1 murder. 460 prime suspects. Not so much of a 'who done it' as a 'who didn't'.
Drowning Mona is a dark comedy parody of a whodunit, where the victim was so disliked that just about everybody had a motive in seeing her dead. A fine premise and a great cast are wasted in a story that falls flat far more often than it entertains. It is far too cautious and takes too few risks to be the type of parody it attempts to be, and in final analysis is simply tame, stale, and flat. If you actually liked the film Columbia has done their usual fine job with the DVD release, however.
As I said, I liked the premise. The idea of quirky characters all being suspects of murdering someone who nobody liked has promise, and there could be a decent movie just on those characters rather than the whodunit aspect. And I really thought you couldn't go wrong teaming up Danny DeVito and Bette Midler, who co-starred in one of my favorite comedies, Ruthless People. Add in Jamie Lee Curtis, who has proven her worth in roles requiring comedy such as in Trading Places and True Lies, along with Neve Campbell, SNL's Will Farrell, and Casey Affleck, and you have a cast that can take you far. That the movie didn't take them far enough, or too far in the wrong direction, I will not attribute to these fine actors.
And I will say that Bette Midler plays her part well. She is so totally unlikable that she might have been able to do more with the film if she hadn't been killed in the first few minutes. Thereafter we only see her in a few flashbacks, each colored by the impression of the person who is telling the story. And I won't say there are no laughs. One of the brain-dead main characters is missing a hand, and the speculative scenes on how he lost it got a chuckle or two from me in particular. Dark, but in keeping with the nature and purpose of the film. And if you want to get really dark, the beginning where Casey Affleck says "She's 13!" and his adult partner says "Yeah, finally" was worth a laugh.
In keeping with the format of presenting the positives here, I'll move on to the disc itself. The disc looks great. Both an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and open matte full frame transfers are included on this two sided disc. Other than a bit of edge enhancement, both of these transfers are flawless, though the anamorphic side will offer greater resolution to those with widescreen displays. Details are sharp, colors are bright and rich, blacks and fleshtones are perfect, and shadow detail is excellent. If you liked the film and are worried about how it looks on DVD, rest assured you'll be happy with the efforts made by Columbia here.
Likewise, the soundtrack is excellent, especially the Dolby Digital 5.1 English track. It is surprisingly active for a comedy, with plenty of ambient sounds and music coming from all four corners. Bass extension is pretty deep when called for, and the music…well, Three Dog Night figures prominently in the music and opening the film with "Shambala" gave me great hope for the future. Guess you have to like Three Dog Night, but it was great sugary '70s pop for this film.
Fans of the film will not be disappointed in the extras either. A commentary track, four deleted scenes, with or without director's commentary, cast and crew filmographies and awards, and five trailers are all offered as supplements. The trailers are for To Die For, As Good As It Gets, Desert Blue, Wild Things, and of course, Drowning Mona. The deleted scenes were in some cases more interesting than the film, with one dropped subplot that got left hanging by the final cut.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, most of the film fits in here, the negatives section. I'll begin with a horrible script. Dialogue that falls flat, when it obviously means to be funny, happens all too often. The story dwells far too much on "who did it" or "Who didn't do it" to the exclusion of a more entertaining story. Horrible characters, who each look like they can't wait for their appearance on Jerry Springer. One of the only characters who isn't complete white trash and is played straight is Danny DeVito, who plays Sheriff Wyatt Rash (say it fast it comes out "White Trash") and is totally wasted in this role. He could have brought out a much better performance with this type of outlandish character and he is played straight. Neve Campbell is also played a bit straight, though with a definite K-Mart twist. Ultimately I couldn't care about any of these people, whether they committed the crime or not.
Moving on, why the director felt he had to put these horrid wigs on most of the main characters is beyond me. These people are actors and could have accomplished what was asked for without such terrible wigs to distract us. Many choices made by director Nick Gomez, who has done some great television work such as episodes of "Homicide: Life on the Street," and HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Oz," remain a mystery to me. He managed to mess up a movie with this much talent.
Unfortunately he still doesn't realize he messed up, at least according to the commentary track. He sings praises at the film throughout, and calls scenes I found excruciating "magic." He looks at a character in this insipid wig trying to get through a stupid scene and says "The camera just loves him, the celluloid just eats him up." The public has spoken, and this movie from what I can understand still hasn't recouped the 8 million it cost to make. It started out on a respectable 1800 plus screens nationwide and was gone in a week from most of them. The film isn't funny, but he still thinks it is. Herein lies the problem.
The film needed to either go much more straight, with characters you could identify with, or go completely the other direction and get really dark. Instead this film keeps its PG-13 rating and goes for tame and stale.
As much as I like Columbia's efforts and the cast, I can't recommend this film. Only those who have already seen the film and want the disc should be happy because of the stellar transfer and sound, and extras as a bonus.
Drowning Mona is sentenced to obscurity, which would be poetically dispensed by drowning it in the deepest part of the ocean. Columbia is acquitted for its fine technical excellence and for trying to get a project like this to work.
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