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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look72.73%
Average: 18.18%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 4.55%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings

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D.O.A. (1988)
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by Jay Seaver

"Extremely lively despite the title."
4 stars

"D.O.A." is the sort of movie that actually should be remade once a generation or so, because it's one of the best hooks in the history of crime fiction - man dong from a slow-acting poison has hours to find his killer. You can tell a lot of stories with that but they're always going to be variations on "D.O.A.". This one is actually pretty great, both retro and ahead of its time in style, embracing its pulp nature in delightful fashion.

Our victim/sleuth is Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid), a tenured English professor who was once a Great Young Author but hasn't written anything in ten years. His students include Sydney Fuller (Meg Ryan), a cheerful freshman fan; Nicholas Lang (Robert Knepper), at the school on a scholarship provided by the widow (Charlotte Rampling) of the man his father killed in a robbery attempt who was also shot in the struggle; and Cookie Fitzwaring (Robin Johnson), the widow's daughter. He and wife Gail (Jane Kaczmarek) are divorcing, but amicably enough, and while one colleague (Jay Patterson) resents him, another (Daniel Stern) is grateful to his help on his first novel. He's a jerk, but seemingly not worth murdering.

Indeed, the very unreasonableness of it gives screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue a lot of room to play, and he gives Dex plenty of red herrings and odd detours along the way, but seldom in a manner that wastes time: The ultimate solution may not be directly connected to other parts of the story, but there's nothing that feels like it could be entirely lifted out without the story feeling lesser for it. Some of the twists the movie takes are pretty wild, from Dex actually gluing himself to Sydney because he's sure she has something to do with it to characters making abrupt, violent, and blackly comic exits. There's a moment or two to wink at the film's status as a remake and how originality is hard to come by, but not so much as to overwhelm the actual story.

This seems to suit directors Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton just fine. In some ways, they were a combination of ahead of their time and genuinely peculiar that made them destined a short career - they created Max Headroom and would later do the Super Mario Brothers movie, an apparent career-killer - and they don't hold much back. They bookend the film with scenes shot in an exaggerated monochrome that seems starker and more lurid than any actual film noir, and in between they seem to take Dex's "no time to screw around, so let's try this" situation to heart, jumping from one crazy situation to another in a way that looks ike unorganized chaos but is propulsive and makes some of the weirder situations seem to fit right in, slowing down just enough for explanations to sink in without riding the brakes. Their action scenes have a chaotic feel rather than feeling elaborately choreographed, even as they're creative and sometimes cruel.

The strongest thing holding this all together when it seems like it could careen in a dozen different directions is probably Dennis Quaid, in nearly every scene and fantastic as Dex - his being a sort of smug, self-satisfied jerk to start translates readily into just not giving a damn what other people think as he tries to find his killer, and he's smart enough not to turn the charm on too high when a decent man is revealed underneath the selfishness. It's his second film with future wife Meg Ryan, though their chemistry is more comic than romantic, with her playing a sweet, optimistic student who hits a great balance between ditzy and clever. The rest of the cast is filled out really well - Charlotte Rampling as the imperious widow and Christopher Neame as her dangerous chauffeur, Jane Kaczmarek as a very appealing soon-to-be-ex-wife, Daniel Stern as a best friend and Elizabeth Arlen as his wife, the doctor delivering the bad news. Special notice to Robert Knepper, decades away from being TV's go-to guy for scumbags but quickly establishing Lang as a very bright young man who never quite escaped a bad start.

It's somewhat fitting that this story would get another unofficial remake a couple decades later in "Crank", and it would be an even more frantic take on the concept - for as many ways as you can tell the basic story, "crazier" seems to be the best way to make a new version stand out. This one is an energetic combination of style, mystery, and black comedy, maybe the best version of the story done yet.

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originally posted: 01/11/16 03:50:59
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell crap doa indeed 1 stars
5/19/14 Richard Brandt Very much of its time, which may be why I prefer the original 3 stars
1/27/09 Keith Urban Lrgrnd C'mon Charles Tatum, Meg Ryan ain't THAT bad! Girdge Darmint to Hevestry. 4 stars
3/29/08 Pamela White solving your own murder is hard 4 stars
5/03/06 Sugarfoot Stick with the original, at least that one doesn't have Meg Ryan. 2 stars
3/29/04 R.W. Welch Overplotted re-make is far short of the 50's original. Barely passable. 3 stars
3/28/03 Atanu Not bad, compared to the mulch served these days. 4 stars
3/24/03 Jack Sommersby Awesomely stylish and suspenseful. Quaid is sexy and sensational. 4 stars
8/14/02 Charles Tatum Pretty but forgettable, plus I loath Ryan 3 stars
8/14/02 Bears eat ketchup pie here on the Bunny-shire Unnecessarily downbeat creation with spottily good comic moments! 3 stars
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  18-Mar-1988 (R)



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