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Case Number 02980

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Speed Of Life

Lionsgate // 1999 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // June 6th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Speed Of Life, published March 12th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

Don't let it pass you by.

Opening Statement

Or, on the other hand, do.

Facts of the Case

Drew (Scott Caan) lives a difficult life. He has to balance taking care of his invalid father, attending college classes, and repairing motorcycles on the side just to make ends meet. His father (Leo Burmeister), formerly a professor of engineering, has been stricken with a degenerative nervous disorder that has robbed him of most motor functions, causes him to have seizures, and impairs his memory. Most of the time he has great difficulty even speaking to express the simplest thought, and must depend on Drew to feed him, bathe him, and change his diaper twice a day.

Drew has been in trouble of some kind earlier in his life, but tries now to keep his nose clean. He faces difficulties in that respect, in the form of an old friend (Anthony Ruivivar) who tempts him with the money that can be made through criminal activities. Still, he soldiers on—until, of course, he meets a girl. The sexy, dangerous Sarah (Mia Kirshner) draws Drew into a spiral of drugs and sex that upends his world and changes everything.

The Evidence

Speed of Life starts out with a lot of promise. Drew's devotion to his father is touching; their role reversal, with Drew taking care of his father in every way, much as one would care for an infant, makes for some difficult, rewarding moments. Leo Burmeister gives an amazing performance in their scenes together, completely convincing as the helpless, frustrated, vulnerable older man. Theses scenes, especially the ones early in the film, are encouraging, and give the viewer hope that this will be…

Unfortunately, it doesn't last, and Burmeister's work is ultimately wasted, forced to take a backseat to more conventional stuff. Ruivivar's character never evolves beyond a cipher, just a placeholder for the Latino homey/gangster-with-a-heart-of-gold role. Kirshner, despite her supposedly co-starring role, has even less to do; she is called upon to look hot (which she accomplishes in spades) and provide the enticement that leads to Drew's eventual downfall. In the process, Sarah never develops beyond a bedevilingly pretty face.

This brings the viewer to an ending that is wrong in countless ways. It is as depressing as it is disappointing. It ends with a completely evil action by Drew; the audience is apparently supposed to applaud this as his personal declaration of independence. A movie that starts with such promise ends on such a selfish, nihilistic note that one wonders what message writer/director Rob Schmidt is trying to send. One may even wonder if he is consciously saying anything with this picture, or if he realized the potential he had in his hands to create a memorable, emotional film. Instead, we are left with a resolution that aims for cheap shock and a kneejerk emotional response. It is a most vexing conclusion; Schmidt wants to be daring, but manages only to be both trite and offensive at the same time.

The acting is mostly of a conventional nature that is rarely more noteworthy than the script. Ruivivar doesn't have enough screen time to do much besides some standard-issue male bonding. Kirshner, for her part, is as sexy and tempting as one could wish for, but not much else. Caan accomplishes some moments of honesty in his scenes with Burmeister, but these are lost in a sea of glowering and tough-guy schtick. No one is bad in their role, but no one come near to the excellent performance offered by Burmeister.

At least the DVD looks nice. Not great, but nice. Colors appear as lifelike. Shadow detail and gradations are excellent in a wide range of lighting setups. On the downside, fine details are a bit hazy most of the time. Dimly lit or night scenes tend to be too dark. The few brightly lit interior scenes in the film happen in hospital corridors; these tend to be too bright and look a bit washed out. Many of these problems look to be issues with cinematography rather than the DVD transfer, however.

The audio on this disc is Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. It is adequate, but nothing special. You will be able to hear what you need to hear, but there won't be much flash or excitement to it. The big problem with the audio is the false advertising on the part of Lions Gate. On the back of the DVD keep case, the packaging clearly lists "5.1 Dolby Digital" as one of the features of this disc. But alas, a Dolby 5.1 audio track is nowhere to be found. I can only assume that someone made a decision to change the audio late in the production process, but forgot to inform the printing department; still, that's really no excuse for shipping discs that carry blatantly false information on the case.

There is almost no extra content on this disc. We get two trailers: Speed of Life and The Dead Zone, the new horror/sci-fi series starring Anthony Michael Hall. Trust me—The Dead Zone would be the much better choice of the two.

Closing Statement

For me, what was probably the defining moment in Speed of Life came at about the 45 minute point in its 95 minute running time. My wife, who does not feel any pressure to be a pretentious film critic, but instead is free to be honest and speak her mind, turned to me and asked, "So, what's the point of all this?" I stammered for a minute, trying to explain what writer/director Schmidt was trying to say, and then I realized that she was right. The movie had no point; the emperor had no clothes. This is a film that wants to be about deep personal struggles and emotional turmoil, but lacks the insight to communicate its ideas successfully.

The Verdict

Guilty! Speed of Life offers a few promising ideas and situations, but ultimately parlays them into an ultimately conventional and meaningless movie. Lions Gate is guilty as well; false advertising does not sit well with this court, whether accidental or not. They are advised to pay a little closer attention to detail in the future.

We stand adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 84
Audio: 78
Extras: 10
Acting: 71
Story: 59
Judgment: 52

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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