Anchor Bay // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 28th, 2010
His past was taken. His vengeance is fueled.
"I'm not gonna die for a few lousy bucks."
From the back of the Blu-ray case:
"They took his job, his family and his memory. Now one man is taking it all back...one body at a time."
On the front of the case, we have a picture of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin pointing a pistol with a grim look on his face. Obviously, this is a film about a big bad dude getting violent revenge after some people destroy his life. Right? Well, yeah...kind of...but it's a little more complicated than that.
The Stranger is a film that needs to be filed under the "you can't always judge a movie by its cover" category. I expected a very dumb, straightforward 90-minute film featuring Steve Austin kicking the crap out of people. What I got instead was a mildly dumb, not-straightforward-at-all 90-minute film featuring Steve Austin kicking the crap out of people. I'm not sure whether to criticize the movie for failing to deliver a basic satisfactory revenge thriller or praise it for attempting to be more complex than most action films starring pro wrestlers. I know it's not a film I can really recommend either way, but it definitely took a slightly different path than I expected.
The title character (who we'll refer to simply as "The Stranger" from this point onward, as the character doesn't have an official name) is suffering from amnesia. It seems that he's been going from one place to another, taking on a new identity with each move and quickly finding himself in the middle of some sort of brutal conflict. He's been tracked by both the FBI (who want him because he's been involved in a number of killings) and the Russian mob (who want him for reasons that take a while to come to the surface). Each time The Stranger creates a new identity, he forgets about pretty much everything that has happened up to that point.
The Stranger has an unlikely ally in Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra, Eureka), a psychologist who knows a bit about who he really is and what his mental problems are. Attempting to help him make a breakthrough before the FBI or the mob catch him, she tracks him down and teams up with him, helping The Stranger retrace the steps of his past piece-by-piece. She has a reluctant ally in FBI Agent Mason Reese (Adam Beach, Flags of our Fathers), who gives her a little more leeway than most others in the agency. Together, these characters journey through a film that's far closer to being a psychological thriller than a hardcore action film.
The mystery isn't particularly involving and the story is handled in a rather clumsy way, but one does have to give The Stranger credit for making the viewer wonder just who the main character is and what his story happens to be. Or rather, it would deserve credit for that if only the packaging didn't prominently reveal the fact that he's a man who lost his job and his family. In an effort to market The Stranger as a more traditional revenge movie, the film's big reveal has been blatantly compromised. Fail.
The performances are merely adequate, for the most part. Austin is hardly the next Laurence Olivier, but he gets the job done in a natural and effective manner (and he excels in the action scenes, as you would expect him to). Cerra never quite manages to sell her character as we never really get much of a handle on what makes the character tick (she's essentially an audience surrogate who happens to have expertise in convenient areas). Beech make a solid impression, but he doesn't have much to do.
The hi-def transfer is a little underwhelming, as the film is visually flat and uninvolving. Despite director Rob Lieberman's efforts to mimic the colorful frenzy of Tony Scott's Man on Fire (rapid editing, lots of oddly-placed subtitles, blurry, chaotic action scenes), the dour visual palette and the general lack of strong detail prevent the imagery from making a strong impression. Darker scenes suffer from some black crush and a general lack of depth, which is a problem considering just how many scenes take place at night or in darker areas. The audio is okay, if a little on the inconsistent side...I had to adjust my speakers a number of times. In addition, the rock-driven score lacks the emotional nuance the film needs (I can't believe I just used the words "emotional nuance" in relation to a movie starring Steve Austin, but there you go). The only supplements on the disc are a brief EPK-style featurette called "The Stranger: Behind the Scenes" and a theatrical trailer.
I can't advise you to let The Stranger into your home, but it's not completely horrible. If you're up at 2 AM and have nothing better to do, I guess you could do worse. The Blu-ray release is nothing special.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R