MVD Visual // 2006 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // September 9th, 2010
Young and strong Hollywood son
in the early morning light
this star fell down
on Sunset Boulevard
-- Natalie Merchant, "River"
Canada's Final 24 series examines the final day in the life of famous people who have died tragically, interspersing re-enactments of the subject's last hours of life with interviews with those who know him/her.
For this episode, the subject is actor River Phoenix, who overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine while hanging out with friends and family at LA's Viper Room. With silly time code stamps to count down the hours, the episode begins by recounting Phoenix's day of shooting on the never-finished Dark Blood. From there, the actor parties at a hotel room with a group that includes girlfriend Samantha Mathis and siblings Rain and Joaquin. Eventually, Phoenix ends up at the Viper Room and, upon learning that he won't get to jam on-stage with a band that includes good friend Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, does the drugs that will kill him.
Surprisingly, at least for me (this being my first Final 24 experience), much of the episode is devoted to Phoenix's life prior to his last day. Narrator Danny Wallace gives us the story of Phoenix's unique upbringing, and a small group of friends and colleagues discuss the actor's drug habit. I didn't know much about Phoenix's life going into this, so I appreciated all the biographical information provided (assuming it's accurate, of course).
The actual "final 24 hours" stuff, however, is not very good. The re-enactments (proclaimed as "high-end" by the box art) aren't nearly as compelling as the biographical information and home videos that are shown. The presentation is somewhat better than most "dramatic" re-enactments found on countless TV shows, but it's still difficult to take them completely seriously. The narration is obvious and dull: "What started out as a fun family reunion has now turned into a nightmare." As this was originally shown on TV, information is repeated frequently for those just tuning in.
It doesn't help that the makers of this show don't seem to have put much effort into finding good lookalikes. The Phoenix lookalike, wisely, is rarely shown head-on, but you get a good look at some very unconvincing stand-ins for Flea, Joaquin Phoenix, and Judy Davis. (The latter co-starred with Phoenix in Dark Blood.) The creative team even uses a recording of Joaquin Phoenix's 911 call during the re-enactments, which is not only silly (the recording is used as dialogue for the Joaquin stand-in at one point) but also crass.
River Phoenix: His Final Hours is presented in a solid transfer. The image has some grain but it's not generally distracting, and the 2.0 audio track more than serves the program's needs. There are no extras. The packaging incorrectly lists the program's runtime as 60 minutes, when it's really just under 52.
What more can I say about this title other than one of my favorite parts was when the British-accented narrator said "Butthole Surfers"? If you want to know about River Phoenix's life and don't mind the reenactments, give this disc a spin. A better choice, though, would be to rent Dogfight, Running on Empty, or My Own Private Idaho.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated