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20th Century Fox presents
Lily: Is this what drunk is?
DVD ReviewIt's odd how Hollywood pigeonholes talent. You have one successful film, and you're stuck remaking it for the next few years. Keanu Reeves certainly fell victim - after Point Break and Speed—seen as the go-to guy for any action role requiring a male with billowing surfer hair. Directors are also targets, and after The Fugitive, Andrew Davis could not rest until he had produced another "innocent guy gets framed" film. 1996's Chain Reaction provided the perfect marriage for both. Keanu could fill the male role perfectly. Hair? Check. Ability to look pretty on screen? Check. Ability to star in an action scene involving a moving vehicle? Check. And Davis, well, I'm sure if he wasn't paying close attention, he'd start to refer to Keanu and co-star Morgan Freeman as Harrison and Tommy, if you get my drift. The point is, Chain Reaction is about as derivative as movies get, but it ends up an entertaining, if mind numbing, experience.
Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves) is a grad student at the University of Chicago. He is working with a team developing a new power source, a form of hydrogen fusion that will unlock the energy in a glass of water, enough to run a city for an entire day. Just as the experiment proves a success, however, the head scientist is murdered and the research lab is destroyed. Eddie and Lily (Weisz) are the only members of the team remaining, and the two are framed for the crime. The only person who seems trustworthy is Sharon (Freeman), head of the organization that funded the research.
A film like this demands suspension of disbelief. I mean, in the first 15 minutes, Eddie escapes a hydrogen explosion (one that levels six city blocks) on a motorcycle. Of course, if you can accept Keanu "Whoa" Reeves as a brilliant scientist, you have a better imagination than I. The plot holes are numerous, and though it is for the most part predictable and routine, it all seems a bit confusing because the writing is so poor. For example, when one seemingly "good" character was revealed as a villain, I didn't realize what had happened, because there was no indication of what exactly was going on in terms of character motivation. Even the ending doesn't wrap up several crucial elements.
The action scenes are interesting and innovative enough that they redeem some of the more convoluted aspects of the script. Of course, the aforementioned explosion is quite entertaining, and there are some excellent, suspenseful scenes that draw on Davis' Fugitive experience, including one set on a precarious bridge. Though I had no real concept of character or plot, the last 15 minutes of the film are suspenseful and action packed.
The acting also serves its part to overshadow the failure of the script. Morgan Freeman is, of course, good in everything, and he manages to project real layers into his wafer thin part. Is that emotional turmoil I see in those eyes? I think so. Rachael Weisz, before her star-making turn in The Mummy, is simply adorable. Her cute little accent, those wide, attractive eyes. Oh, are she acts pretty well, too. And what can be said about Keanu? Well, he is, as usual, a blank slate, his vapid stare projecting the emotional wasteland that is the disheartened Eddie, or maybe just vapidity.
Most Keanu Reeves films seem to fit into the "shut off the brain" category. Though Chain Reaction presents little that hasn't been seen before, it features some exciting action scenes, smart, suspenseful direction from Davis, good performances from Freeman and Weisz, and a decent score by Jerry Goldsmith. And of course, Reeves fans will undoubtedly eager to add one more DVD piece to the Keanu Reeves lexicon. Cough.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: While the image on this disc is certainly good, it doesn't hold up to other recent catalogue titles from Fox, which is odd, since Chain Reaction is but five years old. The biggest problem is the amount of edge-enhancement that was applied to the transfer - the halo effect is quite noticeable during many scenes. Also, the picture isn't nearly as sharp as it should be, with backgrounds suffering from a lack of fine detail. However, colors seem accurately represented and saturated, and the all-important black level is excellent. I noticed no artifacting, and just a bit of aliasing on horizontal surfaces.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audiophiles will be pleased to know this disc includes both a DD 5.1 and a DTS track. I listened to key sequences in the film repeatedly, switching between the tracks, and though both sound very good, the DTS track had a noticeably fuller sound, with a much more distinct lower register (the two major explosions in the film pack quite a bit of bass). Otherwise, both mixes feature excellent, aggressive use of the surrounds. The audio isn't quite as dynamic as I was expecting, as there wasn't much separation between the surround channels, but overall, things seem good. With an action mix like this, the bigger your speakers are, the happier you'll be.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Unlawful Entry, Big Trouble in Little China, Point Break
2 TV Spots/Teasers
Extras Review: One of my favorite new DVD dealies is the Fox Flix trailer gallery that has been included on most Fox catalogue titles of late. This time, trailers are included for Unlawful Entry, Big Trouble in Little China, and Point Break, all in anamorphic widescreen. Included separately is the trailer for Chain Reaction, along with two TV spots. The trailer is ok, but it isn't the one I remember seeing in the theater - it lacks the "money shot" of the big explosion.. But really, who's going to quibble over the loss?
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsChain Reaction is somewhat mindless, but it ends up a diverting experience nonetheless. Fox once again does a nice job with the audio and video, and I can't argue with their attractive new price point of $22.95. Remember when all their discs were nonanamorphic and $35? The times, they are a-changing.
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