Skin Deep, the 2003 film from
writer/director Sacha Parisot and writer/producer Ken Karn, is notable for
exploring issues of class and race divisions, the acceptance of interracial
dating and miscegenation, societal norms and expectations in relation to
ethnicity, and the argument of fidelity being either the cause or repercussion
of a sexless, conflicted marriage. The film was the recipient of several awards,
including Best Actor (Steve White) and Best Film from the
American Black Film Festival 2003, Best Director from the NY
International Independent Film and Video Festival, and Best Film
from the Jamaican Film and Music Festival. A thriller at heart, the film presents an
exploration of social issues under a ticking clock of fear, suspicious, and paranoia,
expressed from a predominantly African-American point of view.
It makes for an interesting perspective, but it's one lousy movie.
The plot is straightforward enough. Anthony (Mailon Rivera) is successful
black engineer, living an affluent lifestyle in the hills with his wife Victoria
(Kristen Shaw), who is white. Their marriage is strained and mostly sexless, and
Anthony is having an affair with his co-worker Alex (the talented and way sexy
Debra Wilson, best known from her long-running stint on Mad TV).
Debra is passionate, seductive, and madly alluring; their love scene that opens
the movie is particularly scorching. Unfortunately, she's about as stable as a
jello harpsichord, and when Anthony tells her that he is returning to his wife
you know where this movie is headed.
Back at home, Anthony and Victoria spend the afternoon entertaining their
married friends Michael (Steve White) and Sarah (A. J. Johnson). Michael is
Anthony's best friend and childhood buddy, but their relationship is strained
when Michael asks Anthony for $100,000 to cover his stock market losses. Michael
is also not averse to arguing about the problems of
interracial relationships in front of his friends. Meanwhile, his
wild and free-spirited wife A. J. finds nothing wrong with hitting on
Victoria and blowing Michael in the hot tub (in front of everyone). When later
that afternoon she turns up dead in the hot tub, everything suddenly goes to
hell. Did Michael kill his wife to grab some insurance money, as Anthony had
jokingly suggested? Did Victoria do it in response to A. J.'s lesbian overtures?
Or was Alex somehow involved? Then there's the possibility that A. J.
accidentally drowned, but would the police ever believe the word of two black
men, especially one married to a white woman?
It's hard to say where Skin Deep falters the
most. The script is mostly laughable, with some extremely cliched and expository
dialogue. The plot touches upon some interesting issues but only gives them a
cursory examination, and the resolution of the central plot is fairly rote and
predictable. I liked some of the performances, especially those of Steve White
and Debra Wilson, but they're constantly being hamstrung by script that turns
their characters into caricatures. By the time the film wound down to its
resolution, I found myself not caring about any of these people or their
experiences. There are many fantastic films that explore the African-American
experience in contemporary culture, but unfortunately Skin
Deep is not one of them.
presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and the transfer has
been anamorphically enhanced. The overall
quality of the transfer is smooth and noise-free, but the feature
suffers from a mute color scheme and some poor contrasts. Black
levels are thin, and low-lit scenes suffer with images that seem to recede
into the background. Image detail is reasonably sharp, and there is little compression
noise or edge-enhancement. The overall video quality is OK,
but he lack of an anamorphic transfer, stronger colors, and deeper contrasts hurt
the total rating.
The audio is presented
in Dolby Digital 5.1. Skin Deep is mostly a
quiet film, occasionally punctuated by the film's score or on-screen action
that open up the soundstage. For the most part, this is a
frontstage, center channel experience. This would generally be acceptable,
for the fact that
dialog levels are insanely low. Constantly I was
reaching for my
receiver remote to understand what the characters were saying. And this wasn't whispered or
muted dialog either, but normal speaking tones. This is a disappointment in an
otherwise satisfactory soundtrack.
Skin Deep comes equipped with not one but two audio
commentaries: one with writer/director Sacha Parisot and
writer/producer Ken Karn, the other with actors Mailon Rivera and Steve White.
There are also trailers for Skin Deep, Fire and
Ice, Rhapsody, Incognito, Rendezvous,
Playing with Fire, Midnight Blue, Hidden Blessings,
Skin Deep is a wash of a film,
but I wouldn't mind seeing further work from this crew. Director Sacha Parisot
has a keen sense of visual composition and can stage a scene quite effectively,
and the cast was generally quite strong. But with a script as lousy as this one,
nobody could have made a decent film. The DVD has some substantial
extras, making it worthwhile for fans of the work, but otherwise you can give
Skin Deep the old El