Editor’s Notes: Dark Blue, Impromptu, & Vacation are out on their respective formats November 3rd.
Dark Blue (Olive Films) stars Kurt Russell as Eldon Perry, an L.A.P.D. sergeant who is up for promotion during the time that four white police officers are on trial for the beating of Rodney King. Perry comes from a long line of cops and is dedicated to getting the bad guys off the streets, much like a lawman of the Old West. He’s teamed with young cop Bobby Keogh (Scott Speedman), who gets ensnared in Perry’s not by-the-book methods. Meanwhile Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), on a mission to clean up the department, is focusing his efforts on Perry and his corrupt boss (Brendan Gleeson).
The movie, directed by Ron Shelton, captures a very anxious time in the city of Los Angeles and the country as a whole, when racial tension was at its peak. Using the watermark real-life event as the backdrop for this fictional tale gives the story resonance. With the eyes of the nation on the Rodney King case, the L.A.P.D. is under a microscope and any impropriety could be damaging to a department increasingly on the defensive. Perry’s attempted cover-up is only one instance of pervasive corruption at all levels.
Russell is excellent as a cop who is unapologetic about his unorthodox actions. To Perry, the end — putting bad guys away — justifies the means. In a city rife with crime, Perry’s well-intentioned determination is understandable though his methods are appalling. Keogh is the innocent thrown into the lion’s den with a seasoned professional with an impressive arrest record. Keogh must face a moral dilemma: support his partner or do what his conscience knows is right. We’ve seen this kind of police procedural before, but performances are uniformly first-rate. Rated R, the film contains considerable violence and strong language.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette and a look at the movie’s production design.
Impromptu (Olive Films) is the story of the real-life affair between George Sand and Frederic Chopin. George Sand, whose real name was Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, became famous not only for her novels but also for taking a man’s name, wearing pants, and smoking cigars in public. The characters in the film constitute an impressive Who’s Who of the music and art world. Judy Davis is Sand, Hugh Grant is Polish composer Chopin, and Julian Sands is Franz Liszt. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters portray French poet Alfred de Musset and Liszt’s mistress, Marie d’Agoult, respectively. Emma Thompson plays the Duchess D’Antan, the featherbrained Frenchwoman who brings all these celebrities together.
This costume drama plays like period soap opera, with sex and naughty behavior propelling the action. Despite conflicting accents and the actors’ tendency to go just a shade over the top, Impromptu has its charms. Made in 1991, before of the many cast members went on to bigger and more substantial roles, the film has a voyeuristic quality, sort of a “Lives of the Rich and Famous: The 19th Century Edition.” The public has always been fascinated with the foibles of the renowned, and this picture feeds into that curiosity.
Ms. Davis conveys an authoritatively aggressive manner as Sand, a woman who demanded equality at a time when women were not encouraged to lead a public life, and certainly not engage in romantic rebellion. Grant provides his cinematic charm as Chopin, who inspired Sand with his music.
Director James Lapine has crafted a beautiful-looking movie. His stage training stands him in good stead; his direction keeps the actors on their game and the movie visually interesting, with a sweeping quality suitable to the subject matter. Production design and costumes are lush, and locations compare favorably with the grandeur of Downton Abbey. Bruno de Keyzer’s cinematography makes even the simplest settings shine.
There are no bonus features on the PG-13 rated Blu-ray release.
Vacation (Warner Home Video) is a remake of 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, less the wit and laughs of the original. Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the son of Chevy Chase’s character in the original. He wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps by taking his own family on a cross-country road trip to the Walley World theme park, hoping for something more special than their annual cabin vacation.
Of course, the family gets more than it bargained for in endless squabbling, bathing in a lake of raw sewage, driving through a cow, and encountering oddball characters enroute, including a suicidal Grand Canyon rowing instructor and Griswold’s sister (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband (Chris Hemsworth). Christina Applegate plays Rusty’s wife Debbie, and Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo from the original film have cameos.
Helms and Applegate are likable goofballs, as are the actors playing their kids, but it’s hard to be patient with recycled gags and overly familiar comic road-movie cliches in a series of comic misfires.
The many obstacles the family encounters don’t add up to a lot of laughs. The problem is a dreary script and sub-par direction by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), who work too hard for laughs that simply don’t materialize. There’s a sense of desperation when an elaborate chase sequence struggles to distract the viewer from the film’s dearth of humor. Too much of the film duplicates moments from the original and pales by comparison, and there are even self-referencing comments about the similarities from the movie’s characters. Because of an unnecessary preoccupation with adolescent sex jokes, the film is rated R.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include two featurettes, gag reel, and deleted scenes. A digital HD copy is included.