Middle Men (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes on a crash course in the history of internet pornography...
Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is a family man, and responsible business man with some minor ties to organized crime. One day Jack is asked by one of his employers to take care of Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabril Macht), two idiots that managed to invent the world’s first internet billing site. The site happens to feature pornography. Jack is uncomfortable with the idea, and the Russian mobsters that come along with it, but also recognizes the possibility to make a lot of money. Of course, the enterprise is wrought with danger and comedy.
Middle Men is an average movie that feeds off our memories of better ‘based on a true story’ dramadies. The subject matter is fascinating enough that it should make for a solid follow-up to P.T Anderson’s incendiary classic Boogie Nights, but apparently the director of Dysfunktional Family and writer of Codename: The Cleaner wasn’t quite up to the Herculean task. Director/co-writer George Gallo could’ve been clever and directly satirized the whole ‘based on a true story’ formula, but I’m pretty sure he is just swiping visual and narrative elements from stuff like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, and Fincher’s Zodiac rather than making some kind of statement on genre. I’m sure it was much easier this way. Meanwhile, the David Fincher analogies keep piling up, leading me to think that perhaps Paramount made the film in hopes of beating the more prestigious true internet story, The Social Network, to theaters.
So, there’s no way Middle Men will be mistaken for art, or even remembered very long after watching it, but it’s an entertaining enough experience. The performances are quirky (though clearly the characters play to the actors’ strengths), the story is genuinely interesting, and the absurdity of the better comedic moments makes a difference. The pretty images don’t hurt either. Gallo keeps things poppy, and utilizes a solid, fun Guy Ritchie-like rhythm. The film is afraid of wallowing in the real darkness of the situation, opting for grotesque slapstick and humour when violence comes into play. Coming from me, these words count as a criticism, as a mix of tones is more impressive to a jaded type, but most viewers will probably prefer that a movie about wacky pornographers doesn’t get too depressing. The real meat of the entire story, which is suspiciously missing from all the advertising materials, is the fact that Jack, unlike Henry Hill, is thrown into his situation. Unfortunately, Luke Wilson isn’t the man to carry an entire dramatic backbone himself, so the supporting cast’s hijynx really move the film along.
Boy does Middle Men looks a hell of a lot like a low rent Fincher flick, which is good for this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. It’s pretty much always dawn or pitch black night, and vibrant colours rule the palette. People dress in bright colours, the sunshine creates warm highlights, and neon lights bounce off every edge and background element. These hues contrast nicely against the deep blacks and harsh whites, and rarely bleed into one another, or produce any digital noise. The film is shot roughly enough that really fine details and really sharp edges play too much of a role, but the screen is consistently dancing with enough varying elements that a standard definition transfer would likely become a mush of compression artefacts. The less than harsh edges keeps the haloes away, and the less than precise focus keeps grain from being all that noticeable (though it certainly is present).
Middle Men comes fitted with a rather low impact DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The majority of the sound is delegated to the center channel, including dialogue and basic sound effects. Most of the aggressive aural elements relate to the musical soundtrack, which includes a whole bunch of bass heavy, era popular hip-hop, or classic rock items. These stretch nicely across the stereo channels, and pump the LFE a bit, but there’s still very little that moves to the back channels. Sometimes Gallo and his editor include some flash frames that represent Jack’s mind’s eye, or whip pans between scenes, and these feature some of the more expressive directional effects, though even these are mostly centered. If you listen closely during the horse track scene you can hear an announcer in the rear left speaker, but even here most of the sound comes from the center.
The disc’s small collection of extras begins with a commentary track featuring director George Gallo, editor Malcolm Campbell and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin. This is not listed on the box art. This is a strong track, led by a bossy Gallo, who doesn’t mention much in the way of ‘inspiration’, but explains the storytelling style quite well. The speedy, event hopping style was, apparently, a way of exacting the stream of conscious way producer Christopher Mallick recalled his memories of this occasionally true story. Having the editor and cinematographer on the track keeps the discussion on the technical, which is actually just fine. The jokes fall flat, and focus occasionally wanders, but the real tragedy is the absence of Mallick, who could let the audience in on the reality of his experience.
Next up is a collection of three deleted/extended scenes (5:50, SD), followed by a blooper reel (1:40, SD), and a montage of slapping scenes (1:00, SD).
There’s a good movie somewhere in this story. I mean, there are seriously fascinating little side plots involving terrorists, bribing elected officials, covering up dead bodies, but they steal focus from the story promised by the Middle Men’s trailers. If done correctly, this could’ve been a real epic, or even a few genuinely good movies. Instead we’re left with an entertaining glimpse at what could’ve been (if these aspects are entirely made up, even more reason to have made a different movie). Though, at the same time, I don’t think I could sit through a longer version of this particular film, so the speedy uptake is welcome. This Blu-ray release isn’t going to blow any minds, but the colourful video is vibrant, and the basic soundtrack is effective enough. The extras feature a decent technical commentary, but not a lot else.
*Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 8th February 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Director, Editor and Cinematographer Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Slap Montage
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Gallo
Cast: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabril Macht, James Caan
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 112 minutes
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