Sony // 2004 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 18th, 2005
A son's legacy. A father's revenge.
What would you do if your son were killed in the crossfire of a drug deal gone bad? What would you do if the men who were responsible were given light jail sentences?
Would you (a) put your life back together and honor the memory of your son by bettering society, or (b) beat an innocent police officer half to death to get into prison and exact violent, grisly revenge on your son's killer? If you chose (b), this is the review for you!
Michael Mitchell (Boris Kodjoe) had a satisfying little existence going until the tragic day his son was slain in a gangland shootout. Consumed by grief, Michael loses himself in his liquor glass.
Meanwhile, "Dirty" and "Razor," convicted on drug charges but acquitted of the murder rap, find themselves enveloped in the tooth-and-nail world of prison life, playing politics with their lives.
Consumed with vengeance, Michael snaps and decides to seek out retribution within the prison walls. A routine traffic stop turns brutal when Michael unleashes his drunken rage on a cop, putting him in a wheelchair. He gets his wish, though, and ends up in the same facility as his prey.
But revenge may not come as easy as he thought, when he, too, gets caught up in the life-and-death games, and resists the intense pressure to become a pawn.
Doing Hard Time is a very appropriate title for this movie. Watching it is like doing a lengthy stint in Leavenworth. There are some good ideas buried in here, but they are hard to find.
For starters, there is not a sympathetic character in the bunch. Michael is the perceived protagonist, but the crime he perpetrates to get into prison is gratuitous and deplorable. No amount of spin that writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II injected into the story got me back into the main character's corner.
The result was a complete lack of involvement with the characters. There was no one to root for, no one to empathize with, no one to relate to. I became an observer of events, with zero interaction with and investment in what was happening on screen.
"Dirty" jams a shiv into some unlucky punk.
Michael resists the offers of the prison big-shots to work for them.
A brawl breaks out and Dirty and Michael end up in solitary.
Sans compelling characters, Doing Hard Time better deliver some good story. But here is another problem with the movie. It promises a revenge flick, which can certainly be entertaining enough with scumbag characters -- but the film meanders too much, evaporating its tension, and then tries to morph into a prison/redemption/brotherhood drama, and falls flat.
Like I said before, some nifty ideas are swirling underneath. Forgiveness is touched upon at the end, and could have been a quite moving theme, but the execution came late, and required the characters to abruptly change personalities.
So there it is -- a slow-moving prison fable that lives and dies with its characters...and dies.
The technical merits of the disc are strong. A sharp anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer looks great, boasting some good colors. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is surprisingly fierce as well, despite a fairly subdued use of the center channel. The LFE signal gets a nice workout, too.
The hype on the disc case proclaims Doing Hard Time to be a thriller -- "He had to get in to get even!" -- but the end result is a poorly paced snoozer.
The prison sentence of the accused is extended another 30 years.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R