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Introduction
In Hollywood the B-movie goes back almost as far as the A-movie. A "B" movie is typically a movie that has limited appeal to the majority of moviegoers, or that the studios feel can't make enough money to warrant a theatrical run. These are the movies that seem to find their way directly to the video stores or on the major cable networks. These movies share the same characteristics as their "A" movie counterparts, in that they vary in quality, tone, and can be classified into to the same genres. Sometimes these movies have actors that are past their prime and no longer able to carry the all too important opening weekend at the box office, but other times they feature relatively newcomers. The differences between "A" and "B" movies are constantly being blurred by films like The Blair Witch Project. I consider myself an open minded individual when it comes to movies, and while you'll find me opening night at the Megaplex catching the latest releases, you can also find me at the video store renting some titles that you won't expect. Sitting amongst my DVD collection you'll find such mainstream fare as American Beauty and Forrest Gump, and just down the shelf from them are titles like Shriek If You Know What I Did ... and American Virgin. Sure some of these movies I bought for their stars, but others I just enjoyed the story line or for camp value. It just goes to prove that you can't always judge a movie by its method of release.

Dead Simple
Film
Frank Jacobs (Daniel Stern) lives in the middle of nowhere with his controlling wife Helen (Patricia Richardson). Together they have opened a rundown shack of a motel called "The Centre of America" as their geographic location is the direct centre of the United States. Helen has Frank completely under her control and basically has him doing everything under the sun. Frank has only one thing that brings him hope of a better existence. Frank is a singer/songwriter and has written so many songs that he has notepads and pieces of paper in every available nook and cranny of the house. He lives for the open mic night at a dive country and western bar on the outskirts of town. His friend and biggest fan is the bartender, a lovely southern bell type by the name of Marguerite (Sherry Springfield). One night after his set, he stays to catch the headlining act of Roy Baker (James Caan) with a very inebriated vocalist Julie Mitchell (Lacey Kohl). Half way through the duo’s first song, Julie passes out cold leaving Roy to finish the number and ultimately the set on his own. While Frank sticks around for a couple more drinks before heading home to his controlling wife, Roy and Julie leave. On their way home a struggle occurs, and Roy throws Julie out of his truck leaving her on the side of the road alone. Luckily for Julie, Frank sees all this happen and offers to give her a ride back to his hotel. Frank is immediately smitten with the rebellious Julie and wants to rent her a room at the hotel. However Helen objects and doesn't want the drunk Julie to stay there. Reluctantly she agrees that Julie can stay the night. Helen wakes up and goes into town to do some errands but warns Frank that their guest better be gone when she returns. Before Julie leaves Frank makes her breakfast and she asks to see his songs. Before you know it Julie has convinced Frank that he has talent and a partnership is born. However with Helen around there's a problem, so Julie decides to take things into her own hands and deal with Helen. When Helen shows up missing and Julie skips town suspicions arise. Adding to the confusion is a visit from Helen's identical twin sister Wanda, who has come to celebrate their birthday together. Frank, unsure of what to tell her, claims she ran off with a pool boy. She doesn't believe his story for one minute and begins to look into things on her own. Then to make matters even worse, Roy comes looking for Julie, and that's when the chaos really begins to ensue.

”Dead Simple”, which was originally tilted "Viva Las Nowhere", is director Jason Bloom's third feature film. Bloom's previous films, Bio Dome and Overnight Delivery, are both guilty pleasure favourites of mine. Yes I admit to liking a movie starring one of the worst things to happen to movies in the past ten years - a child by the name of  Pauly Shore. Both of those films were quirky and funny which is something I can't say about this effort. Shot on a shoe string budget in and around Calgary, Canada, Dead Simple is simply a by the numbers black comedy that doesn't really pull any punches or even make a whole lot of sense. The film’s problems are numerous, and include poor generic acting and one of the easiest plot twist structures I've ever seen. I knew what was going to happen in the end about 10 minutes in, and it just became a matter of watching these characters go through one unbelievable situation after another. Rookie screenwriters Richard Uhlig and Steven Seitz should either take a movie writing workshop course or give up this career line altogether, because this is one terribly flawed script. It's not helped by Bloom's directing though. Bloom is unsure really what to do here and even admits to having cut sequences out of their original intended sequence. That is just another in the long list of problems with this movie.

The performances in Dead Simple are so one dimensional that I've seen better acting at a local grade school theatre. In fact I'd say my entire 4th grade class showed more acting promise during our class play. Daniel Stern, who’s never been a major player in Hollywood and who is probably best known for playing opposite Joe Pesci in the Home Alone films, plays a very generic version of the husband who is controlled completely by his wife. I didn't think Daniel was really convincing in his role, and believe that he was in the movie for two reasons - for the paycheck and to keep in the public eye. Though one has to question the second one, as the film didn't get a theatrical release and isn't liable to be widely seen even on the home video formats. James Caan is given even less to do in his role as a jealous and abusive country western singer. Caan, who appeared in one of the definitive movie trilogies of all time, The Godfather, all but makes us forget about his powerful acting abilities. I'm not sure if Caan was given total control of his performance or if Bloom stepped into mess it up, but Caan is capable of so much more. Patricia Richardson plays the roles of Helen/Wanda quite well considering the quality of the material. Richardson must have taken this role to get far away from Jill Taylor, the good understanding wife she played on Home Improvement for 8 years. Relative newcomer and Broadway actress Lacey Kohl is ok in her limited role as the rebellious Julie, and at least they got someone would could sing, for as her role contains some musical aspects. Sherry Stringfield, who appeared in early seasons of ER, and who is returning to the show this fall, is average in her token role as the bartender and potential crush for Frank. Still the sheer overpowering effect of the lousy performances overshadow the few average ones leaving this movie as a whole pretty poorly acted.

The marketing campaign for this movie on video is basically non-existent, although the box art for the VHS and DVD release contain one interesting titbit. Above the title is a line triumphing this film as being "From the Producers of 3000 Miles To Graceland". Now last time I checked, 3000 Miles bombed at the box office and was one of the worst reviewed movies of the past year. Now I'm sure that movie has its fans, but I'm sure that it's not a huge number either. I've seen posters advertise stars names, director’s names and even other producers names before, so that's nothing new. However the one thing that those movies had going for them was they were capitalizing on the success of other features. In this case the "from" credit just seems like an act of desperation on the studios part.

Dead Simple is a poorly acted, highly flawed, predictable piece of filmmaking. The only reason I can see anyone being interested in this film is if they are extreme fans of anyone in the cast or they feel the need to punish their friends or family. Do yourself a favour and pass on Dead Simple.

Dead Simple
Video
Artisan presents Dead Simple in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 displays. After recently reviewing another of one Artisan's low budget, b-grade type films (which had an excellent transfer), I was expecting something along the same lines with this disc. However that was not the case. Before the close of the opening credits I had already noticed numerous scratches on the print, as well as heavy grain and an unusually soft picture for a film of any budget. The opening credits set the stage for the remainder of the film. Sharpness is inconsistent, with some scenes seeming razor sharp, while others suffer from being overly soft. Adding to the problems is the black level, which is amongst the weakest I've seen in a long time. There is an amazingly high amount of colour bleed and just when it seems that I've mentioned almost every problem in the book, it's time to add edge enhancement to the list. Surprisingly the edge enhancement distracts the viewer the least, with the colour bleed being the worst offender by far. For a disc with so many video problems there is one bright spot, and that is the flesh tones, which don't fall victim to the colour bleed problem. A disappointingly below average transfer from Artisan.

Audio
Dead Simple is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and for the most part is a pretty uneventful mix. Aside from the music, things generally stick to the front of the stage. Dialogue is always clear and easily understood which is a major plus. The twangy new country score by Andrew Gross is presented nicely throughout the front channels, as well as the occasional use of the rear channels. The LFE channel isn't really utilised aside from a couple times it added a low end to some of the country score. Also present on this disc is a DD 2.0 mix, which doesn't offer quite the same aural experience the 5.1 mix does. Still there is very little that differentiates these two mixes and, while it's always nice to have a 5.1 mix the 2.0 mix would have been sufficient here. Technically there are no real problems with this mix, so sonically it rates rather high. Had the filmmakers taken a chance and been more creative, rather then playing it safe, then this mix would have gotten a higher rating. It serves it purpose well but does nothing to excel above that.

Extras
As discs become more and more loaded with extras, and take longer and longer to go over to review, I'm beginning to become more appreciative of discs that keep things simple by not providing hours and hours of bonus material. Don't get me wrong, I love the special editions as much as the next guy, but are they really needed for every single film out there? If it's a movie I like a lot then I want as much bonus material as possible, but for some movies it's just not needed. Artisan Entertainment is no stranger to loaded DVD editions, putting out what I consider the definite SE on the market - the Terminator 2 Ultimate Edition. Released a little over a year ago, that set in my mind is still by far the best value for your dollar on the market. However, Dead Simple is not exactly in the same league as T2, and as such doesn't get quite the same treatment.

The main special feature on this disc would be the audio commentary. Director Jason Bloom (Bio Dome), composer Andrew Gross, Production Designer Alexander Hammond and the film’s editor Luis Colina are the track’s participants. The discussion on the track ranges from the usual on-set stories, the patting of the star’s backs for doing the picture, and in-jokes between the director and members of the crew. At one point early on Bloom said that the scene that was occurring was originally meant for later in the film, but they had edited in earlier creating a continuity error. He knowingly left this in the film as if it was some sort of in-joke for him and the filmmakers. Most of this track is of the congratulatory kind, which tends to wear thin rather quickly. The jokes between the participants weren't particularly funny either, leaving this commentary as somewhat of a bore. There are interesting segments; you just have to sit through a lot of hard to stomach comedy to get to them. For the sake of this review I made it through the entire commentary track, but it's not one I'll be revisiting anytime soon.

Moving on further into the "let's pat ourselves for making a movie" special features section, we have the behind the scenes interviews. These interviews are with the cast and crew, who basically say how lucky they were to find their roles. James Caan, who has done some good films, basically praises the script to high heaven, as does Patricia Richardson who must have been desperate to keep her name known after the end of her long running series “Home Improvement”. These total thirteen minutes, time that I wish I could have spent doing something more worthy. A thirteen-minute nap would have been nice.

A trailer gallery featuring trailers for Panic, Bad Seed, Cecil B Demented, Picking Up the Pieces, and of course the feature itself, is also included. Rounding out the disc is a photo gallery, which contains less then 20 stills.

Just as not every movie is created equal, the same can be said for DVDs. Due to budget constraints there probably wasn't much extra footage shot for Dead Simple, nor would there be a big HBO type Making of featurette. Dead Simple has a fair amount of extras, but none of them are of any real value. Artisan's recent release “Skeletons in the Closet” may not have as many special features as this disc, but at least its commentary is leaps and bounds above this one in terms of quality. Still, I'll give Artisan the benefit of the doubt here, as some other studios would have just tossed the feature on the disc. Even so, none of the bonus material will be worth much to anyone other then the hardcore Dead Simple fans, if there is such a thing.

Dead Simple
Overall
Dead Simple is simply a mess of a film, and while this DVD is better than the movie, it's not by much. A disappointing video transfer, coupled with an overly-promotional extras section doesn’t help this disc. The audio experience remains the high point, even though it's just a  average mix. Is Dead Simple worth a purchase? No. Is it worth a rental? No. Anyone in their right mind would be best to leave Dead Simple where it belongs, sitting alone on store shelves.


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