Judge Adam Arseneau knows that if his dad died and came back as a ghost, he'd look like Bill Cosby.
They don't stand a ghost of a chance.
An odd duck in terms of classification, Dead Cool kind of resembles Ghost Dad, except that it isn't a comedy, Bill Cosby is nowhere to be seen, and the dead guy is Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica. In all other aspects, the film looks, feels, and acts like a lame Lifetime-style movie of the week.
Facts of the Case
Fifteen-year-old David is still stinging over the death of his father (James Callis, Battlestar Galactica: Season One) six years after his father died in a car crash, when he learns that his mother has a new boyfriend. Furious at the betrayal, he begins to see visions of his dead father and demands help in thwarting away the new suitor. Try as he might, David is unable to persuade his mother to give up the relationship. Before long, David, his mother, and his brother move in with the new man and his family.
Alas, not all is sunshine and roses. It turns out that the new man has a peculiarly close relationship with his own ex-wife, an American self-help guru (Rosanna Arquette, (Crash), who inadvertently throws herself in the middle of the new couple's domestic bliss. Soon, David is not the only one struggling to cope with the new realities of life in a stepfamily.
Dead Cool personifies the classic misstep between comedy and drama. Here is a film that wants to be dramatic and funny simultaneously, tries way too hard to balance the two elements, flails about wildly like a blind ice-skater, and ultimately achieves neither. In the end, we are left with 90 minutes of barely restrained confusion and dullness.
At its core, the film has the standard Lifetime movie of the week plot, with a surly fifteen-year-old kid angry at his mother for moving in with a new man and bringing him along for the ride. But even these elements feel strange and foreign to Dead Cool, as if the cast were presented with the script three minutes prior to filming. Nobody seems to be reacting the way you would expect them to, laughing at odd times, with wild bug-eyed looks of confusion shot around. There is nothing overtly poor or offensive about Dead Cool on paper; it takes a reasonably serviceable plot and tries to spice it up with some ghosts, some crude CGI effects, and some British charm, but simply fumbles in execution. What remains is awkward and disjointed, but hardly a disaster of epic proportions—just a low-budget drama that tries to be funnier than it should.
At its core, the tale of a lonely fifteen-year-old angry at his mother for moving on with his life whose coping mechanism involves seeing visions of his dead father giving him advice on how to sabotage his mother's new relationship is almost sweet. Of course, having the father be Baltar from Battlestar Galactica only makes it weirder, but back in 2004, no one could have known. You definitely get the sense that writer/director David Cohen is working out some of his own issues in this story, but the cathartic nature of the film only drives it forward so far. It is easy to trash a low-budget film for being terrible; it is far harder to trash a film for overreaching its lofty ambitions. It may be a poor film, but not for lack of trying.
Technically speaking, Dead Cool is as strange as its subject matter. The film theoretically offers two choices—a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround selection, except that neither sound quite right. The dialogue is oddly alien in its placement, as if floating in from some other netherworldly location being picked up accidentally by the speakers. Worse, it routinely loses synchronization with the lip movements of the characters onscreen by up to a half-second. Bass response is paper-thin, and environmental noises are oddly mixed, giving Dead Cool a tin-can sounding experience. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a clean transfer, but one that experiences a total lack of convincing black levels, with washed-out colors and grays that run rampant.
There's only a trailer in the way of extras, which is probably for the best.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film actually hits something that resembles a stride two-thirds of the way in, once we spend some time with Deirdre (Rosanna Arquette). Her exuberant insanity adds some life to this otherwise drab drama, but her arrives in the film is too little, too late.
A low-budget British drama with comedic ambitions, Dead Cool is lifeless and dull, but not for lack of trying. Sadly, there is not much to recommend here, unless you are a fifteen-year-old kid struggling to deal with your new stepfamily and routinely have visions of Cylons nobody else can see.
Dead Cool is dead dull.
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