John Travolta oozes duplicitous charisma, Connie Nielsen adds international gravitas, and Samuel L. Jackson shouts a lot in this confusing tale of a military exercise gone wrong, and its aftermath. Or was the entire fiasco was just an elaborate ruse? This labyrinthine-for-its-own-sake, utterly unsatisfying would-be thriller is too complicated to be entertaining and too much of a trifle for most audiences to care.
As much of the investigation and the many flashbacks take place at night, the DVD must reproduce blacks with a natural appearance and fine detail, and Basic does not disappoint. The 2.40:1 anamorphic image is exceptionally clean and filmlike, with strong colors. It's impressive despite instances of fast action, rain, and other difficult material. As it was in the theater, Basic has a very aggressive surround mix, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue, gunshots, aircraft, foul weather, and more are precise and well balanced. The explosion that punctuates the central flashbacks has a particularly jarring kick each time it appears.
Director John McTiernan’s commentary is a dependably authoritative blend of technical and dramatic insights. There's a featurette on the screenplay, where some deleted scenes are tucked away, incorporated into screenwriter James Vanderbilt's musings. This is odd since the script is clearly the weakest link in this chain of command.—Chris Chiarella
DVD: Phone Booth—20th Century Fox
It's easy to think of this movie as some kind of reward or between-projects distraction for director Joel Schumacher, who employs filmmaking tricks that are well-suited to a film student's final project. In fact, as Schumacher notes in his profanity-seasoned audio commentary, the entire shoot took just 10 days.
The enticing premise was this: set an entire movie in a New York City phone booth, the last such booth in Manhattan as it turns out. The screenwriter originally pitched the idea to Alfred Hitchcock, who might have turned this into a classic. As it is, it's a suspenseful diversion, with a sparse 81-minute running time to help keep the idea from going too stale.
Unfortunately, the central character, a slick PR man (Colin Farrell), is so unlikable and one-dimensional that it might as well be Tony Montana stuck in the phone booth in the aim of a sniper's rifle for all we care about him. He's painted with a few broad, cliche-ridden strokes in the first 10 minutes. Oh, and he cheats on his wife, too.
The movie is presented in both 1.33:1 and 2.35:1 anamorphic, and the latter looks fine. The dreary Times Square setting (played by downtown Los Angeles) is portrayed in a palette of muted blues and grays. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate, with subtle use of the surrounds throughout. There are no extras beyond Schumacher's commentary and a trailer.
This is a good movie and certainly worthy of a rental, but it took aim at greatness and missed the mark.—Gary Frisch