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Case Number 04143: Small Claims Court

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Dead In A Heartbeat

BFS Video // 2002 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // March 25th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

Total carnage is just a beat away.

The Case

When serial bombers have run out of innocent children and various religious factions to victimize, who is last on their list of potential targets? Why, heart surgeons, of course. Seems that the demented mind of a C-4 assassin, when drained of all but a few available bodies to blow up, targets doctors who tinker with your ticker. In this case, a distraught daddy whose precious son went belly up in the OR blames the non-nonsense chest muscle medico for his boy's going "bye-bye" and decides to get even, circulatory style. He finds a way to embed his kabooms in pacemakers and waits until the clueless cardiologist adds them to a patient. One cell phone call later and some real defibrillation begins. All of this torso-TNT gets the attention of the Seattle bomb squad, who calls in their most dedicated and decorated officer…Brad Hamilton? Actually, the cop's handle is Lt. Tom Royko. He's a divorced dad who taxes his son's child support and hopes to find out who would want to perform a little amateur open-pec surgery with plastique. He turns to Dr. Gillian Hayes, a noted nerd, who gives him the standard "who would want to harm me" routine. Of course, the first time the bonkers blast baron calls her, she knows everything: motive, modus, and operandi. Now all the police have to do is find the fiend. But first, there needs to be a few more exploding ancillary characters and a sick game of juvenile "Operation" before convoluted plot points collapse like dwarf stars. While the notion of detonating dummies via their arterial jumper cables is kinda cool, it doesn't save this movie from being Dead in a Heartbeat.

Here's a phrase that doesn't cross your cinematic consciousness that often: Judge Reinhold as a seasoned veteran of the bomb squad. Actually, it's hard to image the last time when the arbitrator-named actor showed up on the known-commodity radar of motion pictures. For a while, he represented the calm, repressed urban dork, Jimmy Stewart with a couple of twisted chromosomes. But "poof," he vanished out of the mainstream and into obscurity (read: made-for-cable and direct-to-home-video fare). A good way to gauge his recent Q level would be to remember that classic line from The Simpsons when Marge tells her mother that, compared to Monty Burns, Grandpa Simpson is a certain "freakin'" actor. Mom's response? "I don't know who that is." Well said. Unless you recall his automanipulative moment in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you may too be suffering from a similar moment of Mrs. Bouvier memory. A review of the Internet Movie Database indicates that the judicious Judge has worked consistently since his last big starring splash in a major moneymaker, 1994's The Santa Clause. (Yeah, he was in the sequel, so what?) But obviously whatever attracted the movie-going audience to films like Beverly Hills Cop, Vice Versa, and Ruthless People has receded like Reinhold's chin. And that means that at the core of this created-for-television travesty is a voluntary void, a casting choice by the producers to create a null-set action hero. And as said empty man of danger, Reinhold really fails to register.

Aside from Reinhold's non-existent screen presence, the main problem with Dead in a Heartbeat is the plot. This movie makes the grand mistake of telling us everything we need to know about the who, what, when, where, why and how of this supposed thriller mystery blasting caper before our butts even start to get sore. As we hit the 20 minute mark of this 90 minute mess, we already understand that:
(a) it's the pacemakers that are exploding,
(b) each device was implanted by Dr. Gillian Hayes, and
(c) it's the disgruntled father of a dead patient who is popping the innocent casualties' wounded weasel.
Director Paul Antier fudges up his first feature with too much gun jumping. It would have been nice for the police and coroner to muddle over what happened for a few investigational days before they leap to the concrete fact that a piece of cardiovascular technology is killing people (the first stiff is barely chilly before these implanted devices are coronary public enemy #1). And when our miserable MD realizes that, at first, she's picked the wrong suspect out of her past boyfriends, she suddenly has total recall and remembers every detail of the real paternal killer in the film. Penelope Ann Miller plays the bitch caregiver as if med school made her gassy, and she always seems on the verge of an internal infarction. Besides, it's not like she and Judgey Wudgey are dealing with a strategic genius here. It's not giving anything away (since the DVD insert and the menu screen announce his co-starring) to say that Timothy Busfield, he of thirtysomething and Field of Dreams, telegraphs every heart bomb he's gonna drop like a Gap Band reunion. As he channels Dennis Hopper as an AV geek (and looks mighty puffy in the process), he confuses facial grimaces with characterization and renders his psychotic slaughterer silly.

Frankly, it's too bad. This premise is unique, and a lot could have been done with the idea of placing tiny bombs inside people that go off at random times. Had that bloody, gory story been explored, then Dead in a Heartbeat wouldn't have been so boring. But with all its cards on the operating table so early on, all we can do is sit around and wait for the actors to call our bluff. But it never happens. Limping along with standard "one step behind" police work and unable to end without a couple of misplaced Mulligans along the way, it baffles as it belittles parental grief to ridicule all aspects of its intention. Luckily, BFS Video takes the first and last initial in its name to heart and gives this pungent poo a sparse DVD release. The full frame 1.33:1 image is decent, but won't have you thinking you're immersed in the action. Same with the sound. Dolby Digital Stereo can only create so much magic, so the staid aural "eh?" here will keep your speakers mostly on the silent side. And aside from a cast biography that features cheat-sheet information on Reinhold, Miller, and Busfield, the versatility of the digital disc is never broached. Too bad the film didn't follow the packaging's contextual restraint and keep some of the storyline information away from the audience. It might have stirred up some suspense. Not many questions are left un-addressed about the plot mechanics as we embark on Dead in a Heartbeat. This Speed-with-surgery could have worked its novel nitro nonsense into a potent pot of boiling bomb blasts. But just like that box of "illegal" fireworks your grandfather brought you from Tennessee, most of this movie fizzles like a dud. They'll be no "oohs" and "aahs" when this stunted skyrocket finally explodes.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 59

Perp Profile

Studio: BFS Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Action
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Cast Biographies


• IMDb

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