A raft of new DVD releases provides a few worth checking out, and a few to be avoided.
"Ransom: Special Edition" (Touchstone, 1996; R for violence, language; $29.99). This action yarn, directed by Ron Howard and starring Mel Gibson, is a real button-pusher, knowing just how to get the audience to react on a visceral level. But in the end that's all there is; it's a thriller, not a thinker. Still, it's a good one.
The story has a wealthy executive taking the law into his own hands when his son is kidnapped for ransom and it becomes apparent that the kidnappers aren't going to let the child live, regardless of the outcome. The excellent cast includes Gary Sinise, Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo and Lili Taylor, and the film is a rousing crowd-pleaser.
One caveat, however: in this day of Elizabeth Smart and other high-profile child-kidnappings, some may find, as I did, that it's a bit too much for a fictional thriller to elicit audience sympathy by repeatedly putting a young boy in jeopardy with a gun to his head.
Unlike the disc released two years ago, this special edition boasts a bevy of bonus features: a pretty thorough commentary track by Howard, behind-the-scenes featurettes, four benign deleted scenes, outtakes, etc.
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, trailers, etc.
"Splash: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Touchstone, 1984, PG-13, $29.99). This early Ron Howard fantasy-comedy has been on DVD for five years, but this "anniversary edition" boasts a commentary track (bracketed by opening and closing on-camera remarks) by Howard, his co-producer and the screenwriters, as well as a new retrospective featurette and the original audition tapes of Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. (Though a fascinating deleted sequence glimpsed in the featurette is missing.)
"Splash" holds up quite well as a sweet comic/romantic fantasy, with Hanks as a workaholic who has given up on love, and Hannah as a mermaid, who has only six days as a human before she must return to her undersea life. They fell in love as children, revealed in the opening sequence, but her true identity is a secret that has Hanks
baffled at her behavior.
Along for the ride are John Candy as Hanks' crass brother (occasionally a bit too crass) and Eugene Levy as a scientist trying to prove the mermaid exists. Hanks is also funny, though his nice-guy persona is what puts it over, and Hannah's sweet naivete makes her character perfectly endearing. (This was a starmaker for Hanks, although he made mediocre fare for the next four years until hitting it big with "Big.")
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary, making-of featurette, auditions, etc.
"Dirty Pretty Things" (Miramax, 2003; R for violence, gore, sex, language; $29.99). Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou ("Amelie") star in this film by Stephen Frears ("The Grifters") as two illegal aliens living in London (he's from Africa, she's from Turkey). Both are trying to make a living and avoid immigration authorities when they get mixed up with an illegal organ-donor ring, which escalates their difficulties and forces them to take desperate measures.
This clever story, with some fascinating twists and turns, is sharp, smart, occasionally amusing and always chilling, with a somewhat pervasive sadness. Primarily, however, it's a character-driven tale, and the actors are all fine with Ejiofor and Tautou especially excellent as they elicit audience sympathy.
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (by Frears), making-of featurette, etc.
"Veronica Guerin" (Miramax, 2003; R for violence, language, drugs; $29.99). Cate Blanchett is a brilliant actress, though she is still searching for the right vehicle to prove that to the moviegoing public at large. But she comes close in this strong true story about the title character, an Irish journalist who exposed drug traffic in Dublin and paid the price.
The film is a routine exercise with occasional punch that never really soars as it should, despite the efforts of Blanchett, who is excellent, and rest of the capable cast, including Brenda Fricker as Veronica's mother and Colin Farrell in a cameo. It's still pretty good; it just should have been better.
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentaries, deleted scene, making-of featurettes, interviews, photo diary, etc.
"Wrong Is Right" (Columbia, 1982; R for violence, language; $24.96). When this dark comedy on politics and the media came out in 1982, my Deseret News review was glowing. As it happens, I may have been the only one.
The film died a quick death and is now largely forgotten. So I was anxious to watch it again and see how I feel about it 22 years later. Was the film ahead of its time? Or was I up in the night?
Maybe a little of both. This time around, I admired much of it, laughed in places and, on the whole, enjoyed it. But it's no classic, with some flat set-pieces in its effort to mine "Dr. Strangelove"/"Fail-Safe"-style satire. The terrorist motif, however, seems strangely prescient, given today's post-911 climate.
Sean Connery stars as a TV newsman (compared to Dan Rather at the time), who uncovers a plot in the Middle East to sell nuclear weapons to a deranged terrorist (Henry Silva). Meanwile, his mantra — if it's not on TV it doesn't matter — is validated.
Robert Conrad is hawkish Gen. Wombat, George Grizzard is an ineffecutal U.S. president, Leslie Nielsen is his election-year opponent, Katharine Ross has a brief role as a reporter/spy, etc. (Look for very young Jennifer Jason-Leigh in the opening set-piece.)
Writer-director Richard Brooks ("Elmer Gantry," "In Cold Blood") keeps the action moving at a frenzied pace, but it never fully clicks.
Extras: Widescreen, etc.
"Honey" (Universal, 2003, PG-13, $26.98). Jessica Alba stars in this loud, energetic, but rather dull and hackneyed rehash of "Fame" and "Flashdance" themes. She plays the title character, a bartender in a noisy club by night and a clerk in a noisy record store by day. Honey rises (a bit too quickly) to success as a choreographer of hip-hop music videos but loses her friends and boyfriend as a result. She also has no time for the at-risk kids who rely on her. Can she figure out how to have it all? Did "Seabiscuit" win the race?
Extras: Separate widescreen and full-frame editions, audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, music videos, etc.