trade-off -- the proceedings give way to a good deal of loquacity that strict thrill hounds probably won't appreciate.

Mendeluk doesn't demonstrate much of a visual style, though some of the camerawork is eye-catching, half of which coalesce with and serve the screenplay and some of which don't. He's out to entertain his audience, and you can sense his enthusiasm in trying; so even if a shot calls undue attention to itself now and again you can forgive this because it's not from a "Look, Ma -- I'm directing!" ego-tripper's mindset that separates you from the film with all the stuffed-to-the-gills artifice. That's not to aver that Mendeluk isn't a Silly Willy on occasion. Some of the dialogue he's penned is borderline sub-mental: When Boyd's superior tells him not to take it home with him, Boyd replies, "So who's got a home?" with some syrupy music as accompaniment. An awful recurring song, "Children of the Night," is sung twice and is of the quintessential tin-ear variety (both the lyrics and the voice singing them). A two-woman fight scene in a restroom is howlingly bad. And Frank Moore, as one of the suspects, gives a performance so palpably puerile a Mountie should have made a quick arrest. (As for Paul Williams as the dastardly Kurtz, I'll assume Mendeluk was coming off an all-night Nyquil binge when he cast him.) Stone Cold Dead is by no means an intelligent piece of detective fiction, but it's reasonably involving for something so flawed. For every moment flubbed Mendeluk manages to swing things back on track, and Richard Crenna's relaxed, assured performance as Boyd helps keep it that way for several minutes of the time. I can't say that the whodunit angle is enticingly rendered -- there aren't that many clues, and the red-herring character is way too easy to scratch off the list of suspects -- but it's better handled than in most films of this type and carries some semblances of genuine tragedy when all's revealed. Like the film, it's imperfect but passable.

It's no "Manhunter" or "Jennifer 8," but it's watchable stuff all the same.

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originally posted: 05/26/06 08:52:37
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  05-Mar-1980 (R)



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