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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Secret Agent (1996)

"Bits and pieces only added up to one body."
- Chief Inspector Heat (Jim Broadbent)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: June 08, 2005

Stars: Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette
Other Stars: Gerard Depardieu, Jim Broadbent, Christian Bale
Director: Christopher Hampton

MPAA Rating: R for (some moments of violence)
Run Time: 01h:34m:42s
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 024543173359
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D-BC D-

DVD Review

Patricia Arquette hasn't had a high-profile film role since she starred in 1999's woeful Stigmata. Currently enjoying a career renaissance thanks to the success of the NBC series, Medium, Arquette appeared in 1996's The Secret Agent, a film and a performance that I'm sure she wished had remained mired in obscurity. The project was executive-produced by star Bob Hoskins, but only made it to a handful of theaters, taking in barely enough to finance the lowest budgeted of independent films. It made an appearance on VHS in 1997, but has been basically forgotten by critics and film buffs in the years since.

Unfortunately for Ms. Arquette, The Secret Agent is finally available on DVD, and it is one of the most disjointed messes of a film I have ever experienced, and for a myriad of reasons. For starters, the acting is atrocious, as everyone seems to be literally sleepwalking through their performances. Ms. Arquette gives the worst performance of her career, struggling to even look sad when she most definitely should be and inadvertently turning her British accent on and off between lines. Hers is truly one of the worst British accents, if not the worst you'll ever hear. Bob Hoskins does his typical sad-sack work, and I'm not sure why Jim Broadbent had to draw out each and every syllable he spoke, but that quickly got old.

A young Christian Bale is in this film, fulfilling what is apparently a rite of passage for immensely talented actors, that is, to portray a mentally challenged individual. I guess if anything can be said for his performance, it's that he holds his own with it, even though he's completing his pseudo-traditional ritual in a woeful project.

We then come to a completely uncredited performance by Robin Williams. Yes, unless you watch the film or read reviews, you have no way of knowing that Williams is in it. However, while such uncredited cameos (Williams made a similar cameo in the great Dead Again) are usually limited to just that, it's a shock to discover that he plays an integral role in the plot. Perhaps marketing his appearance might have put a few more rear ends in the theater seats, but it's also possible that Williams only did the film based on his uncredited status. It could also be that he's awful here, always having an odd smile on his face and obviously straining to bust up in laughter at what he's being called upon to do in various sequences. The scene where he encounters Inspector Heat is particularly odd, especially when he flops down on a couch that seemingly came out of nowhere. I expected him to be thrown a cane and top hat and perform a show tune.

The Secret Agent is actually a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Sabotage. Why it wasn't simply called Sabotage is another mystery, given that there is another, similar Hitchcock film called Secret Agent. Ah, the wackiness of modern Hollywood. Writer/director Christopher Hampton's version of The Secret Agent follows basically the same story as Hitchcock's Sabotage, that of British shopkeeper, Verloc, who has actually been making his living by working as a spy for the Russian government. Married and caring for his mentally handicapped brother, Verloc agrees to set off a bomb near the British embassy in order to continue to work for the Russians. When the bombing goes tragically wrong, Verloc's job and marriage are suddenly in grave danger.

Another huge misstep is just how little time is devoted to the pivotal bombing sequence. We see a character set off to plant the bomb, but we only see what happens to that character in a series of flashbacks and dialogue, including one graphic sequence that was gloriously gory, but seemed very out of tune with the rest of the picture. Speaking of flashbacks, the film is littered with them, and the overall editing is so slipshod that it's very difficult to follow the storyline during much of the running time. Entire characters are dropped that were featured in the Joseph Conrad novel that The Secret Agent is based on, which only adds to the lack of cohesion and effort that this remake reeks of.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: There's both an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and pan-and-scan presentation on this disc, and both look rather impressive, yet unspectacular. The dirty streets of London are nicely portrayed thanks to good shadow and contrast levels and nice, deep blacks. Image detail is generally nice, but there are quite a few instances where some softness rears its ugly head. Dirt and grain are kept to a minimum, but are still evident at times.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Dolby Digital 2.0 is the audio order of the day, and this is a pretty bland track that hardly ever utilizes the surround speakers. There's little to no bass, even for sequences involving a bomb explosion, and directionality isn't really an issue. Dialogue is quite clear, though, and does blend in with the rest of the audio aspects in the mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra feature is a trailer for The Secret Agent.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

An absolute travesty, The Secret Agent is the epitome of how not to make a studio picture. You'd be hard pressed to find worse performances by an extremely talented group of actors in this jumbled mess of a movie, but I guess Fox Home Video had to release this on DVD at some point.


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