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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
29 Palms (2003)

"The truth is, you can't trust anybody."
- The Judge (Michael Lerner)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: September 02, 2003

Stars: Rachael Leigh Cook, Jeremy Davies, Chris O'Donnell, Jon Polito, Michael Rapaport
Other Stars: Russell Means, Michael Lerner, Keith David
Director: Leonardo Ricagni

Manufacturer: 342 Media DVD Center
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use
Run Time: 01h:33m:11s
Release Date: August 19, 2003
UPC: 012236138587
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I'm not stupid or vain enough to think that I'm any sort of arbiter of cool—I spend way too many hours huddled up with my DVD player for that—but it does seem to me that the people and things that are truly cool are the ones that try the least to be so. And that's a lesson that never seems to have been learned by the folks who made this movie—their hunger to make something with a groovy indie cachet can be felt in just about every frame, which has led them to forget about little things like, oh, telling a good, taut, dramatic story. Some of the movie looks great, and its full of atmosphere and weirdness, but they're there generally for their own sake. It's almost as if they took away exactly the wrong lessons from movies like The Usual Suspects (you will be cool if you speak with an odd accent or have a dramatic and visual physical impairment) and Pulp Fiction (you will be cool if you wear black suits and make obscure pop culture references). Chill out, dudes. Tell us a story.

Apparently it's considered a mark of style not even to provide your characters with names, and yes, it's here that the slide from cool into pretentious begins. Jeremy Davies plays a young man we'll know only as the Drifter—he's a clerk for a California judge (called The Judge, played by Michael Lerner) who's on the take from the local gambling interests. A hazy series of events are necessary merely to set the plot in motion—basically, the Judge thinks that the Drifter is a Fed, and he gets the local casino-running Native American chief (called—surprise!—The Chief, a nasty Russell Means) to hire a hitman (that's Chris O'Donnell as: The Hitman) to take him out. The Drifter's girlfriend gets whacked first, as a warning to him, and the Hitman hits the trail with a bag stuffed with money, a tape recorder, and the dead woman's severed hand. Said bag becomes the crucial item of pursuit for the rest of the picture.

Much of the rest of the movie features actors chewing it up and acting weird just for the sake of acting weird, not really in the service of character or story. Some people love this sort of thing; my tolerance for actors emoting and goofing and cursing is very, very low, especially when that's the movie's most salient aspect. (I'm not prudish about language, gracious heavens, no, but this is one of those movies in which you can tell that the actors are improvising when every other f**king word in their f**king lines is a f**king profanity.) Jon Polito is on hand, perhaps with one of his remaindered hairpieces from The Man Who Wasn't There, as a voyeuristic security guard; especially egregious are Bill Pullman, weirding it up for no reason as a ticket clerk in a bus depot, and Michael Rapaport (also an executive producer on the film), as a Baker, CA cop who seems to have been transported to the California inland empire directly from the NYPD.

Rachael Leigh Cook is cute and perky as the love interest (sadly, she's not called The Love Interest—just The Waitress), and the film winds up with many cars crashing into one another in the California desert. But by this point you may already be channel surfing, or figuring out why you've even hung with this movie this long.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is shot in the rather unusual 1.77:1 aspect ratio, and while many of the colors in the production design palette are rich, the feature isn't really shot with much flair. Turn on the camera in this part of the desert and you'll find something worth looking at; the movie usually doesn't do much more than that. Also, there's a fair amount of debris that seems to have been introduced in the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 track is VERY LOUD, and the 5.1 track is, unbelievably, EVEN LOUDER THAN THAT. The soundtrack has been Foleyed to death, apparently, and the balance and dynamics are frequently askew. Someone seems to have been following the unwise dictum that if a scene doesn't make sense, pump up the volume.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Michael Lindenbaum, J. Todd Harris, Craig Davis Roth, Mark Furby
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. story bible and editing notes (see below)
Extras Review: Curiously enough, the commentary track here is a lot more entertaining than the feature itself—a quartet of the film's producers are assembled, and they're happy to tell tales out of school, and to give an impromptu seminar in the ways of development and financing in the independent film world. They're candid about casting issues (they had offered the role of the Hitman to Gabriel Byrne, and had to pay him off when Chris O'Donnell wanted the role; they wanted O'Donnell to play the Drifter), and they're not reluctant to give the straight skinny about life on the set. They all bemoan the lack of sexual chemistry between Davies and Cook, for instance; they're happy to report that Davies and Rapaport didn't like each mother much; none of them much understood or cared for Davies' approach to his role; and Davies' vegan dietary demands made the location shoot particularly difficult. (Do you detect a pattern here?) There's also a good amount of comedy to be had in comparing their shoestring production with the big time—one day, they report, Rachael Leigh Cook was shooting a scene as the Universal corporate jet idled on the tarmac nearby, with Vin Diesel in tow, waiting to whisk Cook off to Mexico, for an appearance on MTV to promote Josie and the Pussycats. In this insanely, relentlessly rah rah business, you've got to love the candor of these guys (one of them says that the movie "didn't quite coalesce the way we wanted it to"), but it's more than a little alarming to hear them observe that "I don't think any of us realized how intricate this script was," and therefore thinking it was okay to unravel the plot and rewrite on a daily basis on the set.

The production notes chart the project's history, and the accompanying story bible (the ornate plot laid out chronologically) and editing notes (justifying and explaining the uses of montage and flashbacks, among other things) are worthy additions, but you may come away wishing that these were features on the DVD of a better film. Bios are for seven actors, and eight members of the production team.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Pretty dull indie fare for the feature, but surprisingly enough, the producers' commentary may make this worth more than a passing glance.


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