Anchor Bay // 2010 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 10th, 2012
Insanity is closer than it appears
David Arquette is not a particularly well-respected thespian. I'm sure he has his fans, but in the list of great movie actors of his era, he probably wouldn't even be a footnote. He's primarily known as a comedian, and for me, his signature role is that of bumbling deputy (then sheriff) Dewey Riley in the Scream series. That role allows him to show his versatility: there's a bit of slapstick, a bit of verbal play, but there's drama as well. Most importantly, he has to play a man who's smarter than he looks, which is no mean feat. Rarely, however, is Arquette called on to make a purely dramatic turn. In fact, if anyone had suggested to me that he would be perfect to carry a film in a purely dramatic mode, I would have laughed, at least before I saw Black Limousine. It's not a film for everyone, but it does establish Arquette as an actor of some ability beyond his usual comic comfort zone.
Jack (David Arquette, Scream) is a film composer, but as the film opens we see him get a job as the driver of a Hollywood limousine service. No, this isn't some kind of method-acting trick to prepare him to score a Taxi Driver remake; as the film unfolds, we learn he's down on his luck. Recently divorced, in AA, and with a bad car accident that killed his daughter in the too-recent past. Though he's down, Jack's not out, and Black Limousine follows his attempts to get back on top.
There are two main reasons to watch Black Limousine. The first is undoubtedly David Arquette's performance as Jack. Most comedians do drama pretty well (see the entire career of Robin Williams for evidence), but before this film, I don't think I realized just how darn melancholy David Arquette can look. It's not that he wanders the film looking po-faced. No, his body language for the most part is that of a man defeated, except for those rare moments when he's with his daughter or his new flame (played by Bijou Phillips). Since he's the main character and we have to sympathize with him, Arquette has a herculean task, embodying the guilt over his daughter's death (we're told it's not his fault, but that's hard to believe) without ever sliding into "pity me" syndrome. It's a fine line that Arquette walks with apparent ease.
The other main reason to watch Black Limousine is the direction by Carl Colpaert. Rather than taking a strictly realist take on Jack's story, Colpaert turns the film into a kind of mindbender, giving us Jack's perspective on things. To do so, he borrows imagery from the sci-fi film that Jack is obsessed with to give us access to Jack's consciousness. As the film goes on and we're more in sympathy with Jack, we get more and more access to his consciousness, and it culminates in a bizarre kidnapping and an utterly ambiguous ending. It's a brave move to make with what on paper sounds like a pretty standard Hollywood story.
A slightly less-compelling reason to watch the flick is the supporting cast. Vivica A. Fox, Bijou Phillips, and Lin Shaye all over strong performances in roles of differing size.
The DVD offers a solid 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer that keeps the sharp sheen of the film. Black levels are solid and consistent, colors well-saturated, and digital artefacts nonexistent. The 5.1 surround track keeps dialogue clearly audible in the front, and uses the surrounds for atmosphere. Everything, especially the music that's so important to Jack, is well-balanced.
There is a stunning lack of extras on the DVD, not even a trailer.
Of course, everything that might be good about the film is also a potential liability. Those who can't stand Arquette might not be swayed by his performance here. There are moments where he seems to lean on his previous comic persona which might turn some off. Also, the film's "What's really happening?" atmosphere might be a bit too David Lynch for some. Finally, the ending is tremendously ambiguous. While some viewers will enjoy arguing about what "really" happened, others are just as likely to be frustrated by the film's lack of an answer.
The lack of extras is a real bummer. This seems like it could be a breakout role for Arquette, and a couple of interviews or a commentary would be nice.
Black Limousine takes a number of the down-and-out-in-Hollywood stories we're all familiar with and gives it a bit of a mind-bending twist. With a solid central performance and good direction, this one is likely to appeal to fans of indie drama.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R