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20th Century Fox presents
Best Laid Plans (1999)

"This was never about money, Nick. This was about you being stuck in the same place for your whole life."
- Lissa (Reese Witherspoon)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 02, 2000

Stars: Alessandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon
Other Stars: Josh Brolin
Director: Mke Barker

MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual situations, language.
Run Time: 01h:33m:09s
Release Date: February 22, 2000
UPC: 024543001010
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AB A-

DVD Review

Best Laid Plans is a stylish modern noir thriller of the triple-cross sub-genre, similar in more ways than one to the film Wild Things. Nick (Nivola), a continuous loser stuck in Tropico, Nevada, where the only industry seems to be recycling, gets ensnared in a web of intrigue as he tries to get out of town; his girlfriend, Lissa (Witherspoon), in trying to help Nick, just gets in even worse trouble herself.

From the trailers, it's quite clear that Fox missold this movie as a comedy-thriller. I have to believe that it would have done better at the box office if audiences didn't have an expectation of comedy, since there's not anything in the least funny in this film. No doubt they were trying to make the film appear to be another Very Bad Things, which it isn't at all.

The film is in deadly earnest from the word go, although almost nothing you see can ever be taken at face value. The disjointed structure which starts in media res hooks us immediately. Then the story goes back four months to show how the characters reached the state of affairs where Nick's best friend, Bryce (Brolin) is accused of rape by a woman he just met, and who he now has handcuffed to his pool table in the basement.

The film, despite its complicated structure, is generally easy to follow, although on the first viewing I completely missed the significance of a vital clue. Paying extremely close attention will render significant dividends in this plot.

Witherspoon, Nivola and Brolin all give good performances. Brolin in particular is effective as a pathetic jerk who unknowingly is at the heart of all of the machinations. At times the motivations of Witherspoon and Nivola seem a little thin. As the deleted scenes show us, there was more substance given to these motivations, which unfortunately fell victim to the needs of pacing. In part, this need to push the pacing is the fault of the structure, which demands that we get back to the present as promptly as possible, thereby requiring the scenes setting the table to fall by the wayside.

The intricate plots and complications, as well as the accusations of rape, lead one back to Wild Things. This film, produced in 1998, was shelved until September 1999—perhaps the similarities to Wild Things (1998) were recognized by the studio. Coming to this film second, I feel to a substantial extent that I've been through a retread. That's a shame because the performances in Best Laid Plans are significantly better, without the obsessive need to have everyone look pretty as in Wild Things; Reese Witherspoon even spends a good deal of screen time looking just awful (although she also looks quite beautiful in the rest of the movie). Josh Brolin resembles a young Steven King in his part.

The production design, in an unusual move for a film noir, sticks primarily to warm colors, particularly orange. The camera is always active and is sometimes quite disorienting, such as when the actors spin as does the camera, forming little epicycles around each other. Craig Armstrong's score is supportive without being obtrusive or overbearing.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture is always clear and sharp, even in downconversion to 4:3. Colors are bright and vivid, and blacks are rich and deep. Fleshtones appear natural throughout. No pixelation was observed. The image is quite often beautiful. No picture damage whatsoever is visible.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The sound throughout is excellent and well balanced. Both Dolby Surround and 5.1 soundtracks are provided, and both sound quite good. The 5.1 track has more bass extension, but the Dolby Surround track is quite satisfactory for those without a 5.1 setup. Not much clear directionality was observed, although the surrounds are frequently active with both music and dialogue. No distortion or compression was noticed, and both music and dialogue sound natural and unforced.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Mike Barker and assistant director
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Fox has done a fine job with the extras on this disc. A director commentary, a passel of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, trailers galore and a featurette will keep you occupied for quite some time. Barker's commentary is quite informative and helpful as he points out the many clues and hints that certainly I missed the first time through. Occasionally, the discussion gets bogged down in describing obvious camera movement, but it usually goes on to describe exactly how the movements were created. The featurette is the typical pre-release promotional piece that adds little.

The deleted scenes are invaluable for this film; as noted above, they fill a number of holes and also resolve a plot point involving a condom that is raised in the finished film but immediately dropped. Most interesting is the deletion of a vagrant refuse-collecting character, Cal, who foreshadows Nick's future if he cannot escape from Tropico. They add a good deal of depth to the characters—particularly Witherspoon's—which is sorely missed from the finished film. Irritatingly, the disc goes to the MPAA 'R' rating screen for a few seconds after each deleted scene, before going back to the menu.

Fox has recently been releasing excellent special editions, and the extra content of this disc is definitely worthwhile to stand among them. The only other thing I would have liked to have seen was a commentary from the actors.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Best Laid Plans is an entertaining thriller that reads better if you go back and watch the deleted scenes afterwards, to fill in some of the blanks. A very good special edition with a great deal of worthwhile content. Recommended for mystery fans.


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