Is that anything like a crimson wave? Just when we thought C. Thomas Howell was dead, this movie proves those reports were greatly exaggerated, although when the burly Judge Nicholas Sylvain is done pummeling this movie, C. Thomas will want to reconsider his mortality.
Who's killing the serial killers?
A good movie needs a "hook" to get an audience interested, but when an interesting premise is all that a movie has going for it, the result is not going to be pretty. Such is the fate of Crimson Code, a blessedly unknown stinker of a film that not only would I avoid paying for it, I'd mind simply wasting 90 minutes of my life on it. Maybe with a few shots of vodka it becomes a tolerable comedy?
Facts of the Case
Agent Jason Chandler (Patrick Muldoon) and his partner, Agent Stephanie Dobson (Cathy Moriarty) are junior members of a special Serial Killer Apprehension Team. Tired of checking out corpses and shuffling paperwork, an eager Chandler yearns for more exciting work, while a wise Dobson counsels patience. Dobson gets more than he bargains for when he discovers that someone is executing serial killers and suspects that the killers are the other members of his team. Working with his partner and a helpful retired agent, Randall Brooks (Fred Ward), Agent Chandler not only must tangle with his vigilante colleagues, but with a resilient serial killer, J.B. Gaines (C. Thomas Howell). Chandler's life gets very interesting, very, very quickly…
Many times I find myself playing the "pitch" for a film as it might have been delivered to Griffin Mills in The Player. I imagine the "pitch" for Crimson Code went something like this:
Pitch-er: "This is a gripping, thrilling, seat-of-your pants thriller."
Griffin Mill: "Uh-huh."
Pitch-er: ."…but it's funny. It's like, a thriller, sort of Magnum Force meets Silence of the Lambs."
Griffin Mill: "Oh wow."
Pitch-er: "It's a searching look for the true, thrilling, collision between morality and justice. It's really gripping."
Griffin Mill: "Not sure we have any development money right now, sorry."
Pitch-er: "We can make it for cheap! Film it in Winnipeg, Canada during the dead of winter and hire a bunch of B-list actors. For the good-guy serial killer, we can get C. Thomas Howell. He's desperate for work. We can shave his head, give him wire rimmed glasses, and tell him to stare a lot. Have Patrick Muldoon pout around as the pretty-boy FBI agent and 'real' good guy, after Starship Troopers, he'll come cheap. It'll thrill you, I swear."
…and so on. I am sure the writer and director of Crimson Code take it seriously, but to me, the whole package just screams "bad cable TV movie." The premise of someone killing serial killers has potential, but alas, this was not to be fulfilled.
I might have been able to take it more seriously, but between the miscasting and the just bad casting, it never had a chance. C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders, Red Dawn) is just not scary, despite valiant efforts, and Patrick Muldoon has the "leading man look," but not the acting chops to carry the role. When Muldoon tries to deliver a morally outraged lecture, he's annoying, not convincing. Acting talent is no help, for even a usually solid Fred Ward (The Right Stuff, The Player) seems to be phoning it in here.
Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Cop Land) is the best performance by a long mile, balancing dry humor with wisdom and unexpected steel, in a performance thoroughly wasted here. Now that I think about it, they should have made her the central heroine and made Patrick Muldoon her sidekick!
The B-grade casting is aggravated by a script that does its level best to bore, confuse, and annoy. A generic American setting rather than a textured, real American city, FBI agents who are more convincing as rent-a-cops, and cheesy computer operations inserts all take their further toll. Who lives, who dies, who is lying, who is telling the truth, none of these questions interested me. How many minutes were remaining, now THAT was a critical question!
Extra content is includes a commentary track with director Jeremy Haft, whose only other contribution to cinema is the equally unknown Grizzly Mountain. I would guess that this is Haft's first opportunity to record a commentary track. In the future, perhaps some kind soul will remind him to avoid the obvious ("Here we start with the opening credits." Well, DUH!) as well as the "what is on the screen" disease. Having found the film to rate as poor cable fare at best, I was not exactly receptive to Haft's notion of Crimson Code as a deep film about morality and justice. Sell that cinematic pretentiousness somewhere else, I'm full up here. The theatrical trailer for Crimson Code and some brief talent files for cast and crew are the only other content items to note. The menus are decently done with sound and animation, and the chapter selections use full-motion video.
Artisan threw me a curve ball when I realized that there are zero subtitles on this disc. This is a surprising and inexcusable omission.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Since Crimson Code rates among my least favorite movies to review in some time, let me turn the tables and use this space to mention the few areas where it doesn't resemble a compost heap.
The full-screen transfer is actually quite good. Clean of dirt and defects, crisp and sharp, with well-saturated colors and no digital artifacting, Crimson Code was a technical pleasure to watch. Some poorly lit scenes with smoke or haze don't come off quite as cleanly, but the fault is minimal.
The audio track is acceptable, but perhaps betrays the film's limited financial resources. Rear surround usage is weak for a modern 5.1 mix, and points where I would expect a low-end subwoofer boost are left without assistance. Otherwise, Crimson Code is a decently mixed front-soundstage sort of film, with well-distributed sound, smooth panning across the channels, and properly distinct dialogue. The soundtrack is actually the most pleasing sonic aspect of the film, with agreeably modern, techno-oriented sound.
I am confused, however, by the information on the back of the box. In white on red type, it states "FORMATTED FROM ITS ORIGINAL VERSION TO FIT YOUR SCREEN." Okay, fine. Then why does it say not very far below, in smaller black on white type, "Presented in the original 1.33:1 format in which the film was shot." Which is it?
If you have a crush on Patrick Muldoon or a bald C. Thomas Howell, or if you are having a bad movie night with some friends and beer, then go ahead and rent Crimson Code. The rest of you, save your time and your money for some well-made Hollywood schlock.
If you actually want to buy it ($15 retail), even for cheap, please alert the authorities. You are in serious need of mental health treatment.
Even for a worthless film, Artisan includes a commentary track, a good technical presentation, and wisely prices Crimson Code cheaply. For those reasons, Artisan may go in peace, though with a stern reprimand for its total lack of subtitles.
On the other hand, the film is guilty of flushing money down a sewer. I sentence it to go forth with a scarlet A (for Atrocious) branded upon its box.
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