Robert Kurtzman is known mostly for his exceptional makeup and other special f/x. He’s worked with both Freddy and Jason, and he helped to form one of the best f/x houses in the industry. He found considerable cult success with the quirky but exceptional The Rage. Again it is those technical abilities that stand out. So I was a little bit more than curious when I was discovered that his recent film, Deadly Impact, was something quite different from anything I had associated with the name in the past. I was even more drawn to the project when I was told I had an opportunity to interview the man about the movie. Unfortunately, time was limited, and I had not seen the film yet. So, 20th Century Fox sent over a screener of the movie for me to see before the interview with Kurtzman and also the film’s star Sean Patrick Flanery. I am reluctant to write reviews from these screeners, so this review was delayed while the studio was sending what we call in the trade “final product”. It just means that the package I finally received was exactly the same that you will find at your favorite retailer. Meanwhile, screeners are often badly- dubbed DVD-R’s of the film. It was enough to get me through my interviews, but would the film be good enough that I would really want to watch it all over again in order to write a more detailed review? The answer, to my surprise, was yes.
Why was I surprised? First of all, I really hadn’t heard much buzz on the movie. With Flanery’s recent success with the Boondock Saints sequel, I expected more industry noise than I was hearing. The movie appeared to be a direct-to-video rush job. It was also directed by a man whose experience and talents haven’t usually been in the director’s chair. These can all be bad signs for a movie. I guess we get jaded here, because we see so many bombs that fit these categories that it’s often hard to stay objective. Still, every now and then a gem pops up in the mud, and it restores that objectivity and your faith in an industry that can really let you down. Deadly Impact is, without a doubt, that gem.
The story is dreadfully simple. If you look at a quick synopsis, you’re bound to roll your eyes and say something akin to “Been there. Seen that.”
It’s Christmas Eve and Tom Armstrong (Flanery) is given an impossible decision by a bad guy he knows as The Lion (Pantoliano). His wife is strapped to a chair in a room loaded with enough explosives to bring down the block. Tom’s on a cell phone with The Lion as the situation is described to him. The chair is surrounded by an explosive boundary. There is no way to get to her without setting off the explosives. There’s only 3 minutes to act now. Situated over his wife’s heart is a deactivation device that will render the building safe. All Tom needs to do is put a bullet through the device … and into the heart of his wife. Either he kills her or a dozen officers, local citizens, he and his wife are all dead. He does what he has to do.
Years later Tom is approached by Isabel, a federal agent with a team that is still on the trail of The Lion. The Lion has resurfaced and is planning a huge new job. He intends to hold the city for ransom, promising a devastating explosion if they fail to meet his terms. What follows is a typical cat-and-mouse game leading to the predictable déjà vu situation between Tom and The Lion.
I call the plot a “typical” cat-and-mouse game, and in so many ways it is just that. How many times do we see a cop who has lost a family member out for revenge on the clever crook who took them from him? Just watch almost any Steven Seagal film for the answer to that question. Not to take anything away from Seagal, but the difference here is all in the performances. Sean Patrick Flanery and Joe Pantoliano (aka Joey Pants) share some of the strongest chemistry that I’ve seen out of two actors who are really not even in the same room while they’re acting and reacting to each other. That’s where the uniqueness of this film stands out. That’s why you simply must see this film. I tried to get Flanery to talk about that phenomenon, but he kept deflecting the question and crediting the strong script. No offense to writer Alexander Vesha, but it wasn’t all there in the script. You can’t write that kind of a performance. The script, taken on its own, could have been filmed as a boring tedious affair with no real life. Now, credit Vesha for setting up some explosive, if you’ll pardon the pun, situations. But he absolutely needed the right actors to make it work. It isn’t Tom’s impossible dilemma that moves us; it’s the story written on Flanery’s face that makes you feel the pain of the situation. Readers of this site know that I’m no sucker to emotional shenanigans, but Flanery got me. The two play off of each other like they really have been lifetime enemies. You feel the history fall off of each character like fruit from a tree. Credit director Kurtzman for bringing out these strong performances, but again, it takes the right actors to pull it off.
I’m also happy to report that the film avoids what I like to call the formula traps of this kind of movie. As soon as Tom meets up with Isabel, we immediately know there’s going to be a romantic entanglement here, and there is a brief encounter. It was a mistake, and you can hear Flanery admit that it was a mistake in our interview. The good news is it’s one that isn’t made throughout the film. These two do not really become a romantic item. Don’t these filmmakers understand that a guy who had to kill his wife to save others isn’t going to fall in love while tracking down the bad guy that made him do it? The film also avoids the trap of putting the two opposing characters together too often. We really do get used to things we are exposed to for too long. Not only are these two characters almost always apart, but their voice communication is limited to those critical moments, and so now they can play it for all it’s worth. It’s the same theory as when you see the monster too often and too clearly in a horror film.
This is a cop drama, but it’s no coincidence, although Kurtzman says it is, that the bad guy here is a master of disguises. The Lion is an expert at makeup. He puts on elaborate disguises to allow him access to areas he needs to carry out his plan. One of my favorites is a bumbling janitor named Carl. It’s both a little comic relief and a strong indicator of how good The Lion is at what he does. This simple-minded fool is really a man who will kill hundreds without even stopping to think about it.
In the end, it is those character moments that will stay with you for a long time. This movie actually deserved a full theater release. I believe it could have done some business. It is my hope that it does well enough on DVD to justify more in this genre from Kurtzman. I’m disappointed that the title is not available in high definition Blu-ray. Our loss, really.
Deadly Impact is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I was rather glad to have a chance to see the final product. I was very disappointed in the screener quality. Now I’ve had a chance to see the DVD, I can say that while the image quality never really stands out, it does offer a pretty solid standard definition image presentation. There were still some compression issues which hurt the black levels most. Flesh tones were pretty much reference, and I was impressed with the overall “natural” look of the film. Detail is fair. There are moments when the film is not very sharp at all. Again it’s mostly compression problems that contribute to the trouble. Why didn’t Fox put out a Blu-ray?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 delivers what it is intended to deliver. Nothing less. Nothing more. This is mostly a dialog film, and the words are always distinct, perfectly placed, and easy to understand. Pantoliano has a very strong voice, so there’s no way you’re going to miss what he has to say. The explosions offer a little more surround ambiance, but I wouldn’t say they’re going to rock your world, or your sub-woofer. Again, an uncompressed mix on a Blu-ray might have sounded sweet. Who knows?
Sadly, no extras.
We do get one of those obnoxious eco-boxes with the cut-outs that leave no protection for the disc. Stop it already!
I’ve seen the film twice now and talked to two of the participants before writing this review. It’s more effort than I traditionally have the time or inclination to put into one direct-to-video release. It was a calculated risk, I suppose. The truth is that I enjoyed every minute of it. If Fox ever gets around to putting out a much-deserved Blu-ray, I’ll watch it again, if they send me a copy. It’s a breakout piece for Robert Kurtzman. It’s the first time that I’ve seen him out of what you might consider his element. If this is what he can do, I can only hope he comes “out” to play more often. That doesn’t mean to say there won’t be more f/x projects down the road; after all, “old habits die hard”.
Check out the interviews for this film.
Bang it here for Sean Patrick Flanery
Bang it here for Robert Kurtzman