Artisan // 2001 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // June 14th, 2002
Deliver or Die.
Let me see if I have the chronology correct:
* Saved by the Bell
* Saved by the Bell: The College Years
* Saved by the Bell: The New Class
* Saved by the Bell: The Afterschool Special
* Saved by the Bell: The Vanity Project
What was that? You've never heard of the last two? I'll grant you the last one, but I'm willing to bet that almost all of you have seen the "Afterschool Special." However, you may know that one by its more popular title, Showgirls. I'm here to enlighten you about yet another failed attempt by a former star of that show to branch out into feature film: A.C. Slater -- er, Mario Lopez -- in Outta Time! Seeing as he's a co-producer on this little ditty, can we blame him if his entire family is cast in supporting roles?
David Morales (Mario Lopez, Saved by the Bell, Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story) attends U.U. (Unknown University) in San Diego under a soccer scholarship. Unfortunately, ever since he (somehow) busted up his left knee, his skills on the field have taken such a drastic downward spiral that he finds himself kicked off the team. Thus, since he's not on the soccer team he is no longer eligible to receive his scholarship money. Being a poor immigrant from Tijuana, Mexico, there's no way he'll be able to afford the rest of his education.
Fortunately, Emma, David's ex-girlfriend and hopeful professor at U.U., happens to meet Dr. Darabont (John Saxon, Enter The Dragon, Battle Beyond The Stars, The Arrival) as he's putting flyers in faculty members' mailboxes. He used to be a professor at U.U. and now he's currently looking for some bright, energetic students to do some part-time work at his company. Emma immediately thinks of poor David, and off he goes for an interview.
Unfortunately, David's luck continues to be bad as all of the available positions are already filled by the time he shows up for his interview. As he's shuffling out of the office, Dr. Darabont notices David and decides to talk to him. It turns out that Dr. Darabont is on the cutting edge of research and his firm is on the brink of creating a drug that can help fight a lethal disease. But most of the research needed by his firm is outlawed in the United States, but it is legal down in Mexico. Thus, Dr. Darabont needs David to run these experimental drugs across the border down to the testing facility in Mexico.
Why David? As we learn, David's mother still works and lives in Tijuana, and he goes to visit her often. During his numerous trips, David has become good friends with the border patrol at one of the crossings. Thus, David can basically pass between the two countries with immunity. This is perfect for Dr. Darabont's needs. David is very leery of this illegal activity but is soon acting as courier and making some very good money in the process. In no time, David has earned enough money to pay off his tuition.
Most of David's friends see red flags when all this money starts appearing. They begin to ask questions and soon the situation spirals out of control: friends die, family members are in big trouble, and the police and FBI are chasing him. Dr. Darabont tells him that if he delivers one final package, which is a sealed red and white Igloo™ cooler, to him in Mexico, David will be free to return to his simple, normal life.
What's in the cooler? Is Dr. Darabont who he says he is? Is David really moving pharmaceutical drugs? Who is Franco and why do they keep showing his wanted poster?
I'm sorry to say it, but this movie is simply preposterous. So many situations are so glaringly implausible that even after you've abandoned all sense of reality, you still can't believe some of the things that happen to David in his quest. David is supposed to be just a typical college kid, but by the end of the movie, he's outrun hitmen, escaped shootouts, stolen cars, and much, much more.
And that's truly just the beginning of the problems with this movie. Remember how I mentioned David has a busted left knee? On the bright side, Mario Lopez did always limp on the correct leg throughout the movie; however, he really does run too well for someone in his condition. People show up just when they're needed, buildings are left open for anyone to get into, and items are found just when they're most needed. The makers of this film really tried to do too much in this 90-minute film.
While trying to do too much in some areas, they forgot to give needed attention to the supporting cast. For the most part, all of the supporting characters are terribly underdeveloped and you know nothing about them. David's friends, family, and lovers are cookie-cutter characters with paper-thin personalities. They show up, say a couple lines, and help push the plot along as needed. David's enemies are several steps better than the other characters but don't rank among the pantheon of cinema villains. They are interesting in their quirks, most notably the saucy Dr. Drake (Nancy O'Dell, Access Hollywood), but nothing more than that: interesting.
I've been bashing this little film quite a bit, so it's time to point out a few of the good points to the movie -- but don't think that they can balance out all the bad points. For an independent film -- as they continually remind us about during the audio commentary -- they made the most out of a limited budget and a tight shooting schedule. The direction is tight, cinematography is commendable, and the pacing of the movie is solid. But you really have to question the choice of Mario Lopez as the lead in this action flick. He simply doesn't pull it off because, simply, he's a terrible actor -- then again, I don't believe that even a great actor could deliver the really bad dialogue laced throughout this movie and elevate it beyond what it is. And that reminds me, Mario's accent. For the first five minutes of the movie, David interacts only with Americans. Soon enough he meets up with his friend Juancho. As soon as that happens, David develops a slight Mexican accent.
Moving on to the transfers, Artisan has done a nice job with this little independent film. The video transfer is decent, as there is some light, occasional dirt speckled throughout the print and some minor artifacting during night-to-day transition scenes. Overall, the picture is soft with muted colors and not a lot of sharpness. However, this was somewhat intentional; from what I learned on the audio commentary, they were going for a soft look for the scenes set in Mexico, but I think that the softness extends to just about every scene in the movie. Not a terrible thing, but I bit disappointing for an anamorphic transfer. (Note: Amazon incorrectly lists the film as full frame.) As for the audio, you can choose either a 2.0 or 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The 5.1 track is, again, not bad for an independent film but a bit lacking for the most part. The center channel comes across a bit thin and hollow and the surrounds don't kick in until the final thirty minutes. When the surrounds do start their work, they indeed do a nice job. The subwoofer is unfortunately underutilized, as the gunshots sound more like caps than bullets.
There are a couple of special features on the disc, and they are mostly worthy of a quick spin. First, you get an audio commentary with director Lorena David, producer Mark Roberts, and Mario Lopez. (Note: Amazon incorrectly lists Ali Landry as a participant on the commentary.) The commentary is actually a good listen. It's obvious that the three of them had a lot of fun putting the film together, and their kinship comes through on the track. I especially enjoyed the self-effacing humor, most notably the jabs at Mario -- like his awful new haircut and his blatant, washboard abs shot. Beyond that, there are quite a few useful chunks of info shared during the track that help clarify some of the plot threads and ideas behind the film -- like the soft look of the film as I noted above. Next is the behind-the-scene featurette that wouldn't be so bad if Nancy O'Dell wasn't using her worst radio announcer voice during her narration. You also get a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer, and filmographies and biographies.
On the streets, seconds can mean your life. In a bad movie, seconds can feel like an eternity.
This film is your classic B-grade flick: low budget, no name or has-been actors, bad dialogue, and a thin plot. If that's your calling and you have a fondness for Saved by the Bell kids then maybe you might like this. But I say that this movie is not that good and not worth your time. Though, if you stumble across it, take a quick second to look at the silly poses Mario is in on the front and back covers.
Artisan is found guilty for not including Tiffani-Amber Thiessen in this movie. While probably not their fault for her absence, only her presence could have saved this movie from mediocrity. A sentence of one month of non-stop viewing of Dustin Diamond's appearance in Celebrity Boxing 2 will be waived upon Tiffani's landing a leading role in an upcoming movie.
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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: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with Lorena David, Mark Roberts, and Mario Lopez
* Theatrical Trailer
* Biographies and Filmographies
* Photo Gallery
* Another Official Site