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"We had it all timed out. It should have worked."
DVD ReviewIn Living & Dying, Edward Furlong and Bai Ling lead a small group of armed robbers who hit the payroll vault of a powerful businessman, only to find themselves thrust into a somewhat askew and violent hostage situation at a nearby diner. Arnold Vosloo is the exasperated detective-turned-negotiator, while Michael Madsen eventually saunters in as a cocky Federal agent ready to shoot first and ask questions later.
Not a bad premise—and the film does its best to toss out a steady volley of gunfire and mayhem—but there's a hard-to-ignore degree of unintentionally awful dialogue and a low budget minimalism that makes too many scenes look noticeably barren, where in reality they would be chaotic.
There's a nice Tarantino-lite edge to the more violent aspects of the story—though I really could have done without the rape sequence later on. The bad guys are genuinely bad (even their names sound mean) and the first act twist sets up an edgy middle portion that unfortunately gets too tilted for its own good. That's a lot of plates for a young director to keep spinning for 90 minutes, and writer/director Jon Keeyes comes out of the gate pretty well, only to have any modicum tension diluted by out-of-place accents and some cheesy dialogue (one character actually says "I've got a bad feeling about this...").
I don't want to carelessly run this one through the meat grinder, because I'm sure what we're seeing is really all that we could get. There's the makings of a fairly fun plot underneath the sloppy stuff, but the dialogue really could use some tweaks—most notably the unintentionally awful lines uttered by every member of law enforcement. Curiously, the bad cop dialogue just makes the neatly coarse flow of the bad guys' conversations sound richer. Keeyes was clearly working with very little overhead, and that's where a Furlong, Madsen, and even a Vosloo should be kicking the whole thing up a notch.
Well, one out of three ain't bad. Furlong does give a fun performance, kind of like a foul-mouthed Michael J. Fox, while somehow Madsen seems to be in full-on caricature mode, seemingly doing an impression of Madsen doing an impression of Madsen. And no offense to Vosloo; the cornball dialogue that falls out of his mouth probably couldn't have been saved by the most eloquent thespian. As is often the case with a genre title like this, the villains get the best lines, but the stuff Vosloo's detective character has to mutter is hopelessly cliché.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: HBO has issued Living & Dying in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with bright colors—yep, there's lots of very red blood. The transfer is marred slightly by a few instances of speckling, but otherwise a rather decent offering.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix makes the most of the gunfights, bringing the rear channels into play frequently. Most of the weapons have a nice deep pop to them, lending some elevated suspense to the action bits. No issues with voice clarity, and there's a nice sense of directional pans, too.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Rush Hour 3, Shoot 'Em Up, The Number 23
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jon Keeyes
Extras Review: Writer/director Jon Keeyes provides a commentary track that didn't make me like this film all that much more, but it did make me appreciate his intent, at least. Keeyes gives a nice backstory on the project and its development, and if anything made me appreciate a little of the whole indie production process.
Of less interest—and somewhat more generic—is A Day In The Life Of Living & Dying (12m:39s), with cast and crew offering their remembrances, serving up platitudes and general happy talk.
The disc is cut into 11 chapters, with optional subs in English or Spanish.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsI'm putting Jon Keeyes in my imaginary "look for him in the future" pile, when I'm guessing he'll maybe have a bigger budget and a tighter script to work with. I can't fault the guy for not having much cashflow, and I liked a lot of the plot machinations in Living & Dying, but the scenes with Arnold Vosloo and the police command center are just painful to watch.
You can put me down for a good hostage-situation-gone-wrong flick anytime, but while Keeyes shows himself not shy about pumping rounds into anything that moves (a plus!), the dialogue here is the real killer.
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