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Case Number 16259

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North Star

Warner Bros. // 1996 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // April 29th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Jim Thomas says, "Don't follow this North Star; it will lead only to pain and despair."

The Charge

Where Land is Power…and Revenge is Obsession

Opening Statement

The trailer announces that North Star is Catherine McCormack's most exciting role since Braveheart. The claim is absolutely true. Of course, North Star was her very next movie. What's also absolutely true is that she is about the only thing in this misbegotten mess remotely worth watching.

Worse, she doesn't have much screen time.

Facts of the Case

Nome, Alaska. 1899. The heart of the Alaskan Gold Rush.

Sean McClennon (James Caan, The Godfather) is the president of the Alaskan Mining Society. In the remote territory, that gives McClennon carte blanche to do pretty much anything he wants. In this case, he identifies productive mines, has his hired gun Reno (Burt Young, Rocky) kill the owner, and then buys the claim at auction. He's even gone so far as to unilaterally declare than non-U.S. citizens cannot register a claim—and when an immigrant comes in with a map, the map is confiscated and the claim registered to McClennon. He's got a good thing going for himself, reading Shakespeare as he wiles away the time with his lover Sarah (Catherine McCormack, Braveheart).

Hudson Saanteek (Christopher Lambert, Highlander), a half-breed raised by the tribal chief, registered a claim on sacred tribal grounds to keep them safe from McClennon and his kind. Saanteek fails to reckon with McClennon's greed, learning the lesson only after an attempt on his life. Saanteek goes into town to confront McClennon, but ends up abducting Sarah and fleeing into the wilderness. McClennon himself chases Saanteek, where stuff happens, some more stuff happens, and then McClennon goes batshit crazy, all leading up to an improbable revelation and an almost impossible conclusion. Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

The Evidence

The movie could have just as easily been a Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Damme epic, but instead we get Christopher Lambert. While his odd look and accent was perfect for Highlander, it will be a gullible audience indeed who will accept Lambert as a half-breed, even with Lambert's bad black hair dye job. He mouths all of the usual platitudes about how no one can own the land and how his adoptive father taught him to respect nature. You even get a number of the requisite scenes of the Indians saving Sarah's life and hiding her from McClennon, even though they don't want to have anything to do with Saanteek, who only brings trouble. Their antipathy towards Saanteek is further proof of their worth, I suppose. In the end you have a story cobbled together with bits and fragments, none of them quite making sense. For instance, early in the movie, McClennon's thugs attempt to kill Saanteek, who feigns being shot and throws himself into the lake to fool everyone. So, after he's dry, he decides to just walk into town to talk to McClennon. Dude, he just tried to kill you; we're pretty much past the talking stage. However, the plot demands that Saanteek go into town; otherwise, he couldn't make off with Sarah as part of his plan to…actually, we never find out why he took Sarah—it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Of course, the plot demands that Saanteek take Sarah, so that McClennon himself would chase him instead of just sending his thugs.

Acting is, well, bad. Lambert storms about declaiming on the land, and looking fierce. James Caan's performance is a puzzler. He spends most of the film with a moderately sedated look, has three or four scenes of anger, and the rest of the time sports an expression that might best be described as "Botox Surprise." In Caan's defense, the script doesn't help him—at a key point in the film, the character abruptly changes from being a ruthless businessman to a homicidal psychopath, when he guns down not just Nome's mayor, but the soldiers accompanying him.

Video is more or less meh. Colors are pretty decent, with only a little bleeding here and there, but exteriors are washed out and soft. Either due to poor film stock or a really bad cinematographer, the Alaskan landscapes never have the majesty that you expect. The audio is decent enough, though weak in the lower frequencies. The only extra is a trailer; it doesn't make much more sense than the movie itself.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The movie has a realistic frontier look, and sports an effective hook—a Norwegian family is excited at the prospect of using their gold mine to put a roof over their heads—until the bad ole claims clerk tells them how Nome rolls these days. The family has a simple, genuine charm, and their disappointment is palpable.

Catherine McCormack turns in a decent performance—quite the feat given what little she has to work with. She only has a handful of scenes, despite being a major part of the plot, and by the time Lambert and Caan are finished, there is little scenery left for her to chew. Given how intelligent and perceptive Sarah is shown to be, it is hard to accept that she had no idea how McClennon did business.

Closing Statement

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Labarge
I cremated this DVD.

(with apologies to Robert W. Service)

The Verdict

Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 78
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 60
Judgment: 59

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Action
• Independent
• Western

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices

• IMDb








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