Mail Order Bride:
DVDs like the Hallmark Channel's Mail Order Bride should logically be losing market share by the bucket load. Made for a very specific audience, this movie has already aired on Cable TV, and is of a distinctly disposable variety, so everyone who wanted to see it has already done so, right? I mean, everyone has Cable TV these days, right? Well, we don't, and my wife is an avowed member of the Hallmark Channel demographic, so here we go!
Thing is, even the wife didn't cotton too much to this story of a wild-west con woman on the run. Seems Hallmark movies only work for her if she's forced to catch them on a Sunday night, sitting through infrequent tear-jerking commercials for greeting cards. It's part of the experience. This experience involves Daphne (Melrose Place) Zuniga and Cameron Bancroft making romance in the wilds of Wyoming or somewhere. Diana McQueen (Zuniga) is on the run from her Fagin-like boss Rourke, (Greg Evigan) a scoundrel of pure evil who's not averse to luring young trollops into a life of crime, and disposing of them should they interfere with his money. Using her citified, conniving ways to impersonate a mail order bride on the range, McQueen finds an easy mark in lovelorn rancher-with-a-past Beau Canfield (Bancroft). Now, is she going to merely fleece the hicks on her way to San Francisco, or get all messed up and fall for Canfield? As previously mentioned, Hallmark movies are made for a very specific audience, so I'll leave you to decide whether you want to watch, and if so, you already know how it turns out.
Will that audience be entranced enough by Mail Order Bride to want to buy it? Perhaps, perhaps - but only if they have plenty of disposable income, because while Bride is engaging enough, its interesting ideas - and there are a few - get trotted out and quickly dismissed. Further hampering things are unconvincing performances from both Zuniga and Evigan. A somewhat dull set-up has me glancing at my watch, but by the time McQueen hits the frontier my interest is held just enough. That's saying something, since this is most definitely not my kind of movie. But those things that manage to keep me interested, breeziness, a light touch, lots of plot points and the still hot Zuniga also permanently relegate Bride to 'mere diversion' status.
Keeping Bride interesting are such elements as McQueen's blithe thievery - she can't seem to stop ripping people off - and her fish-out-of-water struggles on the frontier, not to mention McQueen's brother's odd demeanor, or Canfield's mysterious past. Any one of these things explored in full could make a really interesting film, but most of them exist just to fit pieces into place (if you catch my drift, and I know you do). Much romance could come just from delving deeply into McQueen's hardships on the range with stoic horn-dog Canfield - before her past comes to collect - but only about 5 minutes is devoted to this, whereas the rest of the time we get McQueen taunting Canfield about his long dry spell while flashing a bit of stocking-ed thigh (not that I'm complaining about the thigh, mind you).
Real problems arise when neither villain nor heroine bring it enough to truly convince. Bancroft is sturdy, guarded and desperate as lovelorn Canfield, nicely delivering on the promise of rugged romance. Even his crusty cook/ partner fits the bill nicely. But Evigan comes off too slick and modern. While thoroughly reprehensible, Rourke's demeanor and the pace with which he operates, brings too much 20th Century to the table. Zuniga, too can't quite cross over. Her mischievous character demands a seriously deft touch, and Zuniga can't seem to ground things. With a glint in her eye she picks pockets, and she pouts adequately while forced to trudge through the mud, but something about her lightness constantly draws me out of the story. Of all the characters in Mail Order Bride, Zuniga truly seems like a time traveler, brought in from 2008 to see what's going on. These deficiencies mean this Bride might be best left at the altar.
A 1.78:1 ratio widescreen presentation is about what you'd expect from a TV movie on DVD. Likely due to stylistic choices the image is often a bit soft and gauzy, though detail levels are OK. Colors are mostly rich and warm, but not terribly vibrant. The transfer is decent, with some mild posterizing in shadowy areas. It's not a knock-your-socks-off picture, but certainly serviceable.
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio in English touts mild use of stereo placement, and good balance between elements. Dynamic range is about average, and no audio distortion is evident.
Closed Captioning supplements the audio track, and there are a few other extras to boot. Interviews with the three principal actors total about 11 minutes, and are of the mildly interesting EPK variety, while four Featurettes tackle in about 15 minutes (in similar EPK/ BTS fashion) elements of production such as ridin' and shootin'.
Though not as tear-jerking a Hallmark story as my wife would like, (in fact not tear-jerking at all) Mail Order Bride salts its mildly melodramatic tale of willful womanly mischief on the frontier with some convincing - and some not-so convincing - performances, and enough interesting plot-points to keep even the most stalwart viewer semi-interested. Deeper examination of any one of the movie's more salient points probably would have lead to a more compelling experience, but for fans of the goofy, soapy stuff, this might rate a Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com