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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Urban Works // R // June 8, 2004
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted October 8, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

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.

The DVD

Video:

Skin Deep  is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and the transfer has not 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.

Audio:

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, except 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. 

Extras:

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, and Commitments .

Final Thoughts:

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 Paso.

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