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Case Number 04027

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Shattered Image (1999)

Lionsgate // 1999 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // March 6th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

"I'm…just a bad dream."—Jess (Anne Parillaud)

Opening Statement

Shattered Image, huh? Well, at least they got the title right. (Stick with me, folks, these jokes write themselves.)

Facts of the Case

Jessie (Anne Parillaud, La Femme Nikita) is a cold-blooded assassin for hire. She is hired by Paula (Lisanne Falk, Suicide Kings) to kill Brian (William Baldwin, Double Bang), a mellow (wooden?) shop owner. But Jessie kinda sorta likes Brian and hesitates to ice him.

Meanwhile, Jess (Anne Parillaud, The Man in the Iron Mask) is a jittery newlywed who was raped in an alley. Her caring husband Brian (William Baldwin, Virus) tries to ease her mind by honeymooning with her in Jamaica. They meet the comely Laura (Lisanne Falk, Heathers), and Jess thinks Brian might be interested in a dalliance with her. She begins to doubt Brian's honesty.

Meanwhile, Jessie (Anne Parillaud, Innocent Blood) is a patient in a mental hospital. She gets out and finds her husband Brian (William Baldwin, Born On The Fourth Of July) dining with a sexy woman (Lisanne Falk, Say Anything). One or more of these people is going to get very angry with one or more of the others, and one or more tragedies might or might not ensue.

The Evidence

In a previous review of Shattered Image, Judge Harold Gervais had this to say: "Some movies are so bad they become good, or at the very least, funny. Others are just plain bad. Shattered Image is worse." That was a review of the Universal release, but this reissue by Lions Gate occasions a new trial free from prejudice.

I thought it was funny when Judge Gervais thought it was funny when Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert would complain about bad movies being a waste of their time, and how they would come to resent that film. After sitting through Shattered Image, he knew how they felt. After sitting through Shattered Image and reading about Harold sitting through Shattered Image, now I know how he felt when he felt what Siskel and Ebert felt. And my dear reader, after struggling through this paragraph, you too will know what it feels like to watch this wretched film. The same people keep reappearing and performing similar actions, with no real explanation. Simply trying to discern what is happening takes too much mental effort. There is no reward for the effort either.
If I were your friend, I would simply tell you, "Skip this movie." But I am a critic, compelled to delve deeper.

This movie desperately wants to be La Femme Nikita. It equally desperately wants to be something by Brian De Palma. Hitchcock would be nice, too. These three voices are distinct. Yet Shattered Image refuses to pick one. Instead, director Raúl Ruiz throws all these elements into the pot and stirs it around until the three voices are each shrieking wildly in order to be heard over the others.

With such a complex plot and cacophony of style, I'm grateful that the actors opted for understatement. Had we viewers been forced to interpret facial expressions or voice inflections, our brains might have collapsed under the analytical weight. Fortunately, there is very little in the way of emotion. We are free to comprehend the labyrinthine dead ends of plot that whirl around the stone-faced actors.

Lions Gate has taken the conceit of the movie to heart with this release. Modern viewers are accustomed to obfuscated plots and just-for-the-hell-of-it twists and turns. Ahh, but what if the viewer is forced to squint to see what is happening? That will achieve the intended state of frustrated confusion! This transfer gets into the spirit of things with random black specks, hearty grain, and heavy edge enhancement. The picture occasionally disintegrates into a massive patchwork of blocky pixels. Digital noise reduction causes people's faces and clothes to crawl, as though they were covered by a swarm of small insects.

I say there was edge enhancement, but it wasn't always perceivable. That is because the focus shifts constantly, as though a telecine technician with delirium tremens got his fingers stuck to the focus knob with Super Glue. I was reminded of my youth, when I would play with toy binoculars and look cool by dialing the focus in and out.

Aurally, the DVD fares slightly better. The soundtrack is very simple, with a formless and moody strain repeated over and over. I could usually hear what was being said, though the deep French accents were tough to decipher at times. There are a couple of moments where actual sound effects are employed, but nothing dramatic. The sounds simply didn't draw much attention to themselves.

The lack of extras is a welcome relief.

If at any point during this film you have a clear idea of what is happening, one of three things must have occurred:

• The credits are rolling.
• There is a sex scene.
• The scene forgot to shift alternate realities for a minute, the focus happened to drift back in, and William Baldwin is not on screen.

(Yes, that last one was a cheap shot, I admit it. It is cool to bash the Baldwins, but on the whole I dig them. Just not this time.)

The Rebuttal Witnesses

You could be forgiven for thinking I found no artistic merit in this film. That's not precisely true. Ruiz uses innocuous events to build up tension. In this regard, Anne Parillaud does help things along. She acts gun shy at every brushing passerby, every photograph, every sudden movement. The first third of the film had some moments of real apprehension, such as when a bright red car leaped across the screen to follow the lead characters. But these few taut moments fail to amass any weight, and ultimately the artistry is diminished.

I can, however, unequivocally applaud the erotically charged scenes. They aren't exactly warm, but these sex scenes avoid my pet peeves of awkwardly placed thighs/sheets/bedposts that impart false modesty. Jess and Brian have sex, and they seem human doing it.

Closing Statement

The DVD quality is abysmal and the film lacks cohesiveness. The actors phone in their performances. I would have real trouble recommending Shattered Image to anyone.

The Verdict

The court finds Jess, Jessie, Jess, Brian, Brian, Brian, and Raúl guilty as charged. The original verdict is upheld, and the court will grant no further appeals.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 49
Audio: 72
Extras: 0
Acting: 25
Story: 40
Judgment: 42

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Bad
• Drama
• Film Noir
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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