Paramount // 2005 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 16th, 2005
The dramatic story of how a poor black boy became a rich white woman.
The lurid, should-be-fictional-but-sadly-it's-not life story of pop singer Michael Jackson (played by Flex Alexander) is revealed (well, not really) in VH1's smutty tell-all The Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story. The story quickly moves to various points in Michael's life, from his meager beginnings with his underprivileged family in Gary, Indiana, to becoming the most famous entertainment act in the world. Through it all Michael's life is fraught with money, fame, oddity, and scandal. As his success on such 1980s albums as Thriller and Bad ebb, Michael finds himself with slumping record sales and accusations regarding indecent behavior with small children (whom he often has sleep over at his amusement park mansion, Neverland). As the 1990s comes to a close, Michael's celebrity starts to unravel as he engages in freakish behavior, is the subject of a revealing documentary that puts him in a poor light, and contends with more child molestation accusations that may eventually lead him from a maximum security mansion to maximum security prison.
VH1's The Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story is one of the worst TV biopics in recent memory. Aside from poor production values, a lack of Jackson's music, and an attempt to squeeze the singer's complicated life into 86 minutes, the film makes the cardinal mistake of never giving viewers anything to chew on. Then again, how could it? Just when the movie slows down enough to let us either feel sympathy for or anger at Jackson, it zooms years (sometimes decades) ahead to another point in the pop singer's life. So short is the film's attention span that I hardly ever knew what period of Michael's life we were in during most of the film.
The fact is that The Man In The Mirror has been released at a very inopportune time. On the surface it may seem like a prime opportunity -- we are, after all, at the dizzying crest of Jackson's nearly cartoon-like behavior and his impending child molestation case. Yet The Man In The Mirror feels like it's being produced to garner a few measly ratings, and little else. Why make this film when all you can do is end with a title card letting us know that Jackson's trial date is forthcoming? Anyone worth their pop culture salt already knows the torrid details of the Jackson family (father Joe's infamous temper, LaToya turning her back on Michael, the escapades at Jackson's Neverland compound, etc.). In fact, watching Martin Bashir's previously revealing documentary about Jackson's odd behavior (in which the singer claimed it was "okay" for a grown adult to share their bed with other people's children, among other weirdness) will give viewers a far better insight into the mind of the recluse than this throwaway film.
The acting in The Man In The Mirror is all over the place. Flex Alexander captures Jackson's adolescent-like behavior well, but the singer is reduced to an asexual man-child whose vocabulary consists of phrases like "you must believe in me" and "where has the magic gone?" Frederic Tucker is imposing as poppa Joe Jackson, though he's given little to do but polish his uzi and bark at Michael that he's the head of their household. The actresses playing Janet Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor look and act nothing like their counterparts, though Krista Rae captures Lisa Marie Presley's distant stare and sleepy eyed frustration with her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rest of the cast, creepily including nameless children who float in and out of the film, are not memorable and add little to the proceedings.
It seems to the me that Michael Jackson story needs to be told years from now, when the trial has long been finished and both the filmmakers and audience have had time and distance between his scandals and a finished film; it's the only way everyone could get a true perspective on the King of Pop's bizarre existence. As it stands, The Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story is about as translucent as the singer's own skin.
The Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's nice that Paramount decided to include a widescreen transfer of this film, though the image itself isn't great. Since this is a fairly low budget made-for-TV film, the whole thing looks just okay. The colors and black levels are all decent, though they're never as sharp or crisp as they could be. There is some vintage video footage in the film that often looks cheap and out of place. Overall fans (of this movie, not of Michael) will be happy to get it in a widescreen version, and little else.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in English. There isn't a whole lot to say about this sound mix -- it supports the film, and little else. The mix is free of hiss or distortion. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
Thankfully, there are no supplements included on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13