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DVD Reviews for 7/18: "Road Trip!"

by Peter Sobczynski

Though distracted by that elongated All-Star game, the hype surrounding “The Dark Knight,” those paparazzi snapshots of Helen Mirren at the beach and the glorious revelation that column crush object Emily Blunt is back on the market, your faithful columnist is nevertheless able to offer up another intriguing grab bag of titles that include several road trips, a couple of medical facilities that would only please Dr. Giggles, a few ass-kicking babes and a late look at one of the better films to emerge during the first part of 2008.

Although the first few months of the year are usually a wasteland in which studios clear the shelves of misbegotten projects for which they hold little hope, there are inevitably a few interesting gems that crop up amidst the dross that are well worth seeing. However, I must confess that due to a combination the inclement weather that is an inescapable part of life in Chicago during this time and the nasty cold and flu bugs that are usually swirling around as well, I don’t always get a chance to make the screenings of some of these films and even if I do catch up with them in their general release, I am usually so swamped with newer and more pressing titles that I don’t have the time or energy to go back and play catch-up in print. The one good thing about this is that when mid-summer rolls around and those films begin to hit DVD, I can finally go back and spotlight these particular titles so that others can get a chance to check them out for themselves. One such film is hitting DVD this week and that is “The Bank Job,” a British import that looked like just another run-of-the-mill heist film but which turned out to be one of the wittiest, cleverest and most exciting such films to come along in a while.

Set in 1971 and inspired, believe it or not, by a true story, the film stars Jason Statham as Terry Leather, a one-time low-level criminal who is now a loyal family man struggling to make a fresh start with a garage that is, as the story opens, in severe financial difficulties. Miraculously, old girlfriend Martine (Saffron Burrows) comes back into his life with a proposition--rob the safety deposit vault of a low-security Baker Street bank. Partly because he needs the money and partly because the person doing the suggesting looks like Saffron Burrows, Terry agrees and recruits a small group of associates to execute a plan that involves them renting a building two doors down from the bank and tunneling under the neighboring chicken joint to reach the vault from underground. Although there are some hiccups, the plan goes along swimmingly but what Terry and his friends don’t understand is that there is much more to the robbery that what meets the eye, starting with the fact that Martine is actually working with M. It seems that a few weeks earlier, a female member of the royal family was photographed in some seriously compromising (not to mention acrobatic) positions while on holiday by associates of militant leader Michael X (Peter de Jersey), who plans to use them for blackmail purposes and who is storing them in his safe-deposit box in that bank. Obviously, the government wants those photos back without anyone knowing about them and are using Martine, who is cooperating with them after getting busted for heroin possession, to get to them via the robbery. What makes things even more complicated is that the vault also contains incriminating evidence against many top-level government employees and a ledge containing every single payoff to corrupt cops made by a local criminal kingpin (David Suchet). As a result, Terry and his men now find themselves being pursued by the cops (both honest and corrupt), the government, the underworld and Michael X‘s men--all of whom want to get their hands on what has been uncovered and who will go to any lengths to do so.

How much of this is true and how much of it is invention is something that I do not know--there was a Baker Street bank that was apparently looted in 1971 and after a day or so of breathless news reports, all references to the crime in the media were squelched by government decree, supposedly to protect the royal family from embarrassment--but one of the great things about “The Bank Job” is that it does have a certain sense of authenticity about it. Unlike most heist films, which involve wildly complicated plots that are executed with flawless perfection and which leaves the good guys virtually unscathed and the bad guys looking foolish, this particular story is nowhere near as tidy--the details of the heist are plausible, the mistakes made along the way are understandable and not all of the people that we are rooting for make it to the end credits. Instead of going for the flash of something like the “Ocean’s 11” films, director Roger Donaldson (whose decidedly eclectic resume ranges from such highs as “Smash Palace,” “No Way Out” and “Thirteen Days” to such lows as “Cocktail” and “Dante’s Peak”) goes for a more low-key approach that is undeniably effective throughout. The film also offers up one of the better showcases to date for the talents of star Jason Statham--although he is best known for his appearances in such cheerfully over-the-top action orgies as the “Transporter” films, “Crank” and his various collaborations with Guy Ritchie, the less action-oriented character he is playing here allows him to display the kind of slow-burning and completely compelling charisma that may put some viewers in the mind of the likes of Steve McQueen.

Like many films these days, “The Bank Job” is hitting DVD in two different editions--a single-disc movie-only version and a two-disc incarnation with a bunch of extras. The bonus features on the latter start off with a commentary track featuring Donaldson, Burrows and composer J. Peter Robinson--the absence of Statham may be a bit of a bummer but perhaps he realized that paying attention to a movie might be difficult with Burrows in the same room. Next up is “Inside The Bank Job,” a standard-issue making-of documentary, and a brief collection of deleted/extended scenes. Of the extras, the one that may be of most interest to viewers is “The Baker Street Bank Raid,” a documentary companion piece that focuses on the details of the real bank robbery and compares what really happened with how it was depicted in the movie by using footage from the film and archival footage of how the actual crime was covered in the media, however briefly. Finally, the second disc contains a digital copy of the film so that you can always have visions of Saffron Burrows nearby no matter where you might be. Of course, while these extras may be fascinating to some, it is the movie itself that is the real steal.

Written by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays and David Suchet. 2008. 111 minutes. Rated R. A Lionsgate Home Video release. $34.98


ASYLUM (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.95): In this direct-to-video effort from the auteur of “Final Destination 2” and “Snakes on a Plane,” a group of co-eds, led by Sarah Roemer (the girl inside the tiny bikinis in “Disturbia”) discover that their dorm used to be an asylum where troubled teens were tortured by a mad doctor. In news that will surprise virtually no one, strange things begin to occur that lead the kids, who have all had their own past psychological problems, to believe that the building is haunted by the ghost of the doctor who is looking for some new subjects to work on. Now if you want to make a truly terrifying film based in a dorm, try making one about the guy on my floor who would go on to all hours of the night explaining in detail exactly what Jim Morrison was saying in each and every one of his lyrics.

BEAU BRUMMEL--THIS CHARMING MAN (Acorn Media. $24.99): The rise and fall of the legendary fop who changed the face of men’s fashion forever is chronicled in this British TV docudrama featuring James Purefoy as the man who taught men everywhere about the importance of elegance and bathing, Hugh Bonneville as the member of royalty that helped Brummel become a famous figure of the day and Matthew Rhys as Lord Byron, the man whom he developed a fascination with that led to his eventual downfall.

BIRDS OF PREY--THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Home Video. $39.98): After coming up with a surprise success with “Smallville,” their youth-oriented reinvention of the Superman franchise, the show’s producers tried to do the same thing for Batman with this heavily-hyped 2002 series in which Batgirl (Dina Meyer), the Huntress (Ashley Scott), the daughter of Batman and Catwoman (!) and the Black Canary (Rachel Skarsten) fight crime in New Gotham while looking really hot and dealing with their personal problems. Although not quite as bad as some have suggested, the show never caught on (possibly because it positioned itself as a Batman series even though Batman was nowhere to be seen) and it was cancelled after only 13 episodes. However, proving that anything is possible when there is a movie to cross-promote, those 13 episodes have been brought together here along with all 30 episodes of the Internet animation tie-in series “Gotham Girls” (which sounds like a spin-off of “Gossip Girl” in which Serena, Blair and the rest of the gang team up to fight crime--an idea that, if it ever came to fruition, could possibly be the greatest thing ever) and the original unaired pilot featuring longtime column crush object Sherilyn Fenn in the role of eventual chief villainess Harleen Quinzel (a role that would later be recast with Mia Sara).

COLLEGE ROAD TRIP (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Completing his transformation from a once-edgy comic into the modern-day Dean Jones, Martin Lawrence squanders whatever shreds of credibility he might have still been nurturing with this family comedy in which he plays an overprotective dad trying to bond with his daughter (Raven-Symone) during a road trip to the college of her choice. As you can probably guess, it is pretty awful but I must note that it is slightly more terrifying than “Asylum.”

EVENING SHADE--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): Having pretty much run his film career into the ground after nearly a decade’s worth of critical and box-office failures, Burt Reynolds managed to revive his career by moving to the small screen in 1990 with this long-running sitcom in which he plays a retired pro football star who returns to the small Arkansas town where he grew up in order to coach the local high school team. The show itself is your run-of-the-mill sitcom fare--silly and not very substantial--but the easy and amusing byplay between Reynolds and the excellent supporting cast (including Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Ossie Davis and Michael Jeter) play off of each other make it well worth checking out

HEAVY PETTING (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.97): Boy (Brendan Hines) meets Girl (Malin Akerman). Boy falls instantly in love with Girl. Boy must overcome the antipathy of her beloved Dog in order to get to her. Boy unexpectedly discovers that he has developed, for lack of a better phrase, a canine-crush on Dog and must do everything in his power to keep the relationship with Girl going strong in order to be with Dog. Meanwhile, DVD Critic rubs his eyes and pinches himself in an effort to ensure that he has not gone entirely insane.

INSANITARIIUM (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): In this week’s other piece of asylum-based direct-to-video horror, a young man (Jesse Metcalfe) gets himself committed to the local booby hatch in order to help spring his sister, who had a breakdown after the deaths of their parents. Alas, the doctor in charge (Peter Stormare) has been using his patients as guinea pigs for his experiments that, if successful, will be able to transform ordinary people into bloodthirsty cannibals with only mild side effects. I can’t really judge this one as I haven’t seen it yet, though the idea of Stormare as a mad scientist-type does intrigue me.

MEET BILL (First Look Films. $28.98): In what appears to be nothing more than a knock-off of “American Beauty,” Aaron Eckhart plays a middle-aged shlub with a stultifying job and marriage who finds himself rejuvenated thanks to his friendship with an irritating teen (Logan Lerman) and torn between wife Elizabeth Banks and a Victoria’s Secret clerk played by Jessica Alba. In other news, I hate Aaron Eckhart.

PENELOPE (Summit Entertainment. $25.99): A girl who has been cursed with facial features that resemble a barnyard animal is on a desperate search for love in the big city. No, this isn’t the “Sex and the City” movie--it is the premise for a misfired modern-day fairy tale featuring a good cast, including Christina Ricci (sporting the most fetching pig nose ever seen), James McAvoy, Catherine O’Hara, Peter Dinklage and Reese Witherspoon, at sea with a story that can never quite figure out whether it wants to be sweet or satirical and winds up failing miserably at both.

RENO 911: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.98): Shoot me as a heretic, but I have never found this Comedy Central series--a spoof of “Cops” following the misadventures of an idiotic small-town police force filled with dopes and degenerates--to be anything more than a destitute man’s version of the infinitely more amusing “Super Troopers.” If you are one of those who disagrees with me--and the fact that the show has made it to five seasons would suggest that such people do exist--you will probably enjoy the 16 episodes collected here, which feature the gang going undercover in a fast-food restaurant run by Seth Green, training a group of visiting policemen from Baghdad and helping to build part of the border between America and Mexico.

ROBBIE COLTRANE’S INCREDIBLE BRITAIN (Acorn Media. $29.99): If travel shows in which genial hosts travel to far-flung locales to examine the quirky customs of the townspeople drive you utterly mad with boredom, you might want to give this British import a look. For starters, Coltrane, the comic actor who is probably most familiar to American audiences from such things as “Ocean’s 12” and the Harry Potter films, is pretty funny throughout as the host. For another, the things he uncovers while traveling the highways and byways of England are curious indeed--a mammoth rugby match and a guy who enjoys trying to drive a fire truck on two wheels are among the highlights found here.

ROXY HUNTER AND THE SECRET OF THE SHAMAN (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although the title makes it sound like one of those cheapo soft-core epics that pop up on Skinemax in the wee hours, this is actually a kid-oriented mystery video in which a precious crystal is stolen in the small town of Serenity Falls (wasn’t that Frank Constanza’s mantra?) just as it is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary and only tween sleuth Roxy Hunter (Aria Wallace) can find the piece and save the day.

SHUTTER (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A slightly overrated Asian horror film involving angry spirits seeking revenge from beyond the grave (this time around, a couple honeymooning in Tokyo apparently hit a woman with their car--they can’t find her afterwards but ghostly images begin to turn up in the photos that they take) generates a lot of Internet buzz, gets snapped up by Hollywood for an uninspired PG-13 remake starring at least one WB refugee and at least one hot babe (Jonathan Jackson and Rachael Taylor) and then hits DVD in an allegedly shocking “Unrated” edition in the hopes of luring in the gorehounds who skipped it in theaters. Not quite as bad as “The Grudge 2,” but still not worth your time unless you crave horror films devoid of any actual horror.

STEP UP 2 THE STREETS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $34.99): For those of you who liked the unexpectedly successful 2006 teen dance extravaganza but felt that the plotting was just a little too complex and nuanced for its own good, this sequel should be right up your alley. It tells pretty much the exact same story--hot-but-rebellious youth gets into trouble and is sentenced to a stint at a Maryland performing arts academy that stresses teamwork, focus and gyrating your pelvis like a table dancer trying to earn a little extra cash--with the only significant change being a gender switch between the two main characters. While this sub- “Flashdance” nonsense will seem utterly idiotic to anyone who isn’t part of its main audience demographic, those who enjoyed the first one are likely to eat this one up as well and those enjoy watching hot girls dancing suggestively while sopping wet are likely to dig the climactic rain-soaked dance-off.

TRAFIC (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In his penultimate film, the last one featuring his beloved comic character Monsieur Hulot (who appeared in such classics as “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” “Mon Oncle” and “Playtime”), legendary French filmmaker Jacques Tati gently but effectively skewered modern technology with this hilarious comedy in which Hulot is a top designer at an auto company who is charged with getting his latest creation--a bizarrely outfitted RV--to a car show in Amsterdam. This two-disc set also includes a two-hour documentary on the evolution of the Hulot character, archival interviews with the film’s cast from a 1971 European talk show and a 1973 special focusing on Tati’s entire career.

TRAPPED ASHES (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): A group of noted genre directors--including Joe Dante, Monte Hellman and Ken Russell--got together for this horror anthology film in which a group of strangers trapped in an exhibit on a dilapidated studio tour pass the time by telling stories about weird and creepy things that have happened to them before discovering the shocking reasons behind why they have been brought together. It sounds like a lot of fun, especially if you are a fan of such classic anthology films as “Tales from the Crypt” and “Asylum” (not the one referred to above), but this film, with the exception of Dante’s wraparound segments, is a real disaster--the stories all feature large amounts of sex and violence (in one, a starlet gets breast implants that develop vampiric tendencies) but never find the right formula for blending the two, the stories (with the sole exception of one involving the odd romantic triangle that develops between a struggling screenwriter, a mysterious young woman and a rising young filmmaker by the name of Stanley Kubrick) are stupid (it says a lot that the aforementioned bit about the vampiric breast implants is not the lamest of the bunch) and the final shocking revelation will come as a surprise only if you have never actually seen a movie before.

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originally posted: 07/18/08 08:59:10
last updated: 07/18/08 09:07:34
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