Sony // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 4th, 2009
Based on the book by the best-selling author.
Editor's Note: This is a WalMart exclusive DVD release, available only in stores and at NoraRoberts.com
When the dramatic crux of your Lifetime made-for-television movie is the paranormal investigation of your dead grandmother via psychic dreams, you're either in for a good time or a staggeringly stupid one. Nora Roberts' Tribute hedges its bets and covers the spread, with quixotic results. The movie is dull, plodding, uninteresting, and boring, but an animated performance by Brittany Murphy and a script that would make Peter Venkman break out his proton pack partially compensate the investment of time.
Cillia McGowan (Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile) is a former child star in search of a more normal life. Deciding for a change, she buys her grandmother's dilapidated house in the Shenandoah Valley, hoping to restore it from ruin, flip it, and make a bundle. Things get complicated for Cillia when the haunting legacy of her famous grandmother is resurrected -- both literally and figuratively -- in the form of haunting dreams suggesting her death may not have been accidental. Add to this stress the constant harassment and vandalizing of her property by unknown assailants, and Cillia is at her wits' end. Luckily, handsome neighbor Ford Sawyer (Jason Lewis, Sex And The City) is waiting with open arms.
Based on the novel by Nora Roberts (an author whose work I am wholly unfamiliar with), Tribute is a peculiar blend of Lifetime television production values, ghostly hallucinations, sappy romance, and a murder mystery. I can see how a book that encapsulates all these elements might be particularly popular for women who yearn for a page-turning romance novel, but translated on the screen, it leaves a bit to be desired. The skill of an author might be able to justify ghostly hallucinations giving away key clues to the protagonist, but in a movie, they call it "deus ex machina," and it's not a good thing. In a book, the identity of the murderer might be a page-turning reveal carefully obscured by deft prose, but in Tribute, it is embarrassingly obvious in the first reel.
Tribute is a pretty standard offering from the Lifetime made-for-television meat grinder: bad writing, lousy scripts, shifty acting, and a premise so saccharine that it rots the teeth. They are legion: predictable, straightforward, and underachieving, comfortable stumbling over the low bar of previous iterations, rarely daring to explore new dramatic waters. Sure, there are a few choice potholes along the slow Lifetime road, like ghost whispering to solve murder mysteries, but we already have a television show that covers this particular niche -- and not particularly well. The thriller elements are predictable and dull, and the romantic elements are so hackneyed as to be sleep-inducing. Even a soap opera wouldn't try this material.
It might be harsh to call accepting a leading role in a Lifetime movie "career suicide," but then again, I can't imagine what was going through the mind of Brittany Murphy on accepting this role. Ironically, her performance is probably the best thing going on in this snooze of a film; she plays the role with far too much chutzpah and energy, making everyone else look bad. Her deadpan jokes and animated facial sneers are almost comical, if you drink enough whiskey. If you squint hard enough, she looks almost exactly like Macaulay Culkin in drag. Her romantic lead (the confused-looking Jason Lewis) just looks befuddled and disoriented most of the time. Women should enjoy looking at him, but that's about it.
If Tribute were just a bit more ridiculous, a bit more deranged of a performance by Murphy, or if there was more ghost whispering, one might be able to chalk this one up in the "so agonizingly bad it's good" category, but alas, Lifetime can't quite wrap around the fact that nobody takes its productions seriously. Maybe if you're a fan of the author's work, Tribute might have some appeal, but this isn't even recommended as a rental from where this Judge is sitting.
From a technical standpoint, this is actually a fine disc. The transfer is clean and crisp with no compression artifacts, distortion, or print damage. The audio comes in a 5.1 surround transfer, with clear dialogue and nice levels of detail. Not too shabby all told; the film might stink, but at least the disc does the job. There are no extras included.
Interestingly enough, this DVD isn't available through our partner Amazon, or indeed any other site you care to mention. Tribute is only sold in Wal-Mart stores, so if you really want to get your hands on this DVD, you'll have to put on some pants. Sorry about that.
Given that the packaging of this DVD mentions bestselling author Nora Roberts no less than six times (and the actual film title only three) it's pretty obvious that the target audience of Tribute is fans of bestselling author Nora Roberts, and not fans of entertaining movies. So if you're fan of bestselling author Nora Roberts, Tribute, based on the book by the bestselling author Nora Roberts, should be right up your alley.
As for the rest of us, you can avoid this one. It's crap.
See previous sentence, re: crap. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated