Judge George Hatch set his watch to crime time, but every moment was like watching paint dry.
To be seen is to exist.
I was first impressed with Stephen Baldwin in the small role of a young soldier in Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), but quickly lost interest when he began starring in clunkers like Posse and ruining otherwise good films such as Andrew Fleming's bi-sexy comedy Threesome. Then his performance as McManus in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects blew me away. The beard made him look more mature and he wisely adopted some his older brother Alec's acting style, alternating whispery threats with explosive physical confrontations. Pete Postlethwaite, a high-caliber actor nominated for Best Supporting actor in 1994 for In the Name of the Father, was also in The Usual Suspects playing Kobayashi, the enigmatic lawyer and confidante to the notorious Keyser Söze. A year later, both starred in Crimetime, "A George Sluizer Film," the same man who had directed the intense psychological thriller, Spoorloos (1988), better known as The Vanishing. With a terrific "truth-versus-illusion" premise Crimetime has a lot going for it.
The plot finds American actor Bobby Mahon (Baldwin) signing on to play a serial killer in the British reality series "Crimetime." He's hired to re-enact recent murders on television before the sensationalized headlines disappear from the local tabloids. Sidney (Postlethwaite), the real killer, becomes obsessed with the media attention his crimes are receiving and vows to keep 'em coming so he can watch Bobby impersonate him the following day. Bobby, meanwhile, starts taking his role too seriously, plastering the walls of his apartment with morgue and crime-scene photos, as motivation for his character. Sidney soon feels compelled to start calling Bobby, giving him pointers on the fine art of slow and painful death and the best way to pluck out an eye without damaging the membrane. Sydney, you see, likes to preserve these mementos in an ice cube tray stashed in his freezer. He also enjoys toying with Bobby's mind, by sabotaging his rationality and sense of morality.
Crimetime has all of the ingredients of a terrific suspense film, a twisty psychodrama, or a classy horror movie like Silence of the Lambs. With the instant televised re-enactments and the police giving up-to-date information to the "Crimetime" staff, it could have also been a dark satire on reality television. So what went wrong? I think first-time screenwriter Brendan Somers may have been shooting for too many of those topics, and director Sluizer couldn't single one out, missing every mark. Crimetime has no focus. The meandering pace and lack of character development gave me the impression Somers had no clear concept of what to do with the material and was simply improvising as he went along.
Obviously, his lack of vision rubbed off on the actors, since most of them have no idea what to do while others don't seem to care. You won't find McManus' intense determination in Stephen Baldwin's performance here. Coiffed in a Euro-trash hairdo, his usually crystal-blue eyes are glazed over, as blurred as the direction. Postlethwaite walks through his role like a zombie and you won't for a second believe him capable of psychologically manipulating another character. As Bobby's friend Val, Sadie Frost is drab and lifeless, a far cry from the fiery Lucy Westenra she played in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even the presence of cult icon Karen Black (The Day of the Locust, Trilogy of Terror, Burnt Offerings) won't earn any repeat viewings for this film. 1960s pop idol Marianne Faithfull (I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name), who recently co-starred in Patrice Chéreau's sexually explicit shocker Intimacy (2001) has a neat cameo as a club singer, but that alone doesn't earn Crimetime even a rental recommendation. Sluizer and scripter Brendan Somers (who wrote only two other screenplays for German television) had the gall to take bit parts and show their faces but no shame in this misguided flop that can't even distinguish itself as a halfway decent exploitation flick.
Lions Gate tossed out Crimetime in a bare-bones package (not even a trailer!) with an acceptable but full screen transfer and Dolby 2.0 Stereo that let's you hear every irrelevant word. I couldn't track down the original aspect ratio (in this case, it wouldn't have made a difference); but lately I've noticed Lions Gate has been releasing full frame versions of CinemaScope and Panavision films in full frame (see Appellate Judge DeWees' review of Julius Caesar), and reformatting others (The Pawnbroker, Long Day's Journey into Night). I guess I should have read the "fine print" before pre-ordering because I just received their DVD of Jack Arnold's 'Scope classic High School Confidential (1958) in full frame! A few years ago I bought the VHS release of this teensploitation gem from Republic Pictures in all of its 2.35:1 widescreen glory—including the original trailer. So what's the what, Lions Gate? The work had already been done for you. Thanks for the Angel Heart: Special Edition (among others), but in the future, please show some respect for older films and deliver these titles as they were originally presented.
To paraphrase the tagline: There's no reason for this film to be seen—or exist.
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