Lionsgate // 2001 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 7th, 2002
Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.
Chicago wiseguy Frank Carbone runs a hot car racket that mob boss "Tight Lips" Pagnozzi wants a part of, like 100%. Resistance leaves Frank riddled with bullets. Fast-forward, and a surprisingly alive, plastic surgery altered Frank is in the witness protection program, with a new suburban Arkansas address. His neighbors, Leigh and Dennis Kirkendall, are the typical unhappy couple: Leigh craves adventure and escape from her boring life and cheating husband. After discovering Dennis with her sister Bootsie, she kicks him out of the house and runs to Frank for comfort. She tells Frank that she knows who he is, and that she doesn't care. Dennis tells Bootsie that he knows who Frank is as well, and they decide to sell the information to the mafia, who are looking to keep Frank from turning State's evidence. Thanks to Bootsie's botched extortion/blackmail scheme, the mob is lead right to Leigh and Frank's doorstep. And it's up to the ex-goodfella to outsmart the persistent hit men, or lose his new life and love.
Federal Protection is an unexpectedly effective gangster thriller. Unexpected in that one does not normally get real suspense from a direct to video creation. Unexpected because there is real production value here. From the opening confrontation in an auto junkyard, to the final fight in the rain swept suburban neighborhood, the set design, special effects and stunts make this one low budget film that looks and feels like it costs millions more. Director Anthony Hickox is to be commended for taking what could have been a weary concept and finding new, imaginative ways of reinventing it. Especially nice are his compositions and camera set-ups and his use of partial slow motion and dissolves. He makes the most of the scenery and the locations. While many of the actors playing Chicago based mobsters use too many "dees," "dems," and "doos" to sound authentic, the majority of the cast consistently hit the right tone. Occasionally, things can get a tad far-fetched, especially when it centers on Dina Meyer's character, Bootsie. She is introduced as a dim oversexed slut who works as a beauty parlor pedicurist. However, when the chance to outwit and out-con the mob comes up, she manages, for most of the film, to be one jump, kick, and step ahead of them.
Unfortunately, Lions Gate has released this DVD is an artifacting pan and scram shambles. The picture pixelates every time there is a major jump cut. Since he did such a good job here, it would have been nice to see Hickox's widescreen framing. The sound has very good definition and separation, especially during the rainstorm and cityscape sequences. But then Lions Gate misses the boat again by failing to offer any other extras except a very "video store hard sell style" trailer. A commentary would have been nice, since Hickox has had a wide and varied career behind the camera. It would have been interesting to hear him describe how he came to this project or the visual tricks and techniques used to breathe new life into this world-weary formula. While most mobster movies are either masterworks (Godfather, Goodfellas) or garbage (Mickey Blue Eyes, Suicide Kings), Federal Protection falls neatly into an unusual middle range. It is a substantial cut above your standard horrid mafia muddle, but still mired in its low budget conventions to avoid being outstanding. While rough around the edges, Federal Protection is engaging and entertaining enough to avoid a long sleep with the fishes.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R