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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Prime Gig (2000)

"The problem with telemarketing is it's fundamentally evil, because it's set up on selling some people some bulls*** that they don't need."
- Joel (Rory Cochrane)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: February 12, 2002

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Julia Ormond, Ed Harris
Other Stars: Rory Cochrane, Wallace Shawn, Stephen Tobolowsky, George Wendt
Director: Gregory Mosher

Manufacturer: California Video Center
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:37m:04s
Release Date: February 12, 2002
UPC: 794043547522
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B D-

DVD Review

The world of telemarketing absolutely baffles me. Does anybody actually listen to what these bothersome people have to say, much less buy anything from them? Apparently so. The telemarketing business today is more successful than ever, and it seems that for every shady phone salesman, there are equal numbers of people who are willing to listen to them. The Prime Gig explores this sorrowful business with stunning realism, by examining the life of one man, Pendelton "Penny" Wise (Vaughn), who has spent all-too-many years selling worthless material over the phone. Right from the start it is obvious that Penny is fed up and exhausted. He is working in the dingiest of telemarketing offices, trying to sell vacation packages that nobody wants. He is not the only one who is frustrated or about to lose his job. All of his co-workers curse and moan about the lack of money earned from this degrading vocation, yet no one thinks about turning away from the job because the next phone call just might be the one that puts them on top.Outside of the office, we see a kinder, gentler side of Penny than the conniving phone salesman he is at work. He is wearied by the bad attitude of his physically handicapped roommate, Joel (Rory Cochrane), yet he continues to support him financially because he feels such deep pity for him. The concept of an honest and kindhearted man working in this dishonest business is one of the many facets that make the movie so fascinating.When the elusive Caitlin (Julia Ormond) offers Penny a chance for substantial wealth, he shows little hesitation. After all, Caitlin's offer sounds so enticing: "I can tell you that you will make more money than you have ever seen in just two weeks with us." Not to mention, things could not get much worse for Penny. Caitlin's employer is the mysterious Kelly Grant (Ed Harris), a man who obviously cannot be trusted from the moment we lay eyes on him, especially because it is no secret that he has served jail time. It would seem that anyone with half a brain would turn and run the other way from his get rich quick scheme. Yet, the film masterfully conveys that the promise of "easy money" is not so easy to turn down once someone has dug himself in as deeply as Penny has. The rest of the film deals with Penny's anticipated decent. It would be unfair of me to give away more details, but I can say that Penny is left dilapidated, a victim of ironic cruelty.I may be a little biased towards the film, since I worked for many years in telemarketing, but from my experience I can say that The Prime Gig portrays the ethically dangerous world of telemarketing with accuracy via an intelligent screenplay and wonderful performances. Vince Vaughn blew away all my expectations as the melancholy Penny. I am usually not a fan of Vaughn's antics in such films as Made, but here he displays a considerably tasteful understanding of his material. Julia Ormond is engaging as Penny's love interest, Caitlin. It is so refreshing to see the tender relationship between these two characters actually serve the narrative purpose of the story, rather than being thrown in for the sake of sex. Ed Harris unsurprisingly plays his money hungry hotshot with the greatest of ease. If that were not enough to pique one's interest, the movie boasts a handful of fantastic cameos as well, including great performances from George Wendt and Wallace Shawn.The superb screenplay is likely responsible for invoking these strong performances. Screenwriter William Wheeler clearly has a deep passion for these characters, and it is apparent that he drew heavy inspiration from the great David Mamet, the man responsible for writing the legendary dialogue in Glengarry Glen Ross. The characters have been given a great sense of depth, particularly Penny, whose moral nature in an amoral industry proves to be a compelling paradox. In a less carefully constructed screenplay, the audience would simply dismiss Penny's bad decisions as great stupidity. However, since Wheeler has provided such a vivid portrait of this tragic human being, the audience not only understands why he is drawn towards these mistakes, but can also feel empathy for him. Wheeler also knows that his screenplay covers familiar territory, and wisely chose to focus the script's importance on the entire journey of the film, not just its destination. As a result, The Prime Gig provides compelling entertainment every step of the way, yet it is this approach that could perhaps be responsible for why I found the ending to be somewhat dissatisfying. The payoff comes a little too late, and I would have preferred further insight into Penny's discovery rather than the short coda given.It is typical for people to get into the same situations portrayed in The Prime Gig. Telemarketing usually starts out as a side job for aspiring hopefuls who have taken this humiliating job as a temporay way to make ends meet. When their aspirations turn sour, telemarketing becomes all they can or know how to do with their lives. The Prime Gig not only shows us this sad aspect of the telemarketing empire, it allows us to witness it. While Wheeler's story is not quite up to par with the elegant writings of David Mamet, he does take his story to fresh and exciting places, and fully engulfs the viewer in a story of anguish and deceit.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: For a low budget feature, The Prime Gig exhibits a striking visual experience. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image displays incredible clarity, specifically in the area of color. From the emerald greens to the dusky brown interiors, colors are always vibrant and bold, and at times almost seem to leap off of the screen. White level is spot on and never overbearing, even in heavily backlit scenes. Most of the movie takes place in brightly-lit interiors or daylight, but the few instances of nighttime scenes display fantastic black level with no loss of shadow detail. The one glaring downfall in the image quality is the frequent presence of motion artifacts. While they can prove distracting throughout, they are subtle and should not keep the viewer from becoming immersed in the overall presentation.The second layer of the dual-layer disc offers a 1.33:1 version of the film. While the cover art indicates this as a "full-screen" version of the film, it is clearly pan & scan, as all of the compositions have been sliced in half. Do not try this at home!

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: For a 5.1 track, the audio proves to be quite modest. Overall fidelity is first rate, with dialogue always sounding clear and intelligible. The surround speakers are sparsely used, and aside from a few ambiance effects, they lie dormant throughout. Particularly distracting is the absence of music from the surround channels, resulting in an overall lack of envelopment. Stereo separation in the front soundstage in excellent, with panning and directional effects always sounding completely natural. Bass is present when necessary, but being a dialogue-driven film, these instances are, naturally, few and far between (I do not believe the LFE channel ever engaged). While not a particularly exciting audio track, this 5.1 mix effectively serves the purpose of driving the compelling narrative of the film.A less satisfying Dolby Surround 2.0 mix is also offered for people without 5.1 setups or those purists who are concerned with potential downmixing problems.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. New Line Cinema DVD Credits
Extras Review: I think somebody forgot to include the extras on my copy. Such an interesting movie could have warranted many special features, yet there are none. No trailers, no filmographies, no documentaries.... Nothing! A feature-length commentary with screenwriter William Wheeler and director Gregory Mosher would be incredibly insightful. A featurette on the making of the film would be most welcome. I would even love to see a documentary on real life telemarketing firms. Instead, we are left out to dry, like the victim of a bad telemarketing scam.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Unfortunately,The Prime Gig never found wide distribution on the big screen, so I certainly hope it finds the audience it deserves on DVD. While I could incessantly complain about the lack of extras, I will overlook this mistake and base my recommendation on the film itself. In this day and age of mile-a-minute action flicks, The Prime Gig is a unique and welcome breath of fresh air; it is highly recommended entertainment.


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