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Boogie Nights Almost Scores on DVD

Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Nicole Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by P.T. Anderson. Aspect ratio: 2:35:1 (letterbox). Dolby Digital 5.1. 155 minutes. 1998. New Line Platinum Series N4650. Rated R. $24.99.

Boogie Nights is the story of a young innocent, Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), who changes his name to Dirk Diggler after stumbling into the '70s and '80s world of "adult" films. He's a young man endowed with a special "gift," and his rise is meteoric, thanks in no small part to his mentor and director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds).

The movie was hailed as a slice of cinema verité for its unblinking gaze at the sleazy world of porn, but I found it rather coy. It's reminiscent of nothing so much as the highly moral message films of the late '50s and early '60s, such as Where the Boys Are, in which every good time must be paid for with suffering---in this case, a lot of suffering. Boogie Nights seems to say that the sordid lifestyle drives people mad, sends them (justly) to prison, and poisons them with their own excesses. Not everyone meets a dire end, but everyone must pay. In an odd affirmation of traditional values, the characters who survive do so by forging their own definitions of family.

Boogie Nights has a lot going for it. Reynolds steals the picture with a relaxed performance that is a masterpiece of understatement, and Wahlberg is surprisingly good as well. His Diggler is vulnerable and charmingly eager to please. I can glimpse what director P.T. Anderson is trying to say, but he isn't quite capable of saying it clearly; at 155 minutes, the film is just too long and rambling to make any point directly. Even so, it has an infectious energy, even if its narrative is murky.

This is the second New Line Platinum Series DVD I've seen, and it's really shaping up as a great series for the serious collector. The telecine transfer is clean, clear, and true. The Platinum Series takes this process seriously enough to list both the transfer artist and the transfer facility on the DVD jacket, an auspicious sign that New Line thinks the transfer is important. The extras on the DVD include nine scenes that didn't make it into the film; after watching them, I think Anderson was right to omit them. The disc also includes audio commentary by the director and a music video by Michael Penn, also directed by Anderson.

Boogie Nights isn't a great film, but it has its moments along with some strong performances and a soundtrack that almost acts as a smartass Greek chorus commenting on the action. It's certainly worth a look, and I suspect that many viewers will want to own it. I just don't happen to be one of them.

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