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Five Thrillers from Sony

Dark Country (October 17/10)

Thomas Jane's directorial debut, Dark Country follows honeymooning couple Dick (Jane) and Gina (Lauren German) as they encounter a mysterious, bloodied figure in the middle of the desert and subsequently find themselves caught up in an increasingly deadly game of cat and mouse. It's clear right from the opening frames that Jane is going for a hyper-stylized throwback to the film noir thrillers of the 1950s, yet, despite his best efforts, the first-time filmmaker is simply unable to transform the two protagonists into figures worthy of the viewer's interest and sympathy. Jane's reliance on visuals that are almost astonishingly garish - seriously, this must be the worst use of green-screen special effects since the technology was first introduced - certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the presence of an uneventful, downright interminable midsection that seems to transpire entirely within the confines of Dick's car (with the emphasis placed primarily on Dick and Gina's relentless squabbling as they attempt to find a way out of their progressively perilous situation). And although scripter Tab Murphy has included a handful of admittedly amusing moments - ie Gina, after discovering that a recently dug grave is too small, helpfully suggests cutting the head off a corpse to make it fit - Dark Country's pervasive lack of compelling elements cements its place as a misfire of impressively epic proportions (and this is to say nothing of the laughably nonsensical twist ending, which would seem like a stretch within a David Lynch film).

out of

Hardwired (October 21/10)

Though it possesses a kernel of an intriguing idea, Hardwired inevitably establishes itself as just another sloppy, run-of-the-mill direct-to-video actioner - with Cuba Gooding Jr's presence in the central role ultimately more sad than anything else. The film, which transpires "a few years from now," follows a grizzled war veteran (Gooding Jr's Luke Gibson) as he loses his wife in a car crash and is subsequently (and unknowingly) enrolled in an experimental science program, with the film primarily detailing the character's ongoing efforts at figuring out who (or what) is behind the ghostly visions he keeps seeing. There's little doubt that Hardwired opens with promise, as director Ernie Barbarash offers up an impressively ambitious credits sequence in which corporate logos are emblazoned on various world landmarks (ie the Pyramids, the Washington Monument, etc). The intriguing atmosphere proves to be short lived, however, as the movie segues into its increasingly tedious storyline almost immediately - with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by Gooding Jr's lazy, far-from-engaging turn as the tortured hero. The inclusion of a few admittedly striking sequences - ie a group of hackers help Luke escape from a perilous situation by flooding his vision with videogame-style tips - prevents Hardwired from becoming an all-out disaster, yet it's ultimately all-too-clear that the thin, barely-developed storyline wouldn't have passed muster on an episode of the '90s Outer Limits reboot.

out of

Legion (October 24/10)

Though it possesses an admittedly impressive cast and promising setup, Legion inevitably establishes itself as a disappointingly uneven and thoroughly pointless horror effort that often feels as though it were expanded from a short film. The movie, which follows a fallen angel (Paul Bettany's Michael) as he arrives at a desolate diner to protect its inhabitants from a coming armageddon, boasts an opening half hour that succeeds primarily due to the strength of the off-kilter cast's efforts, as the novelty of watching folks like Dennis Quaid, Charles S. Dutton, and, of course, Bettany work their way through a decidedly over-the-top premise is enough to sustain the viewer's interest at the outset. It's only as the film segues into its almost aggressively uneventful midsection that Legion becomes something of a chore to sit through, with the chatty atmosphere exacerbated by scripters Peter Schink and Scott Charles Stewart's decision to hold off on explaining exactly what's going on until the last possible minute. The subsequent lack of context ensures that much of what occurs in Legion simply feels like violence for violence's sake, yet it's just as clear that the big reveal ultimately doesn't do the movie any favors - as it's awfully silly and seems destined to remind most viewers of The Terminator (which only compounds the film's progressively tedious vibe). It's a shame, really, as Legion does feature one or two impressively conceived and executed interludes - ie a demonic old woman wreaks havoc within the diner - and Bettany is undeniably quite good in the central role, but the film's overall effect is, finally, one of pervasive needlessness.

out of

Mercy Streets (October 26/10)

Before it completely falls apart in its final half hour, Mercy Streets comes off as a compelling, surprisingly stylish little thriller that boasts a terrific performance from star David A.R. White. The storyline follows twin brothers John and Jeremiah (White), the former a crook and the latter a priest, as they're forced to switch places after John leads a notorious criminal (Eric Roberts' Rome) into Jeremiah's neck of the woods, with the film subsequently (and primarily) detailing the siblings' ongoing efforts at stepping into one another's lives (ie John attempts to fool Jeremiah's girlfriend, Cynthia Watros' Samantha, into believing that he's her beloved). Director Jon Gunn, working from a script cowritten with John Mann, effectively draws the viewer into the proceedings by emphasizing John's illicit activities and his association with Roberts' irresistibly sketchy character, with the film's highlight undoubtedly the sequence in which Rome walks John through a con that would net the pair a million-dollar payday. And while John's ongoing exploits prove to be far more compelling than Jeremiah's faith-based struggles, Gunn does a nice job of balancing the two storylines and ensuring that both John and Jeremiah remain consistently distinguishable from one another. There reaches a point, however, at which Mercy Streets begins to transform into a heavy-handed drama with spiritual overtones, with the characters' increasingly inexplicable actions - ie John as Jeremiah cruelly breaks up with Samantha - compounding the movie's sudden turnabout (and, it has to be noted, it does become awfully difficult to tell John from Jeremiah during this tedious stretch). The degree to which the film subsequently peters out is nothing short of shocking, and it's ultimately impossible to label Mercy Streets as anything more than an ambitious yet hopelessly uneven piece of work.

out of

Six: The Mark Unleashed (November 3/10)

An utterly worthless piece of work, Six: The Mark Unleashed unfolds within a futuristic landscape in which a mysterious figure known as The Leader has conquered the United States and essentially locked up everyone that doesn't conform to his (or her) very specific ideals. The storyline primarily follows Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Tom Newman as he attempts to track down the source of an increasingly prevalent rebellion, with his efforts eventually leading him to a crowded prison occupied primarily by religious fanatics awaiting execution (including Stephen Baldwin's Luke). Director Kevin Downes, working from a screenplay cowritten with Chip Lowell and David White, proves utterly unwilling (or unable) to effectively explain the rules governing this almost nonsensical society, as the scripters have infused the proceedings with bunches of head-scratching jargon and esoteric religious references yet there's never a point at which it's made completely clear how all of this has happened (or even why it's happened). The complete and total lack of subtlety within the proceedings undoubtedly exacerbates its many, many problems, with the filmmakers' Christian-themed agenda rammed down the viewer's throat on an almost impossibly pervasive basis (ie the majority of the movie's dialogue has been designed to further its heavy-handed point of view). It's subsequently not surprising to note that Six: The Mark Unleashed remains hopelessly uninvolving from start to finish, as the mind-boggling, downright infuriating incompetence on display instantly transforms the film into as unwatchable a piece of work as one can easily recall.

no stars out of

About the DVDs: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents all five of these movies in their proper aspect ratios, although, curiously, Mercy Streets is presented in a non-anamorphic 4X3 transfer (and without English-language subtitles).
© David Nusair