Judge Gordon Sullivan wishes he'd never even heard of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.
If you are going down, take everyone with you.
We live in an era of 24/7 news cycles and continuous Internet hype. It seems everything worth knowing about is constantly shoved in our face—and yet, because of the high turnover rate of information, it's also pretty easy to miss some things. So, I only get a little bit nervous if I have to review a film with major actors that I haven't heard about. I just assume I missed the media blitz somehow and it'll probably still be worthwhile. However, I start to get a bit suspicious about a film with big names that I: 1) haven't heard anything about, and 2) can't find anything about after the fact. That's the issue with Catch .44—it stars Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker, and Malin Akerman, and yet it didn't got to theaters. Other than a few news stories about it being bought at a festival there were no news stories when I went to check. This sets off serious alarm bells. While Catch .44 (Blu-ray) isn't the total dud the media blackout would suggest, it's only worth tracking down for a select audience.
Told in a choppy, flashback style, Catch .44. looks at a drug deal gone wrong. Tes (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) and her pals show up to a roadside diner in the middle of the night. They think it's a test because they screwed up their last job for Mel (Bruce Willis, Die Hard). Mel wants them to intercept a shipment of drugs that some unauthorized person is bringing through his territory. Meanwhile a mysterious guy (Forest Whitaker, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai) is traveling through the countryside killing people. Everyone will converge on this roadside diner, and nothing will go as planned.
I used to be a bit iffy about Tarantino as a filmmaker, but nothing will make you appreciate him more than watching someone try to do his shtick and get it wrong. Catch .44 has it all: a strong set of female characters (drug runners in this case), a flashback-heavy continuity, a soundtrack filled with old-school pop, and characters with quirky details (like Mel's obsession with chewing on pecans). The idea of combining of these elements into a crime picture is a fine one, but the success is in the execution. For all the flak he gets, Tarantino is actually good at making compelling dialogue; sure he gets a bit carried away with it sometimes, but the chops are there. Not quite so much with writer/director Aaron Harvey. There are a number of dialogue-heavy scenes that are meant to have that "cool" atmosphere and they simply don't come off.
Really it's the detail that don't quite gel for Catch .44, whether it's the obviously digital blood during scenes of violence or the strange dialogue exchanges that don't seem to go anywhere.
To be fair, with those two or three scenes cut out, Catch .44 would be a lean, mean crime-thriller machine. It would still owe a bit too much to Tarantinoesque affectation (including scene transitions where the "film" breaks down that are so obviously digital its painful). However, I'll take a film where Bruce Willis gets to be creepy and goofy. He's a star who knows when to poke fun at his image, and he does so here with aplomb (including an appearance by his '80s incarnation as a crooner!). Forest Whitaker gets another opportunity to show that he's the most crazily versatile actor who doesn't have box-office clout by trying on no less than three accents here. Malin Akerman pushes herself a bit her as well, taking on the role of tough girl. Many of the smaller roles are filled with well-known faces like Brad Dourif, who appears as a sheriff.
There's not too much to complain about with this Blu-ray disc either. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is strong on detail, from fine textures of clothing to individual hairs on Willis' craggy face. Black levels are also impressive; much of the film takes place in the dead of night, and shadows are both dark and detailed. Colors pop appropriately, especially the red of the digital blood. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is equally strong, with clean dialogue from the center and very clear music on the soundtrack. Some of the directional effects are a bit off, but that's almost certainly the fault of the source, not this track. The film's lone extra is a commentary with Aaron Harvey and the film's editor Richard Byard. Though the pair share a few interesting tidbits about the film (including the sheer happenstance that led to it getting into the hands of big-name actors), but overall there's a bit too much silence and not enough info to make this one stand out.
Catch .44 was designed by writer/director Aaron Harvey to be a small movie (he mentions writing it in a week and a half; it shows), and when some big names got attached he (understandably) rushed into production. He rushed a little too soon. Though the big-name actors can cover some of the screenplay's sins, those expecting a first-rate crime thriller will be disappointed. On the other hand, those looking for a Bruce Willis-helmed disaster will also be disappointed. The people involved are all too competent to make Catch .44 unwatchable. It's probably worth a rental for fans of the actors and those who are already scraping the bottom of the crime-picture barrel, as long as expectations are kept in check.
Guilty of squandering its influences.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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