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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Dead Simple (2001)

"Do you believe in fate? Because I do. It was no coincidence that you were there last night to pick me up on the side of the road. Fate, Frank. See, it wanted our talents to merge. It's just like fate brought Sonny and Cher together. Captain and Tennille. Seigfried and Roy. Fate, Frank. It's beyond our control."
- Julie (Lacey Kohl)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 15, 2001

Stars: Daniel Stern, James Caan
Other Stars: Sherri Stringfield, Patricia Richardson, Lacey Kohl
Director: Jason Bloom

MPAA Rating: R for Language and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:37m:41s
Release Date: August 21, 2001
UPC: 012236119791
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Dead Simple is a fun way to spend 98 minutes. It is a dark,twisty and comic tale of love, lust, murder and the pursuit of the American dream. Full of some terrific quirky characters, including of all things James Caan in a Willie Nelson fright wig as a violent country crooner. 2000s' Dead Simple (or Viva Las Nowhere as it was originally billed) was directed by Jason Bloom, whose prior cinematic highpoint was the Pauly Shore dud Bio-Dome. Luckily for Bloom he now has this entertaining title on his resume to smoothly deflect any attention from the lame antics of the aforementioned Mr. Shore.

Frank Jacobs (Daniel Stern) is a frustrated country songwriter trapped in a lifeless marriage to Helen (Patricia Richardson), while running a desolate motel called the Middle O'America in the exact geographic mid-point of the United States somewhere in rural Kansas. Helen is a tightly wound bible-thumper who constantly berates Frank for his apparently futile pursuit of songwriting, and mocks his extensive record collection. This is a great parallel to the scene in Diner where Daniel Stern is also forced to defend his album collection to an angry girlfriend.

After one of his weekly appearances at a local bar's amateur night competition, Frank sticks around to to watch a brief set by headlining act Roy Baker (James Caan) and Julie Mitchell (Lacey Kohl). It is a very brief set indeed, because halfway through the first song the highly intoxicated Julie passes out. On his way home that night, Frank witnesses Roy tossing Julie out of his car in the middle of nowhere. Being the good samaritan that he is, Frank offers to take the battered Julie to the Middle O'America, especially since she has nowhere else to go. Once the young and sexy Julie gets cleaned up, some smoldering sparks begin to crackle between Frank and Julie.

At this point in Dead Simple, the smart script by Richard Uhlig and Steve Seitz moves like a freight train into familiar Coen brothers territory, and I'm sure it's no accident that the title is similar (in tone, at least) to Ethan and Joel's brilliant debut, Blood Simple. Uhlig and Seitz inject plenty of well-timed humor into the plot, and it keeps the overall mood from plunging into complete darkness. It would be unfair to explain too much of the storyline, as Dead Simple works pretty hard to move in unexpected directions.

Director Bloom manages to coax solid performances out of the cast principals. Daniel Stern turns in another great,underrated role, in the typical frustrated, everyman kind style that he does so well. Even when the film dips into an almost over the top climax, Stern's first-rate mix of comedic timing and straight-faced exasperation really makes the character of Frank seem like a flesh and blood person. Caan gets to ham it up as the wicked and violent womanizer Roy, and with his creepy gray wig he looks like cartoonishly demented. Home Improvement's Patricia Richardson and the incredibly sultry Lacey Kohl get to push the hamminess factor up a notch as well, and it perfectly fits the semi-comedic tone of the film. Former ER cast member Sherri Stringfield, looking a little more cherubic these days, plays Marguerite, the faithful bartender friend of Frank. Stringfield provides a sort of moral compass for Stern's character, and her performance helps keep things anchored in reality.

I really liked this film. It may not be a completely original story, or perfect for that matter, but it is much better than many of the attempted sharp turns taken by some other of the love/lust/murder genre flicks that have come before it. Mix some sex, comedy, violence, and weird characters, and if done well—I'm hooked. Dead Simple is not on the level of a Coen brothers' effort, but that's like saying Taco Bell isn't really Mexican food. It's good and I like it.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 transfer is anamorphic, but unfortunately that's where the good news ends. Overall, Dead Simple suffers from extensive color bleed and black levels that have no real depth whatsoever. Even with the color bleed, there is a plus with solid flesh tones that stay true during the 98-minute run. Some major edge enhancement issues appear throughout, and though obvious, surprisingly don't detract from the viewing experience.

Not the best looking Artisan release I've ever seen, by any means.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 and 2.0 mixes don't vary all that much. Nice use of rear channel for music cues, and since the Dead Simple score by Andrew Gross is very alt-country twangy, it adds a layer of fullness to the film's ambience. Spatial imaging is average, and clarity of dialogue is always high.

A nice audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Picking Up The Pieces, Bad Seed, Panic, Cecil B. Demented
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Jason Bloom, Composer Andrew Gross, Production Designer Alexander Hammond, Editor Louis Colina
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Aside from the obligatory trailers (Dead Simple, Picking Up The Pieces, Bad Seed, Panic, Cecil B. Demented) and filmographies, the extras on Dead Simple aren't extensive, but the inclusion of an informative scene-specific commentary by the principal production staff is a nice plus. I'm a commentary junkie, and it's always a treat when one pops up on a film I actually enjoyed. With comments from the director, composer, production designer and editor, Artisan has assembled an interesting cross-section to shed light on the film's creation and background. Jason Bloom especially proves himself to be an entertaining commentator.

A photo gallery with 17 production stills and behind-the-scenes shots doesn't serve much purpose, and wouldn't merit repeat viewing.

The 13-minute featurette, which is a combo of behind-the-scenes, cast interviews, and final scenes, is a typical promo piece. Don't watch the featurette BEFORE you see Dead Simple, because it is full of scenes that give away some of the film's twists.

Full motion scene selection, as well as English and Spanish subtitles complete the extras.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Take a chance on Dead Simple. Despite a moderately silly climax, it remains a very entertaining little film. As a bonus, the DVD contains an informative commentary track, and a great soundtrack.

If you like your films a little on the dark side, then Dead Simple is recommended as a rental, at the very least.


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