Unlike chocolate and peanut butter or beer and pizza, the combination of ghost story and crime thriller is less than a perfect pairing, as Judge Bill Gibron discovered.
Her terror comes from within. Ours comes from witnessing this mess.
Cal wants his nephew Parnell to go to college. A consummate car thief, he doesn't want his intelligent relative to follow in his felonious footsteps. When Cal gives Parnell a bag of money to pay for school, both seem ready for a new life. But just then, Cal's angry crime boss steps in. He thinks the pair has stolen the cash from him, and poor Parnell pays the price. Before he can whack Cal, however, a white woman interrupts, shotgun in hand, and demands his release. Turns out that Sarah is in touch with the afterlife, and ghosts use her body to "channel" their last actions on Earth. In this case, Sarah is standing in for Parnell, who wants a little payback. Later, a dead mother uses our heroine to see her newborn baby, while previously, a police officer employed her person to take out some murderous bank robbers. Cal is intrigued by Sarah's abilities and hopes her powers will protect them from the mob. But the bad guys are on the prowl and, even worse, a mysterious man who hears "voices" wants Sarah to make them stop. And he's not willing to simply let her Slip through his fingers. She's too important to the evil, angry spirit controlling him.
Slip has one of the most severe cases of cinematic schizophrenia ever seen within a motion-picture narrative. At any given moment it's a ghost story, a crime drama, a psychological thriller, and a morose character study. It strives to put a twist on the whole paranormal/psychic line of films, and tosses in a little Tarantino-esque violence to underscore how cool it is. Unfortunately, writer/director Brian Maris fails to live up to such a hip honorarium. Instead, Slip is frozen, about as inert an entertainment experience as one can have without being comatose. It all starts with the approach to the material. We are supposed to sympathize with Sarah and her supernatural plight. We are required to identify with her inner confusion as ghosts hop in and out of her like partners in Paris Hilton's bed. As the opening set piece sees her mindlessly murdering a group of gangsters (as part of some payback from a fallen police officer), we are supposed to see how unhappy she is, how lonely and lost she feels. Frankly, the only emotion we truly sense is our own inner anger. We begin cursing this crap almost immediately, and pray that it finds a way to get better somehow fast. Instead, we move into phase two of the multileveled narrative, and it is here where Slip slides entirely.
Cal is by no means a character to champion. To call him an antihero would be to impart some manner of valor into his car-thieving personality that just doesn't exist. He's a whiner, a too-slick weasel of a man who lets others do most of the dirty work he deals in. So when his mob boss confronts him with the fact that $100K is missing, you never buy the premise. After all, Cal seems too wussed out to pull such a heist. What follows is pure plot contrivance, a story shift purposely made to bring our incredibly divergent elements together. We know that Cal and Sarah will somehow end up together, but Maris's manner of getting us there is disjointed and tonally askew. We're never sure if we're supposed to laugh, scoff, or be scared by all the body-possessing voodoo going on. It doesn't help that actress Jill Small is such a one-note Nancy. Playing most of her scenes with a kind of disconnected stare, our cheerless channeler is a dry little dear, seeming meek even when she's kicking ass and packing heat. If part of her thespian parameters requires her to "inhabit" the other spirits she is harboring, she must be cruising ghosts from the blandest part of Purgatory.
As for Don Turner, he makes Cal manageable, but not very convincing. We don't really mind his presence, but are pretty sure the movie would be better with a different actor. In fact, it is clear that Slip has aspirations beyond its low-budget leanings. This is ambitious stuff, perhaps too big for Maris's minor britches. This is a movie that needs outlandish special effects, major motion-picture star power, and the kind of inventive direction that a David Fincher or a M. Night Shyamalan can provide. No one here is up to this kind of challenge. A clear example of this comes whenever Sarah takes on one of her vengeful spirits. The opening shootout is witnessed aurally—just sound effects and dialogue. Similarly, when she bursts in to save Cal the first time, it's another exercise in foley and foul language. There are several scenes set in single locations—a hospital room, a rather underequipped morgue—belying the production's need to limit the number of backdrop changes. When Sarah goes psychic, she ends up in a blank space covered in supersaturated light. Similarly, the gore is generally limited to bullet wounds, mouth bleeding, and spatter. From an ancillary character who has absolutely no business being part of this storyline to a touchy-feely ending which betrays most of what our couple has gone through, this is one movie that needs a title change. Slipshod is far more appropriate to the product at hand.
Maverick Entertainment, responsible for unleashing Chat Room, Honeybee, Swirl, and When Thugs Cry, takes this otherwise average movie and gives it an equally uninspired DVD release. The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed image is a little oversaturated, colors like red and blue almost glowing thanks to the transfer. There is also a minor amount of fog here and there, rendering some sequences overly soft. As for the aural presentation, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is only effective when the Lilith Fair-reject song stylings arrive or when the hack-hop rap rams in to ruin a scene. As for extras, there is a decent behind-the-scenes featurette that discusses the making of the movie, and both director Brian Maris and producer/actor Don Turner show up for a detailed audio commentary. It is a blow-by-blow discussion, with insights into everything from shot selection and editing to costume choices. Both men sound rather humble and it's nice to hear a pair of independent filmmakers who aren't totally enamored of their own efforts. It's a shame that Slip is so scattered and slight. Maybe with a big-name cast and even larger production values, this Medium/Ghost Whisperer riff would work. Then again, maybe not.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Maximum Entertainment
• Audio Commentary with Director Brian Maris and Producer/Actor Don Turner
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