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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Crime > Thriller > Spy > Comedy > Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright (2010/Maya Blu-ray) + Knight & Day (2010/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD) + Rush Hour (1998/Warner/New Line Blu-ray) + Salt – Deluxe Unrated Edition (2010/Sony Blu-ray)

Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright (2010/Maya Blu-ray) + Knight & Day (2010/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD) + Rush Hour (1998/Warner/New Line Blu-ray) + Salt – Deluxe Unrated Edition (2010/Sony Blu-ray)

 

Picture: B-/B & B-/B/B     Sound: C+/B & B-/B/B+     Extras: C-/C-/D/B-     Films: C/C-/D/B-

 

 

The action film has changed and has had to change in the face of major world and film business shifts.  The Cold War defined it, the 1980s changed it into a pumped up series of romps that threw away realism and the end of both threw the genre into a tailspin.  The smart thrillers are outnumbered more than ever by the bad ones and four new releases show us examples of where the genre is going.

 

 

Independent feature productions do not come from the big studio need for a blockbuster and have the freedom to take risks, though that has not stopped them from being as silly, hoping for a hit.  R. Ellis Frazer’s Across the Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright (2010/Unrated) has an offbeat cast in the tale of a financial genius (Aidan Quinn as the title character) in hiding when his latest scheme turns out to be a giant fraud.  This sets three people after him, a Tijuana crime boss (Andy Garcia), hitman (Luke Goss) sent by Russian gangsters and a determined FBI agent (Mario Van Peebles) in an ambitious project that rightly attracted some solid names, also including Danny Pino, Gina Gershon and Corbin Bernsen.  However, Frazer’s script is limited to everything we have seen before, even though it is done by all with a slow energy that is not bad.  The very curious will want to give it a look, but know that it proves just how hared it is to innovate at any level.

 

When a genre is in trouble, it turns to comedy.  James Mangold’s Knight & Day (2010) follows the Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl vehicle Killers (reviewed elsewhere on this site) as practically the same film as a wild, wacky guy spy (Tom Cruise here) enters the life of a sexy young blonde woman (Cameron Diaz in this case) with her being inept, feminine and totally unsuspecting of his profession.  This includes her panicking often until she starts to meet him half way and suddenly shoot off some firearms herself.  Whereas the Kutcher/Heigl variant had a dysfunctional association with the family, this one has an even larger budget and you get more explosions, many more exotic locations and an even better acting cast that includes Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis.  Sadly, it has one of the weakest scripts of any would-be blockbuster of the last few years and the fact that this reunites Cruise and Diaz from their disastrous Vanilla Sky outing shows that their combination is artistic and box office poison.  It is so bad, you will laugh unintentionally if nothing else and there is nothing else.

 

But even worse (and a bigger hit in its time) was made by one of the worst director’s in the genre, worst of the last 30+ years and possibly one of the worst in cinema history: Brett Ratner.  Rush Hour (1998) is the highly formulaic mess that pout him on the hack map, combining the highly overrated Jackie Chan (whose whole career is being the big comedy star in the martial arts genre after its collapse after the 1970s) and rising comic star Chris Tucker, who has more talent, but can be annoying (which he took to the hilt in the highly overrated Fifth Element).  The film rips off everything it can.

 

For starters, it wants to be the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy hit 48 HRS (1982), Walter Hill’s far superior 1982 cop buddy film that inspired the Lethal Weapon series (far superior to this) and had more edge than just about all of its imitators.  Writers Jim Kouf and Ross LaManna then threw in a highly watered down version of a film Hollywood was trying to remake into a hit for years: Michael Cimino’s Year Of The Dragon (1985).  Ridley Scott’s Black Rain (1989) and Philip Kaufmann’s Rising Sun (1993) were not as good, but were serious, ambitious attempts to imitate, but Rush Hour just threw out all intelligence and maturity, making it a shallow laugh fest that hit when no one expected it to.

 

Tucker is an LAPD detective who refuses to have a partner, which means in record time, he will finally get one and that person is a Hong Kong detective played by Chan.  The 98 obnoxious, smug, tired, formulaic, lame minutes ruin on and on and on and on fitting more clichés into the script than Bon Jovi has on most albums.  New Line managed to even overpay all to squeeze out two more awful sequels (and sadly, maybe a fourth is on the way), but it is soooooo bad and tired, it is not even really funny.  Tom Wilkinson, Elizabeth Pena, Philip Baker Hall and Chris Penn were also wasted in this sad, cynical hit.

 

Also, I liked this film better when it was called The Man From Hong Kong (1975) with Jimmy Wang Yu, Roger Ward and George Lazenby, which is oddly not available on the U.S. on DVD or Blu-ray, but is reviewed in an import elsewhere on this site.

 

That brings us to the film that actually works just enough to really see, Philip Noyce’s Salt (2010).  Originally intended for Tom Cruise, he unwisely passed (for Knight & Day?  The next Mission: Impossible was not even in preproduction.) on this interesting thriller about a U.S. Government agent (Angelina Jolie) who is debriefing a Russian spy when he implicates her as a killer sleeper agent!  The Russian President is due to be assassinated according to him and this double dose of shock information sends her running for her life to discover the truth.

 

There are three versions here and all are interesting, showing the complications of doing a spy thriller in the shadow of The Cold War, but they all want to tie the plot to what is the worst thing you can do in such a thriller to kill the suspension of disbelief: The JFK Assassination.  Still, once it gets away from that (this point is made trivial and unbelievable) and we focus on the exploits of Salt’s true identity, which is when the film works.  This is the first Spy film I liked Jolie (Wanted and Mr. & Mrs. Smith were too silly to really work) in and Noyce has had mixed success with thrillers that worked (Dead Calm, Clear & Present Danger) and those that did not (Patriot Games, The Bone Collector, the failed revival of The Saint).

 

The result was a hit with some critical praise because Jolie gives it her all and Noyce has not worked in the genre for a long time, so all benefited.  No, it is not perfect, but unlike Knight & Day uses its talented supporting cast (Liev Schreiber, Andre Braugher, the underrated Chiwetel Ejiofor) to good effect and the money is on the screen.  In an awful summer movie market in an awful movie year, Salt has been one of the few live action highlights when it comes to big commercial blockbuster releases and it has not reached its full potential audience.  I hope this Blu-ray changes that.

 

 

All offer 1080p digital High Definition image transfers, but can differ more than you might think.  Rush Hour is the oldest, was shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision (presented at 2.35 X 1) and should look as good or better than the other releases here, but this Blu-ray has an older HD master that limits the color range and detail somewhat.  Director of Photography Adam Greenberg (Terminator 2, Ghost, Terminator, Near Dark) made this film look better than what was actually filmed and his work is as much a factor as any for it being a hit to begin with.  If it had the gutted color, cheap look and shaky camerawork we see today, this would have been a dud.

 

Across is the poorest-looking here (even though some of its look is due to stylizing, it should look as good as anything here at 1.85 X 1) and looks like an HD shoot.  It could look a little better, but this is the look they choose and it could have been worse, or as bad as most of its contemporaries.  Knight is also 2.35 X 1 with its Blu-ray sporting an AVC @ 25 MBPS transfer that has its limits, but some of that is from so much (too much) digital visual effects work that makes it look cheap.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD is worse and this was a Super 35mm shoot.

 

That leaves Salt, also a 2.35 X 1 Super 35mm shoot, but Director of Photography Robert Elswit (Tomorrow Never Dies, 8MM, Michael Clayton) mixes styles on a higher level than most cameramen would even think to do.  Some of the scenes are naturalistic with good detail and color, while others are suddenly darker and even post-modern by have select part of the detail or color toned down.  The result propels the narrative further and increases the sense of suspense, helping the film over come some of its flaws and limits.  On Blu-ray, this is especially interesting.

 

All but Across have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless sound mixes.  Across sadly only offers a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and for a film with much dialogue, it does not help that the sound is too much towards the center channel as is the mix in general.  New Line has decided to stretch out the original Rush Hour 5.1 soundmaster to 7.1, but this does not work and cannot hide either the age of the sound or limits of the original soundfield.

 

Knight has DTS-MA 5.1 that has a decent soundfield, but the designers got carried away with loud, overly sweetened sounds that backfire.  You can never be sure if they are trying to be funny or not, but that it is too noticeable is a problem, extending to the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD.

 

That leaves Salt as a solid example on how good sound design on an action film can work and work well.  From a consistent soundfield throughout to good LFE effects to James Newton Howard’s good score to well-recorded dialogue, this is a mix you can sit back and really enjoy on a home theater system because it is such a professional job.  It even has some demo moments.

 

Extras on all include behind the scenes featurettes.  Rush Hour has two, Knight has four and Salt has six, including four that are exclusive to Blu-ray.  Across adds Deleted Scenes and Frazier’s short Baines.  Rush Hour adds Additional Scenes, a bizarre feature length audio commentary track by Ratner, Theatrical Trailer, two lame Music Videos and Lalo Schifrin’s Isolated Music Score.  Knight also has Digital copy for PC and PC portable devices, BD Live interactive features and a Music Video.

 

Salt has the best extras (as expected) and also offers a Noyce Radio Interview, smart feature length audio commentary track by Noyce, BD Live and movie IQ interactive features and Spy Cam: Picture-in-Picture Track.  Of the four, this is the film to start with.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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