Judge Patrick Bromley watched this film while eating some fries with a bunch of spies in ties.
When the going gets tough, the tough get alibis.
Now the answer to the age-old question: if a DVD falls into video stores and no is around to hear to it, should we even bother caring?
Facts of the Case
Ray Elliot (Steve Coogan, Coffee and Cigarettes, 24 Hour Party People) runs an enormously successful business providing alibis for philandering husbands and wives. The trouble is, his old partner has gone missing with a price on his head and a Mormon hit man looking to collect on it. And when one of his clients accidentally kills a girl, it's up to Ray to clean up the mess and fight off the subsequent attack from all sides. Now, he'll have to rely on his new partner, the unfortunately-named Lola (Rebecca Romijn, Man About Town, Femme Fatale), to back him up, bail him, out, and help him to stay alive.
Well, this is interesting. Eight weeks into 2007, and already I've had the misfortune of sitting through Epic Movie, Because I Said So, and the botched comic-turned-movie Ghost Rider—three of the worst movies of this or any year. I mention these films only because all three received wide theatrical distribution; two of them even opened in the top spot of the weekend box office race. The actual quality of a film doesn't seem to be the basis for whether or not it finds its way onto movie screens.
This brings us to Lies & Alibis, a pretty good crime comedy that's been unceremoniously dumped straight to DVD. Disregarding that decidedly bad title (to be fair, though, the movie's original title was The Alibi—which isn't all that much better) and its somewhat dumb premise (making it yet another in a long line of movies in which the central character has an entirely made-up job, tailor-made to fit the plot), there's no real reason that Lies & Alibis wouldn't get the same wide-release treatment that any of the aforementioned awfulness did. And while I'm sure that there is some sort of justification (bad test screenings, no "marketable elements," or whatever), quality doesn't seem to be it.
For the sake of argument, let's run down the cast list: in addition to Coogan (finally given the chance to play a leading man, and stepping up nicely) and Romijn, there's James Brolin (Traffic) as Ray's number-one client and James Marsden (Superman Returns) as his screw-up son; Sam Elliott (Hulk, Road House) as the Mormon hit man and Selma Blair (In Good Company) as one of his wives; Jaime King (Sin City) as the dead girl and John Leguizamo (Land of the Dead, Summer of Sam) as her revenge-minded boyfriend. Even the smaller roles are filled with recognizable faces and character actors: Henry Rollins (Feast, Henry Rollins: Live at Luna Park), Deborah Kara Unger (Leo, Stander), Debi Mazar (Entourage, Malcolm X), Sharon Lawrence (Gossip), Jon Polito (Barton Fink), and Jerry O'Connell (Scream 2) all show up at some point.
Of course, strong casts do not a good movie make (for proof, I refer you to Barry Sonnenfeld's Big Trouble). Thankfully, Lies & Alibis has more going for it than just a host of familiar faces. It's stylishly directed (or co-directed) by Kurt Mattila and Matt Checkowski, both former special effects technicians making an impressive debut. The photography is gorgeous; the actors (okay, okay, I'm talking about Rebecca Romijn) even more so. The film has its flaws, though. The sheer volume of characters means that few of them have the opportunity to be developed beyond a recognizable face and some broad traits (this one's horny, that one's a sociopath). And though screenwriter Noah Hawley does his damndest to juggle a dozen story threads and tie them all up at the end, I'm not so sure he succeeds. The movie is, at times, overly complicated solely for the sake of being overly complicated—it can play like Christopher McQuarrie Lite.
Sony's DVD of Lies & Alibis is pretty much what one would expect for a film that's been pretty much dumped into video stores. It's unremarkable. The disc does provide the option of playing the film in either its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio or a cropped full frame presentation; because of the shot compositions and the fact that I don't have much use for full frame when it isn't intentional, I preferred the widescreen version. The 5.1 audio track has some good presence, with dialog delivered clearly in the center channel. A few bonus trailers are all that have been included for extras.
Just as not everything that gets a theatrical release is worthy of our time and money, Lies & Alibis is evidence that not every film that gets dumped directly to DVD should be automatically written off. It's smart and dark and funny, and it deserves better. Besides, I'd watch Rebecca Romijn fold socks. Someone give me the heads up when that DVD comes out.
Lies & Alibis isn't perfect, but there are worse ways to spend an evening. I've already named them.
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