Lionsgate // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 15th, 2006
This re-imagining of the horror classic stocks the pond with attractive 20-something medical students and buttloads of Ecstasy. Does the formula work?
Jay Jekyll (Bryan Fisher) is a brilliant young medical student with a cloudy moral outlook. He's developed a wacky theory that some juiced-up Ecstasy has the power to change people's personalities. When he runs the controversial idea by his professor, she warns him of the dangerous consequence that could be associated with this kind of unethical brain manipulation. But Jay's kind of an awkward loser, so he scoffs at the advice, and, with the help of some of his more oblivious friends, secures some chemicals to forge his magic pill.
Upon popping said pills, Jekyll transforms into Hyde, a hornier, more aggressive prone-to-violence Alpha male who's flush with confidence and beard stubble. With the pacifying influence of Jekyll jammed back into the subconscious, Hyde runs wild -- often with bloody results. Jay is on a downward spiral as Hyde takes control, ostracizing him from his friends and girlfriend (Bree Turner), and putting him on a collision course with scary music and death.
This modern retelling of the well-known classic looks great and has some decent moments, but a plodding pace and a watered-down story fails to bring this straight-to-DVD thriller to A-status. Jekyll + Hyde isn't a bad movie (that title blows though), just not good enough to require a viewing.
But 'tis the season to be generous and rosy-cheeked so lets start this on a good note: while the substance may not be top-shelf, the movie absolutely looks grade-A. Director Nick Stilwell has put together a film that looks as good as a theatrical release. From shots to edits to the general feel of the whole thing, Jekyll + Hyde is a pro job. The narrative jumps back and forth through time, but it serves the story and doesn't feel like a cheap gimmick. The performances are largely solid, though Fisher's portrayal of Hyde struck me as too even-keel to evoke any sense of terror.
And it is the Hyde character -- actually the entire Hyde storyline -- that failed to deliver for me. This, of course, is a major difficulty, seeing that the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic is the crux of the entire flick. Here's the big problem: Hyde's not very interesting. As Fisher portrays him, the difference between soft-spoken nerdy Jay Jekyll and the supposed super-evil opposite Hyde appears to be higher libido, a fixed stare and the unwillingness to shave. Hyde is simply a bad boy evicted from the OC, a typical, slimy college dickhead who happens to leave the occasional corpse behind him after a particularly vigorous date. I'm not entirely sure where the sense of dread is supposed to come from with Hyde, but I'd hazard it has something to do with his amoral behavior and murderous acts; the former is expressed mainly through lots of sneering, voiced-over POV shots and there and a grimy back-alley sexual tryst, the latter through hard-to-see mayhem and strange disappearances. This last one, I get as a stylistic choice by Stilwell, and he wisely saves some of the more brutal imagery for the very end, but the tactic forces the creating-tension-responsibility onto Jekyll's duality, and there's just nothing new or compelling about this take on split personality. There's also a little messaging about drug addiction and how junkies piss off and alienate their friends, but it's a sidebar at best.
All in all, Jekyll + Hyde is a decent attempt at a psychological thriller, but the all-important Hyde portion of the re-envisioned tale is lacking, and that does irreparable harm to the film as a whole.
The DVD: a great-looking (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) and sounding (5.1 surround) technical treatment is marred by a dearth of extras.
You won't hate yourself for hanging with the good doctor and his jackass of an alter ego and you may in fact be pleasantly surprised, but just gear up for a missed opportunity.
Sorry boys, but you couldn't quite land the deal.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R