When I tell you that Linewatch, a straight-to-DVD movie now available in your local video store, is about a border patrol agent on the US-Mexico border, you will probably assume that the film has something to say. It is probably up to date and politically relevant, most likely a movie that takes a side on the illegal immigration issue. Well, the film is about a border patrol agent, but it has no relevancy whatsoever, and it fails to say anything about the times we live in. In short, it's just another unexceptional movie, saying about as much about illegal immigration and national security as that last "Barney" episode.
The main attraction of this 2008 film is its star, Cub Gooding Jr., who plays Mike "Mad Dog" Dixon. He is the border agent, a man with a strong sense of justice, living in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico with his wife, Angela (Sharon Leal), and daughter (Deja Warrior). We see that he upholds the law in a fair way, but he also can get a little rough when driven to it. He discovers some murdered Mexicans near the border at the film's opening, and the hunt for the killer leads to a run in with one of his former gang friends from Los Angeles. It seems that his past is catching up to him; Dixon was a gang banger with the HNG's (Hell Needs Gangsters) who committed heinous crimes. He fouls up a drug deal the gang is now trying to make with some Mexican outlaws, so they come all the way out to his home (!) and hold his family hostage until he helps them complete it. The HNG's, led by Dixon's former lackey Kimo (Omari Hardwick), need him and his influence as a border patrol agent. Soon, Dixon's trying to make the exchange while keeping his family alive and appearing innocent to his boss and coworkers.
Let me make it clear that director Kevin Bray (Walking Tall) has made what is, in fact, a gangster movie (of the hip hop variety). Rap blares on the soundtrack, the f-bomb and n-word are dropped a lot, and people drive SUV's with shiny rims. The second half of the film's screen time is dominated by the HNG's, having nothing to do with immigration. This leads to a weird mish-mosh of a film, one that looks like a Western but is populated by gangsters and quickly loses its focus and meaning.
The film does have one twist involving the youngest HNG, Little Boy (Evan Ross), and his relationship with Dixon, but other than that, it's straightforward. Most things happen to create action scenes. Minutemen do appear in the film, but it turns out they were only introduced so that they can show up later and die in a shootout. When Dixon first encounters them, we see that they are white, racist rednecks who hate Mexicans and are too stupid to even keep themselves safe. They're completely one-dimensional; I didn't see that one coming.
The plot has quite a few holes in it. Once Dixon agrees to help the HNG's, he makes no effort to hide who he's with or who he is, even when they stop at a gas station. If this is really a small town in the middle of nowhere, certainly people will recognize a border patrol agent, in uniform, hanging out with a bunch of thugged-out gangsters. The drug deal, which is supposedly a logistical challenge that needs Dixon's expertise to pull off, ends up being nothing but a meeting on a hill with some Mexican outlaws. It is also an unbelievably congenial drug deal in which no one checks to make sure that they're actually getting what they were promised. Also, we watch the gangsters throw quite a lot of drugs into the back of their SUV, but we later hear one of them tell Kimo that they ended up 35 pounds short. Thirty-five pounds? Really? Is that even possible? And that much doesn't outrage Kimo? That looked like the total weight of every backpack they threw in their car. Oh, by the way, and this shouldn't be too much of a spoiler: in the end, there are no repercussions on Dixon that he did, in fact, help them with a huge drug deal. Nor does he go to prison for past crimes.
That being said, Linewatch is not horribly made. The dialogue and acting are good, and the visuals are clear. Gooding fans will want to check out his performance; the character study of Dixon is about the only mysterious part of the movie. Apparently, this ex-gangster, who has committed murder, doesn't even swear in his home, now.
Linewatch is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1, so it's super wide. Yeah, it looks good; any 35 mm film with half a budget does these days. The wide view created by the anamorphic frame is, of course, perfect for the vistas of the American West. They are photographed well under Bray's direction by cinematographer Paul M. Sommers. (Sommers is no Roger Deakins, however. See No Country for Old Men.) There are lots of extreme long shots of the landscape with small people or cars dotting it. The image is enhanced perfectly to fit widescreen TV's, but it's going to look like you're wasting half of your TV if you watch this on a 4x3 set; the letterboxes will be huge. If you're going to watch Linewatch, you might as well look at the whole image.
There are a boatload of audio options on this DVD. All of them are in 5.1-surround, and the languages are in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and French. To me, this much effort is ludicrous, and I will half-jokingly propose that the cost of dubbing Linewatch into all of these languages matched the cost of the entire film itself. However, the 5.1 programming sounds fine. The bass on the hip hop soundtrack is deep, and the gunshots sound pretty good.
There are also a ridiculous amount of subtitle options, in case the Thai- and Portuguese-speakers who buy this DVD don't appreciate the effort put into the dubbing. The subtitles are in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, and Chinese.
The Special Features
There is one special feature on this DVD, and it's a featurette called "Crossing Borders: Behind the Scenes of Linewatch." It has on-screen interviews with all of the major cast and crew. It is a pretty basic doc, discussing everything from stunts to pre-vis. The filmmakers talk their movie up a whole lot more than I think it deserves. It is 16x9 and enhanced for widescreen TV's, and it is 18 minutes long.
In light of the number of high quality DVD's out there, containing movies you actually heard of being released theatrically, combined with the lack of thought-provoking material on this one and its short length, I can't recommend it for a purchase. This is typical of straight-to-DVD stuff. Is this a line that shouldn't be crossed? "Rent It."