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by Bill Gibron

15 Aug 2009


When David Fincher released his post-modern masterpiece Zodiac in 2007, audiences were expecting another Se7en like slide into dark, depraved inhumanity. The story of the fabled Northern California serial killer did seem like perfect subject matter for the auteur Instead, what viewers got was a wickedly insightful illustration of the differences between police procedure circa the late ‘60s, and how we view such investigations within our current CSI driven mentality. It was a stunning twist on the topic, a chance to feel the frustration of the characters while seeing how, sometimes, luck was as necessary as knowledge in solving a crime.

Another masterful example of this old school detecting vs. new world law enforcement ideal comes in the form of the BBC’s brash, bold, and thoroughly brilliant Life on Mars. Centering on the surreal adventures of millennial cop Sam Tyler (John Simm) suddenly transported back to 1973, it’s time travel taken to sly, sophisticated heights. Arriving around the time of David Bowie’s hit song (thus the title), the Detective Chief Inspector takes up with the Criminal Investigation Department of Manchester under the auspices of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). There, he works with the rest of the force to solve crimes while dealing with the differences between his time, and the past.

Over the course of sixteen sensational episodes (eight for each season), the series shows Sam’s difficulty in coping, his by-the-book approach clashing significantly with the ‘70s ‘anything for a confession’ conceit. It also explores the situation itself, suggesting that our hero may be medically incapacitated in the future (he is hit by a car at the beginning of the storyline, hinting that he is now in a coma), or truly insane. There are elements of the supernatural and suspense, as well as halting humor and the kind of fish out of water formulas that never seem to fail. When meshed with amazing acting, smart scripting, and a truly moving finale (you have to wait until Series 2 for that - sorry), we wind up with something very special indeed.

There’s just something about the British when it comes to television drama. They can take a standard storyline - say a police psychologist who uses his cunning and insight to ‘crack’ cases - and turn it into the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy (right, Robbie “Eddie Fitzgerald” Coltraine?). It’s the same with Life on Mars. Each episode uses Sam’s dilemma as a backdrop for what is, otherwise, a sometimes straightforward exploration of crime and punishment. There are individual cases to be solved, the backdrop of messages from the future, and a strange little spectral girl adding elements of intrigue to the whodunit.

It’s easy to see why this material failed when translated over to America (the ABC version ran for one season in 2008). The storylines contained in the eight episodes offered as part of the first series require concentration and a continued investment. You can’t just tune in, pick up a red herring or random clue, and feel vindicated when the bad guy is caught. No, Life on Mars is meant to be culture shock as social commentary, an attempt by creators Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan, and Ashley Pharoah to expand on the typical police plotlines with elements both human and out of this world. 

The UK has always had a fondness for science fiction, with shows like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Primeval garnering huge ratings within a contemporary reality TV dynamic. Life on Mars is different - a hybrid of sorts between grim reality (England in 1973 was no picnic) and fanciful wish fulfillment. One of the main themes that runs throughout the series is Tyler’s desire to return back to the 21st Century. Of course, there’s a complication, and her name is Annie Cartwright (Liz White). Thrust into the middle of the ‘70s concept of gender inequality, the character instantly earns Sam’s attention. Over the course of the series, she also gains something far more personal.

It’s this kind of investment - emotionally, intellectually - that makes Life on Mars so resonant. The show never excuses the era, illustrating obvious flaws like sexism and racism while celebrating the police’s ability to solve crimes under seemingly backward conditions. We see the usual suspects - armed robbers, gangsters, drug dealers - interwoven with darker, more diabolical crimes. As Sam struggles to make sense of his life, the rest of the Manchester force must confront the kind of calm, controlled detecting he brings to their male machismo methodology. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Simm and Glenister simply great as the differing DCIs.

Of course, the biggest problem with any series like this is how immersive and involving it is. Just as we get to Episode 8, and some questions appear to be answered, we are thrown back into the mix and left wanting more. That’s where DVD can really ease the pain. Acorn Media offers the first part of this amazing production on four discs loaded with added content. There are commentaries, interviews, and production featurettes, each one offering more Life on Mars goodness. Even better, there is clarity in many of these conversations, bits and pieces of plot and characterization that amplify our understanding of the show’s main narrative purpose.

Still, the wait for Series 2 will be interminable, especially for anyone without access to cable stations like BBC America (which frequently reruns these shows are part of their schedule). Unlike American dramas, which can drag out a character arc in a mad attempt to milk all the possible profit out of a project, Life on Mars works within its ever-present end game. Here, the creators determined that Sam would have two eight episode plotlines, and that’s all. So the experience of watching Life on Mars at home is a lot like seeing the first part of a movie in the theaters. There’s the satisfaction of seeing something so wonderful that you can’t wait for it to continue. There’s also the horrifying reality that you’ll have to sit tight for as long as necessary as the sequel is being prepared.

As consolation, Life on Mars Series 2 will definitely be worth the wait. While some may see the core concept as a bit “out there” and the desire to tie time and place together a little too obvious for our far more sophisticated mindset, there is no denying the whole “the more things change, the more they stay the same” subtext of the series. In Fincher’s film, we got the distinct impression that if forensic science and inter-department communication had been ever so slightly more advanced, the Zodiac killer would right now be rotting in a jail cell somewhere. Instead, the limits of the past flummoxed even the most loyal law enforcement official. Life on Mars is another example of police procedural as filtered through a far less sophisticated time. Everything else about the show, however, is thoroughly modern - and marvelous. 

by Bill Gibron

15 Aug 2009


For some filmmakers, legacy is everything. The movies they made decades before are like children - perfect if flawed, favored while sometimes passed over for others in the filmic ‘family’. As a result, directors are nothing more than daddies, driven to nurture their offspring while working within the commercial community known as show business. Wes Craven is a brilliant example of such a guardian. Ever since he stormed onto the scene with his exploitation epic The Last House on the Left, he has been careful to control almost every aspect of his oeuvre (the rare one that escaped his grasp - the classic Nightmare on Elm Street franchise). Even today, as remakes rule the macabre marketplace, he’s been at the forefront of protecting his motion picture progeny.

While Freddy Krueger and company is being fostered by someone else, Craven has kept up with the rest of his cinematic relations, okaying a decent retelling of his cannibal clan holocaust The Hills Have Eyes, as well as proposed updates of Shocker and, perhaps, Deadly Friend. But it was the announcement more than a year ago that the famous fright filmmaker would be guiding a new version of his “it’s only a movie” masterwork to the big screen. Fans originally scoffed at the notion. After all, what could top Last House‘s sleazoid notoriety? The answer, sure enough, was nothing. However, the 2009 take on the repugnant revenge thriller found a way of making its vision work - tone down the filth, slow down the story, and build up the fury.

In the Dennis Iliadis update, we meet the Collingwood family - John (a doctor), Emma (a teacher), and Mari (swimmer and all around American teenage daughter). They are still in morning over the death of their eldest son Ben, and hope a trip to their lakeside cabin will ease the pain. Instead, Mari’s sidetrack into town finds he face to face with escaped convict Krug, his psycho gal pal Sadie, his craven brother Frances and ineffectual son Justin. Doing what heartless criminals do best, our child of privilege is left for dead. A freak storm and a car accident leads the gang to the doorstep of the nearest shelter - the Collingwood’s isolated abode. And when these parents find out what these villains did to their child, blood will flow…and no one will be left alive.

While the tag line for the 2009 production asked “If someone hurt someone you love, how far would you go to get revenge?” , the real issue with The Last House on the Left is why would someone remake a movie that was considered sick, morally depraved, and unconscionable some 37 years ago. Certainly nothing new - not updated special effects, directorial flare, or cultural subtext - could change the rape and payback narrative into something novel. Yet oddly enough, Greek filmmaker Iliadis finds a way to make the material his own. By bringing the pace down to a simmer, by turning the Collingwoods into characters instead of caricatures, by never once excusing Krug and his compatriots in criminality, he ventures beyond what Craven created to make this journey a true 21st century story.

This is a movie about advantage, about bad things happening to people who perceive they are, and yet perhaps might not be, good. There is a moment, right before Mom and Dad decide to go nutzoid, when they confront the notion of killing for their fallen child. The discussion, calm and collected, argues for a couple who might actually enjoy this kind of vigilante carnage. Sure, Craven’s original storyline (swiped from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) has all the hallmarks of fate frustrated and destiny delivering. Since the action takes place so close to the Collingwood home, it only seems sensible that Krug and his clan would end up at their doorstep. But while the original argued for faux sophisticates turning into martini wielding maniacs, the new version argues for the inherent Voorhees in all of us.

The moment Emma discovers who destroyed their daughter, the girl’s nearly lifeless body washing up along the family’s property line, we see normalcy tossed aside for a pure need for blood. Granted, you could read the recent death of their son as a motivating factor, the family not ready to lose two children this quickly. But The Last House on the Left seems to argue that, once given the excuse, any parent would pull out a claw hammer and give a sadistic stranger a backdoor lobotomy. The situation does keep the Collingwoods from calling the police (storm = no land lines and limited cell access) and the horrors we’ve seen heaped on Mari makes the need for revenge that much more urgent, but the sudden shift over to violence, especially at the very end, illustrates something a tad more troubling.

So does the uncontrolled nature of our criminals. Why does Krug decide to dig himself in deeper and kidnap Mari and her friend Paige? Why does his anger later turn into sexual assault? He already has a couple of murdered cops on his latest rap sheet, why add even more demands for an eventual death penalty. We never sense the character’s desperation, never know why he was incarcerated and how Sadie and Frances managed to allude authorities, considering their batshit desire to destroy.

One of the weird bits of illogic in Last House is the rationale for Krug, needing to escape, to simply sit back and place nice. He could simply kill the Collingwoods, search out their property for a means of escape (enter the family boat), and take off for parts unknown. Unlike the original film, which had its criminals callously wallow in what they did and who they did it to (and who they are now hobnobbing with), there’s an odd, innocent bystander vibe to the last act melee. Sure, Krug more or less murdered Mari, robbing her of everything she valued. But who knew her parents would become knife wielding maniacs in the process?

Apparently, the main message of the new Last House on the Left is that human nature is hard to decipher. The Collingwoods get joy out of their blatant bloodlust because it serves a sense of justice. Even as they extend the torture way beyond the limits of human endurance, they calmly go about their judge, jury, and executioner roles. Similarly, the gang just can’t stem their bubbling criminal urges. Frances only needed to turn down his libido for a few hours and they’d be back on the lam - or even better, living in the lap of luxury while they decided their next move. Instead, the need to be nasty takes over, giving the crew away and leading to their eventual downfall. Iliadis seems to be saying that, no matter what seems rational and normal, fear and the need for retribution will always trump said sensibility.

On Blu-ray, the film has been expanded to incorporate material cut from the original theatrical release, and it really helps the overall context. The rape, disgusting to begin with, is taken to far more sickening extremes, while the murders all offer their own moments of extended gore. Iliadis also gives the characters more of a chance to interact, to build the kind of connections that will come apart later in the picture. With his determined, desaturated look, deliberate sense of dread, and completely gratuitous finale, The Last House on the Left doesn’t so much mirror the original as it expands on its ideas.

All of which argues for Craven’s creative ingenuity. It would have been easy to find some fresh faced newbie, hand them a script which basically mimics the first film’s mindless depravity, and ratchet up the special effects. Instead, as he did with Alexandre Aja and the nuke mutant magnificence of The Hills Have Eyes, Craven found a filmmaker with vision and let him run with the redux. There will be a few fanatics who will never forgive the scary movie maestro for exploiting his output like this. Others will never know he had a career prior to a certain slasher spoof. Whatever the case, The Last House on the Left stands as an interesting twist on the original grindhouse great. While it may not pass the test of time, it definitely delivers the gratuitous goods. It just takes its own sweet time doing so.

by Bill Gibron

9 Aug 2009


He remains one of the few House of Mouse minions who has managed to more or less escape the company’s callous, careerist claws. He appears to be creating a life outside of Uncle Walt’s omniscience, with roles taking risks beyond the uber-successful High School Musical franchise. And with 17 Again, tweenager poster boy Zac Efron proves that he really can act. He’s not Edward Norton, or Ryan Gosling, but he has presence here, and a power that’s usually reserved for someone who hasn’t made their name catering to underage girls and disgruntled spinsters. As Mike O’Donnell, big man on his high school campus, Efron relies on many of the talents that have taken him to the top. But beyond the Tiger Beat pout and underfed frame is a star that, if managed carefully, can become something super.

Not that 17 Again‘s by-the-book plotting will help all that much. After seeing O’Donnell give up on the big game (and the basketball scout securing his scholarship) for his pregnant girlfriend, we fast forward almost two decades to see a bitter, disgruntled Matthew Perry falling apart. About to get divorced from his now wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann, likable) and distant from his semi-slutty daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and uncool son Alex (Sterling Knight), he lives with best friend - and super sci-fi geek - Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon). After he gets passed up for a promotion, Mike returns to his alma mater, hoping to find out where things went wrong. Instead, he runs into a mysterious janitor who questions the aging man’s motives. A bizarre rainstorm later, and pushing 40 Mike is…you guessed it, 17 again.

Try as it might for something insightful or different, this latest in a long line of hit or (mostly) miss body switching movies can’t help but fall into formula. Mike is not given back his youth in order to see how life would be had he lived up to his expectations or figured out a way to fulfill his dreams. Instead, the focus is family - winning back a saddened Scarlett, teaching a needy Maggie to believe in herself, helping a lost Alex discover his inner chick magnet. It’s all rote, rerouted by Bringing Down the House scribe Jason Filardi and Igby Goes Down director Burr Steers into a combination of cliché and clarity. For most of its running time, you know exactly where 17 Again is going. Even when threatened by Maggie’s bully boyfriend, we just know that Mike is going to have the last laugh.

That doesn’t mean the movie is a flop, however. Efron, whose biggest onscreen drawback is his ever-changing ‘60s mod hairdo, owns almost every moment, milking the minimal laughs available while playing up the material’s maudlin strengths. While we never quite believe he is a middle-aged man “trapped” in a kid’s slight form, there is still an old soul quality to his performance that propels the plot points forward. You can see Filardi and Steers swinging wide and missing - Lennon’s 40 Year Old Virgin-lite persona is just pathetic - yet whenever they keep the camera on Efron and his co-stars, the film more or less works. This is definitely a project driven by the power of one character’s personality. Take Mike out of the mix and the story is stacked with obvious jokes and uninteresting relationships. With Efron as our guide, we actually care about what’s going to happen.

Still, 17 Again does tend to lap itself. The movie starts with Mike missing out on a big game. Guess where the narrative decides the denouement needs to be? You guessed it. Similarly, Maggie and Alex are presented as teens with a one track mind - and it’s not Algebra they’re panting over. While newly minted mini-dad is trying to help them through the sometimes funny little muddle called life, all they want is a little opposite sex companionship. And then there is the whole creepy cougar subplot which might have made sense when Robert Downey Jr. wooed Cybill Shepherd in 1989’s Chances Are. But with today’s unseemly focus on MILF matron exploitation, no amount of Leslie Mann lightness can undermine the sleazy implications. Luckily, the movie recognizes such risky business, and backs off.

In the end, this is Efron’s battle to win or lose. Either his intended demographic will look at his androgynous charms and Clearasil-covered potency and buy into his move into maturity, or they will leave him lagging like the various members of a ‘90s boy band. In an era where a song and dance man was money, he’d be a million dollar dynamo. Yet there are limits to where this version of Efron can go. By constantly having to cater to the prepubescent crowd, by figuring that all he can do is shill to the one’s who have his Troy Bolton talents memorized, he’ll be pigeon-holed without getting the benefit of a chance to grow. With Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles coming out this Fall, and another effort with Steers (The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud) in production, Efron may finally make his getaway stick.

If he does managed the switch from idol to iconoclast, if he can prove that his onscreen power is more than just proper marketing, Zac Efron could be huge. 17 Again proves that - in bits and pieces. Clearly New Line Cinema and new parent company Warner Brothers are a little lukewarm on his chances. The recent DVD version of the film has absolutely no bonus features to speak of (apparently, all the Efron-ccentric extras were left for the Blu-ray release - boo!) and that’s too bad. This is a decent enough entertainment, a movie that succeeds because of its star’s ability to project flash in the face of formula, to produce heart where others would find a hack. Sure, Matthew Perry is just a casting ploy 10 years too late. Yes, Ms. Mann has delivered finer turns in her husband’s (Judd Apatow) films. But this movie belongs to the former prisoner of a certain Magic Kingdom. Not only has Zac Efron triumphed, he’s paved a path guaranteeing he’ll never have to go back again…probably.

by Bill Gibron

8 Aug 2009


Pity the poor independent or foreign film company that wants to break into America’s CG animation marketplace. Just from a commercial standpoint alone, you have to battle Disney and its flawless filmmaking minion, Pixar, Dreamworks and their jaded joke-a-thons, Fox and their equally failed pop culture rifftrax, and numerous studio sponsored brandings that have fits of artistic flourish, but very little to offer in the source/story department. Only the brave, the strong, or the inherently stupid even try, and when they do, the results are almost always awful. Sure, there are the rare rays of sunshine (Dragon Hunters) within the darkness, but for the most part, what works outside the confines of the U.S suffers from the same kind of culture shock that other imported titles have to deal with.

Take Donkey X (or Donkey Xote, as it was labeled in its native Spain). This supposedly spirited retelling of the classic Cervantes adventure Don Quixote offers up Sancho Panza’s mule Rucio and his desire to be taken seriously…as a horse. He does this by accompanying his master, his master’s famous friend, the heroic (if slightly over the hill) steed Rocinante, and a rather irritating rooster as they all travel to Barcelona for a big knight’s festival. There, Quixote will once again battle the many flowing figments of his imagination, as well as his notions of duty, honor, and chivalry to win the hand of the elusive damsel Dulcinea. In between, we have to deal with the conspiring head of Quixote’s home town, a weird evil wizard (?), a visit to a desperate Duke and Duchess, and one of the oddest cases of equine gender identity ever.

If you haven’t already guessed by now, Donkey X doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Perhaps in its native tongue, with the Spanish cast giving the proper vocal flair to every line, we’d appreciate this cloying, confusing effort. Even if the subtitles ended up being as disconnected and mystifying as the new English dialogue utilized here, at least we could defend the film’s heritage. But laboring under a new no-name cast and a script that literally throws plot logic out the window, this shoddy Shrek rip-off barely deserves a mention. Indeed, without Eddie Murphy’s lightning fast quips to keep things buoyant, this clear copycat of the worldwide phenomenon simply drowns.

It all starts with the smarmy premise. Cervantes story has already happened, Quixote has become an icon, and everyone is Spain wishes to mimic him. Panza, on the other hand, is just pissed that he didn’t get a royalty check from actually living the now best-selling tale. He only agrees to a new journey under the guise of getting p-a-i-d! In the meanwhile, Rocinante has spent his retirement training chickens to walk in militarily precise order while Rucio fights off the anti-mule sentiments of the local horse population. When a chance to finally find Dulcinea comes along (a plot by the aforementioned bureaucrat to get Quixote and his celebrity out of his life once and for all), our crew gathers back together and goes wandering - endlessly wandering.

Try as he might, director Jose Pozo just can’t hold his second animated movie together. He shows some spark in one single scene - Quixote dreams that Dulcinea is lost in a dangerous thicket, only to have the briars turn into ogres and other beasties - but for the most part, The Veggie Tales show more cartoon imagination. The blocky, basic computer generated imagery offers none of the current creative visionary pizzazz, and the character design is so Shrek-like, the studio should sue. There are some moments of decent action and Pozo does mix it up in the framing and composition department. But the reliance of oddball covers of antique rock songs (“True Colors”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and the bland, unrecognizable names behind the characters is truly depressing (original rumors had Alfred Molina and Jeff Daniels as Quixote and Panza, respectively. What happened?).

Yet none of this would matter if we could simply understand just what in the windmill is going on. Conservations contain both expositional and interpersonal non-sequitors. One moment a potential Dulcinea is a bitchy, bosomy gold digger - the next, she’s a whiny over 30 brat. Quixote’s quest is never full fleshed out, though we do get to hear how noble he is ad nauseum. Panza finally gets a payout, and then turns it all down to admit some sordid secret to his friend? And then Quixote’s horse falls head over heals for a stallion in filly drag??? By the time we get to the knight competition, complete with the clichéd stand-off between good and evil, the various loose threads come completely unraveled. We are stuck with a silly twist, a lame comeuppance, and an ending that makes even less sense than the rest of the film.

Again, this could all be a matter of translation. Ever input a foreign website into one of those online language converters? Donkey X plays a lot like one of those results, or better yet, a badly dubbed martial arts movies that loses all its dignity when recast into problematic pigeon English. Then again, when the storyline is stitched together and then deciphered, it’s hard to see any reverse back to a romance language helping this muddled mess. Kids will clearly think its all pretty colors and confusing ideas while adults will hit themselves over the head for introducing this dullness into their standard electronic babysitting cycle. Granted, when you go up against Wall-E, or Kung Fu Panda, or any of the Ice Age films, you’re bound to look second-tier. Donkey X is so lame, however, it shouldn’t be considered. It should be shot.

by Bill Gibron

2 Aug 2009


Who is the real Adam Sandler? Is he the bitter, angry superstar that’s depicted in the recent Judd Apatow “dramedy” Funny People? Or is he “The Stud Boy”, the inherently goofy sidekick that stole almost every episode of MTV’s ‘80s trivia game show Remote Control? Somewhere in between Little Nicky and Punch-drunk Love, Spanglish and Happy Gilmore lies the answer, apparently. Unfortunately, the general public only seems to respond to him when he’s infantile, cartoonish, and borderline brain dead. Take The Waterboy for example. It represents one of the former SNL and stand-up’s biggest hits. It also contains one of his most insane performances ever. Yet when one looks closely at the film itself, it’s obvious why it succeeded…and it has much more to do with sports than with scatological humor.

Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a local Louisiana bayou dimwit whose meddling mother believes that everything is “from the devil”. As a result, her aging son has led a very sheltered life. Bobby has become the ‘waterboy’ for his small town’s college football team and he thoroughly loves what he does. Even though he’s constantly mocked by the players, he vows to deliver nothing but “high quality H2O” to the guys. One day, Bobby shows off some prodigious tackling skills, and the team’s coach, desperate for something to jumpstart his squad’s fortunes, puts him on the roster. Soon, our liquid loving loser is the talk of the NCAA. He even recaptures the eye of resident bad girl Vicki Vallencourt. Still, Bobby’s momma doesn’t believe in organized sports and she’s ready to put the kibosh on his career - right before the big championship game against an arch rival, naturally.

The Waterboy is about as mainstream as Adam Sandler gets. If you discount his recent forays into family film (Bedtime Stories) and semi-serious drama (Reign Over Me), the king of goofball juvenilia is actually working rather crackpot free here. Sure, Bobby Boucher is all vocal mannerism and silent comedy composure, but the truth is that, for once, Sandler is letting the story and the situation drive the funny business. This is a standard sports movie, the last act game giving rise to all the character’s hopes, dreams, and dimensions. Without the national title on the line, Bobby’s rise in the football ranks wouldn’t matter, his coach’s vendetta with the opposing team wouldn’t count, and Mama Boucher’s ridiculous superstitions would be invalid as a plot point. But with the filmic formula in place, everything about The Waterboy takes on a far more meaningful bent.

Of course, all comedies are judged on laughs, and this movie has some good ones. Sandler really does milk Bobby’s bumbling persona, to the point where we actually think we are witnessing a real performance instead of some superstar stunt party trick. As with most of his slightly surreal creations however, our hero lapses once in a while. Good thing costars like Oscar winner Kathy Bates, ex-Fonz Henry Winkler, and the blazing Fairuza Balk are along for the ride. They remedy some of the situations where Sandler seems lost and directionless. They never drop their given guard, taking their broadly drawn caricatures to their own silly cinematic ends. As usual, they are accented by Sandler’s standard array of comic compatriot oddballs, everyone from the omnipresent Rob Schneider to Clint Howard, Blake Clark, and Allen Covert.

But the real unsung hero here is director Frank Coraci. Having worked with Sandler before on the equally efficient Wedding Singer, this is one comedy filmmaker who realizes that a real work of wit is more than just a string of clever skits stitched together with exposition. Borrowing heavily from the Rudy/Hoosiers archetype, Coraci actually gets us to care about the outcome of the game, whether Bobby will end up playing, and if his romance with Vicki Vallencourt will ever be anything more than mere “friends”. Sure, he frequently undermines his sequences with editorial and structural miscues, and he manages to wick away much of the cleverness about three-quarters of the way through, but as an example of the successful merging of athleticism and anarchy, The Waterboy works. 

What doesn’t however, is the way this movie has been treated on Blu-ray. Oh sure, it looks fine. It’s not going to win any high definition awards, but it does provide a more polished, theater like transfer of the title. Similarly, the sound elements make for a more full bodied and sonically substantial experience. But where are the bonus features? Blu-ray is not just about the tech specs - it’s about utilizing all that extra disc space to plump up the product with lots of interactive trivia and tidbits. Like the recent Watchmen release, the format can function as a how-to, an exercise in insight, even a chance to clear up some long held misconceptions. But The Waterboy gets something that few thought the new fangled conceit would cotton to - a basic, barebones release. It’s a shame, really. The appreciation for the film has only grown with time. Certainly something could have been made to celebrate its staying power.

As with most Sandler movies, however, The Waterboy appears destined to be discounted as nothing more than a simple star vehicle for a once popular cultural icon, a funny man who’s since felt the need to spread his thespian wings. For some reason, amusing people are compelled to explore their darker side, and it’s not without its drawbacks. Those who liked you before hope you return to the ridiculous, while those who found your forays into drama mildly amusing slam you for going backwards. Had he continued to combine types, to take certain cinematic categories like the thriller and meld it into his particular style of satire, Sandler would still be on top. He wouldn’t have to dive between current filmmaking fads to earn his considerable keep. The Waterboy once argued for where this comedian’s career could flourish. It’s all been downhill and sideways since then.

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