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Eclectic DVD presents
Placebo Effect (1998)

"I don't have to explain myself to nobody. I'm above the law."
- Zak (Francesco Quinn)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: January 28, 2003

Stars: Luciano Saber, Francesco Quinn
Other Stars: Kirsten Berman, Martin Halacy, Christopher Richard Garrett, David Mersault, Marshall Bean, Sarah Charipar, Travis Estes
Director: Alejandro Seri

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:20m:52s
Release Date: January 28, 2003
UPC: 809643702698
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CCB- C+

DVD Review

As I sat down to watch this film, I was immediately struck with one burning question: Who the heck is Luciano Saber? According to the backcover blurb on this 1998 espionage thriller, he was a "United States Secret Agent and decorated military soldier" and "the real 007," while an insert features snappy quotes from USAF commanders, and a few lines from what is apparently his Air Force Commendation Medal Citation for "identifying and neutralizing over 130 persons involved in the use and distribution of dangerous drugs." Saber, and his flowing Fabio-esque locks, wrote (as well as starred) in this film, which I think we are supposed to believe is somehow based on his alleged secret spy activities. Or maybe not, I'm not sure.

Placebo Effect is set in Chicago, and is the story of a bickering group of killers, all hired by the mysterious master assassin known only as The Sphinx, who are planning the murder of the Vice-President. We don't actually see them doing much planning, in fact most of the time their goateed-leader Zak (Francesco Quinn) just shouts hysterically and waves his gun around, basically acting like a spoiled child with Ritalin withdrawals. Problems start when a Russian cab-driver named Aleksander Ivanov (Saber) knocks on the door of the bad guys' secret warehouse in search of a telephone, because his car has broken down. When Aleksander becomes an unwilling hostage, he begins to play mind games to pit individuals against each other.

Saber's pseudo-Robert Ludlum-styled thriller is told in a series of flash-forwards and flash-backs, which do give the proceedings a rather intentionally disjointed feel. The technique has been used in other films to greater success (recently seen in Chris Nolan's Following), but its use here prevents the low budget project from looking too much like the one-act play that it almost is, as 95% of the chatty wannabe-spy film is set in the warehouse of the killers.

Weird bits of dialogue ("This place has to light up like a firecracker!") flit in and out indiscriminantly, evenly balanced by Quinn's chuckle-worthy turn as the group's leader. Saber himself, when he's not speaking in an Andy-Kaufman-as-Latka accent, tosses out his lines with an even, somewhat mock deadpan that while not exactly high-caliber theatrics, displays as close to a natural performance as can be found in this film. For an unintentional comedic punch, I liked Marshall Bean's droning Mr. Jones, the creepy CIA contact man who is so nasty he won't let his subordinate use the bathroom while they are on a stakeout ("You have to pee?").

The film's tagline is "Nothing is true except the lies," which I imagine is supposed to conjure up visions of a labyrinthian world of double-crosses and secret identities. Forget that the bad guys in Placebo Effect seem so doltish that I suspect the Vice-President could never have really been in any danger, or that the mythical assassin The Sphinx (wasn't he in Mystery Men?) treads heavily on territory delivered more effectively by Bryan Singer. Admittedly, Saber's script seems to really try to deliver on its cloak-and-dagger promise, but there is so much of it in such a short amount of time that it becomes almost comical.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Placebo Effect has been issued in a 1.66:1 nonanamorphic widescreen, and the source print is pockmarked by a large amount of white specks. Image detail is not overly sharp, and there is a hazy softness during some of the sequences. This is obviously a low budget film, and the transfer reflects that. On the plus side, colors are seemingly reproduced with accuracy, and fleshtones appear natural.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 surround track is a pretty basic one, with all of the action (re: talking) spread across the fronts, with the rears completely silent. Dialogue is clearly presented, though much of the track has a degree of flatness, no doubt a result of the small production budget.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Production Photos
Extras Review: The term "special features" may be overstating things a bit, as this one isn't exactly a wealth of supplementals. In addition to an automated gallery of Production Photos (most of which don't appear in the film, oddly enough), this disc also features the theatrical trailer. The trailer is one of those goofy, overly macho ones that begins with the dreaded voiceover phrase "In a world..." and it pretty much reveals most of the plot twists.

The disc is cut into 11 chapters, and there are no subtitles.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

I'll try to avoid any clever reviewer barbs about Placebo Effect being a "placebo for entertainment" or a "sugar pill passing for an espionage thriller" or any other half-baked phrases like that. This is just a film that talks a lot about assassins, double agents and the like with just too little in the way of palpable action to back it up. The plot twists weren't very twisty, and were certainly predictable, and the occasionally laughable line reads render Placebo Effect far too ham-handed to be taken seriously.


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