Lionsgate // 2011 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 25th, 2011
They took his badge. He kept the gun.
House of the Rising Sun stars former professional wrestler Dave Bautista as Ray Shane, a one-time dirty cop and now ex-con working as head of security at a mob-owned strip club that is a front for an illegal brothel and high-stakes gambling den in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When armed robbers nab $350,000 from the joint, Ray finds himself caught between angry mafia bosses (including one played by Danny Trejo, Machete) contemplating making sending him to sleep with the fishes and Grand Rapids detectives who'd be ecstatic to see him back behind bars. Given Bautista's hulking presence, surprisingly little butt-kicking ensues. Instead, Ray works with old flame Jenny Porter (Amy Smart, Crank) to piece together what really went down at the House of the Rising Sun, and to exonerate himself with both the mob and the cops.
You have to give director Brian A. Miller credit for trying to shape House of the Rising Sun into a bleak neo-noir thriller instead of the sort of explosive, combat-heavy action-adventure typical of the feature film debuts of most professional wrestlers. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't come close to delivering on its genre promises. Dave Bautista is surprisingly good as Ray, a role that gives him plenty of opportunity to play fear and anxiety while shying away from the sort of blunt force trauma we'd expect from a guy his size and with his background making the leap onto the silver screen (in fact, his one major fist fight in the movie is utterly implausible because of how capably the other actor fights back despite being about half Bautista's size). But the fledgling actor's solid line reads and emotive facial expressions don't quite make him appropriate for a role that, in the noir tradition, cries out for a regular schmoe with whom the audience can relate when fate begins to grind him between a rock and a hard place.
Moreover, Miller and cinematographer William Eubank lacked the means or expertise to give the movie the visual flair one expects of noir. It's not that the picture should been self-consciously styled like a throwback. Rather, Ray's fear is observed by the camera objectively when one of noir's distinguishing characteristics is a use of framing and lighting that evokes desperation and paranoia for the audience. Nothing about the look of the film places us in Ray's psychological or emotional shoes, and that's too bad because there's just enough going on in Bautista's performance that a more artful visual approach may have improved the movie mightily (matters aren't helped by Miller's inexplicable decision to set the movie in Grand Rapids instead of New Orleans, the location of the real House of the Rising Sun). A more aggressive use of the camera wouldn't have saved the movie from a third act that unravels and fizzles out rather than delivering satisfying, nihilistic climax it attempts, but it would have made our journey with Ray a bit more compelling.
The Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC transfer has the smooth, crisp look of a feature shot on high definition digital video, though depth and detail are mostly weak due to the restrained lighting. The image fails to satisfy because the format wants clean lighting, while the genre demands grit and grain. The transfer is somehow both too clean and too muddy.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mix in 5.1 surround is far from immersive, but it competently handles the movie's few bursts of action.
For extras, you get a feature-length commentary by Miller and Bautista, a nine-minute making-of featurette, and brief video interviews with Miller, Bautista, Smart, and Trejo. There's also a trailer for the film.
House of the Rising Sun is entirely forgettable except as a showcase for Dave Bautista's action hero competence. Steer clear.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R