Universal // 2012 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // March 6th, 2012
Fear thy neighbor.
It looked like a thriller and, by the descriptions that I read, it sure sounded like a thriller, but when I started watching Columbus Circle, it sure didn't appear like it would turn out that way. It felt like a con and, for the first twenty minutes or so, I was really annoyed. This atrocious opening, though, masked what the movie actually was: a totally mundane little suspense yarn that looks like genius in comparison to how it starts and is now available on Blu-ray from Universal for those who have been enticed by my enthusiasm.
Abigail (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions) hasn't left her ritzy penthouse apartment in nearly twenty years in an attempt to bury a past she cannot forget. Her life is turned upside down, though, when her elderly neighbor dies in a fall. Now, a homicide detective (Giovanni Ribisi, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) is knocking on her door asking questions and a young couple, Charles (Jason Lee, Alvin and the Chipmunks) and Lillian (Amy Smart, Crank), has moved into the vacant space. Abigail opens up old wounds, though, when she inserts herself into a domestic dispute between the couple, threatening everything that she has built to protect herself for all these years.
Fair warning, Columbus Circle starts as a Lifetime movie circa 1986 before settling into its status as an acceptable, but completely forgettable thriller. With a setup pulled straight from Rear Window, director George Gallo (Middle Men, and if I knew that one simple fact ahead of time, I could have spared myself), Abigail starts watching the new couple through her peephole. We already know, however, that Abigail is not who she claims. She is hiding from a childhood of savage abuse under an assumed name, spending her family's millions to safely stay inside. In an eye rolling turn, one of the first things she sees across the hall is Lillian getting brutalized by her drunk of a husband in the hall. So, of course, Abigail has to overcome her fears to help Lillian.
Once inside Abigail's fortress, they begin to talk endlessly about their respective histories and the horrible cycle of abuse. No doubt that it's an important issue, but as Abigail admonishes Lillian for what seems like the hundredth time not to justify why Charles kept punching her in the face, all hope for suspense became lost and started to settle in for a screed against abuse. Then Jason Lee, who up to this point had been the single least convincing abusive husband I've ever seen, does something to make it clear why all of this had seemed so ridiculous.
That setup may have been necessary for the rest of the story to make sense, but that hardly excuses how boring and heavy handed it is. At fewer than ninety minutes, there isn't a lot of time to build suspense in the first place. Wasting a third of a movie on what amounts to anti-suspense means that everybody, both in the film and in the audience, has to work that much harder to get back into the groove once they finally get to business. Columbus Circle is simply not worth the trouble, though, even if it does have some modest virtues.
With this cast in place, I really did want to like the movie. I have little regard for Jason Lee and Giovanni Ribisi, but I almost always enjoy watching Selma Blair and Amy Smart, and with a supporting cast that includes Kevin Pollak (Cop Out, who also co-wrote the screenplay), Beau Bridges (The Good German), and Robert Guillaume (Lean on Me), I had hope. Aside from Lee, all the performances are as good as the screenplay can allow. That isn't much, as once Lee lets the cat out of the bag, the rest of the pieces fall easily into place, but individually, each role is performed well. But when the roles aren't very good and the script has little suspense, the acting can only go so far and Columbus Circle, despite their work, is lackluster, at best.
If the technical details weren't apparent on the case, you could have fooled me into believing that Universal's Blu-ray release of Columbus Circle was actually a DVD. I can't imagine the 2.40:1/1080p high definition image looks any better than its standard def counterpart, though I'm not in a rush to find out. At no point is there much wrong with it, but it looks no crisper than a well-made DVD. The colors are decent and the darker scenes, where most of the action takes place, have reasonably deep black levels, but that isn't nearly enough to endorse it. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a little better, mixing the dialogue and music, and featuring some decent rear channel effects. Since there are no bonus features, if you feel inclined to purchase the movie, save yourself a few dollars and get the DVD...or better yet, a different movie altogether.
I try my best to steer clear of movies I've never heard of when they feature large and notable casts. There's often a fair reason why a movie with recognizable stars gets no notice, and it's rarely a good thing. My negative attitude is usually vindicated by the boring garbage up on screen and, though I like the people in Columbus Circle almost across the board, the first part of the movie made me think I was right once again. But, no, I was wrong. It's not actually terrible, just totally forgettable in every way and this mediocre Blu-ray is hardly a release I can recommend.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13