I don't think too highly of direct-to-video action movies. I've seen my share, and each one is almost indistinguishable from
the rest of the dismal lot. Take a washed-up '80s star, a few million dollars, one of several stock plots, and an
unimaginative title, and your movie is suddenly in every Blockbuster Video from here to Poughkeepsie. My first instinct when
In The Shadows arrived in my mailbox was to ponder which cookie-cutter premise I'd be blessed with this time around.
Would a wronged law officer have to bend the rules in order to clear his name and nab the real criminal? Maybe a mismatched
pair would team up only to hate each other, like each other, hate either other, then like each other again just in time to
discover that the mastermind of whatever dastardly plot is none other than some close friend or associate. Ooh, or an
officer with some vital item or piece of information whose daughter/wife/son (in descending order of frequency) is kidnapped
in order to obtain said MacGuffin? There's always the tried-and-true "you killed my wife and child/children!" vengeance
angle, or something about drug trafficking. I knew the peg of In The Shadows would have to fit squarely into one fo
those holes. If it helps emphasize the point I'm about to make, feel free to imagine that I'm doing the sarcastic quote
gesture with my index and middle fingers around 'knew' in the previous sentence. Despite outward appearances and a trailer
that certainly points towards warmed-over filmmaking, In The Shadows is a surprisingly original and refreshing change
from typical direct-to-video fare.
A hefty percentage of that can probably be attributed to the fact that In The Shadows wasn't intended to limp directly
onto video store shelves. At least, In The Shadows was slated to enjoy a theatrical run in foreign markets. The film
was budgeted at $10 million, a thoroughly modest sum by theatrical standards but quite a bit more than your average Dolph
Lundgren DTV epic. Perhaps there were also plans to bring In The Shadows to the silver screen domestically, but
something apparently went wrong at some point during the lengthy post-production process. Principal photography wrapped over
two years ago, and In The Shadows disappeared...well, in the shadows for many months before resurfacing with a
tentative video release date for Fall 2001. Two delays later, the film has finally clawed its way onto DVD courtesy of
Lion's Gate Home Entertainment.
In The Shadows was written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, his first credited outing wearing either of those hats.
Waugh is a veteran stuntman who entered the industry at the tender age of 16 and has contributed his talents to some thirty
movies, including Road House, Total Recall, Days of Thunder, and the remake of Gone in 60
Seconds. The subject matter of in The Shadows isn't alien to Waugh, as vague as its title may be. Matthew Modine
stars as hitman Eric O'Byrne, whose conscience leads him to forget the cardinal rule that dead men don't tell tales. As a
result of a split-second decision to let a witness go, Eric was fingered and winds up in the slammer. Fortunately, he is
pals with Jimmy Pierazzi (Lillo Brancato), the nephew of an aging crime lord with enough influence to get Eric off the hook.
The hitman doesn't have an opportunity to give Jimmy a thumbs-up for his assistance, as the erstwhile stunt man is killed
during a firebombing sequence gone awry. The family demands retribution, and Eric is sent to ice the film's grizzled stunt
coordinator, Lance Cooper (James Caan). While waiting for members of the family to arrive to witness the murder, Eric
inadvertently befriends Lance and takes a shining to his daughter Clarissa (Joey Lauren Adams). No stranger to putting his
life on the line, Eric implores Lance to teach him about stuntwork and at long last seems to be content. He soon discovers
the family's ulterior motive in his trip to Miami, though, and a dispute involve the late Jimmy, $2 million in cash, a drug
runner with his own agenda (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), and a cache of black market medicine puts Eric and the Coopers in the middle
of a crossfire.
What I consider to be In The Shadows' greatest benefit is probably what kept it out of theaters domestically. The
plot diverts from many of the usual conventions, and it's not a "thrill-a-minute" sort of movie. Time is taken to develop
the characters and their relationships with one another, though not at the expense of pacing. That's not to say that this is
a character piece, but the reasonable amount of time between action sequences seems appropriate and serves to build interest
in those sequences to come. I love plummeting on rollercoasters as much as the next guy, but just as I wouldn't be
interested in riding a coaster that doesn't go anywhere but down, I find 100 minutes of endless action to be unbearably droll. That's
why The Mummy Returns was unwatchable the second time around, while I'm confident that In The Shadows will hold
up well to repeat viewings. The dark ending undoubtedly tested poorly with audiences, and it is not cut from the 'hero
riding off into the sunset with his lady love' cloth. I would elaborate, but I'd prefer to avoid spoiling it for any viewers
who may be interested in seeing this film.
Though In The Shadows may be lumped under the "Action/Adventure" banner at the corner video store, don't let the usual
direct-to-video action stereotypes bog you down. Ric Roman Waugh is competent behind the camera for his directorial debut,
and the film benefits from a strong cast. James Caan in particular stands out, though a little Cuba Gooding, Jr. goes a
long, long way. The DVD release from Lion's Gate Home Entertainment has the sparse supplemental material that often
accompany such delayed movies, but the disc looks and sounds quite nice.
Video: In The Shadows is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The film has somewhat of a stylized appearance, making frequent and intentional use of a subdued palette and film grain.
Because of this, In The Shadows may not be the first disc to reach for as demo material, but the filmmakers'
intentions appear to be represented very well with this DVD release. I only spotted speckling to any appreciable extent when
Lance and company were hang-gliding. I thought perhaps this was due to the inclusion of some stock footage, but a couple of
small black dots appeared as he was landing as well. Detail is at times striking, particularly in the handful of extreme
close-ups where every pore and each individual hair in eyebrows is easily distinguishable. In a rather small percentage of
shots, contrast seemed a little murky, but perhaps that too is representative of how the film was shot. As would be expected
from such a recent production, the print is in pristine condition, and no tears, scratches, or nicks are present. I did not
notice any intrusive haloing either. In The Shadows boasts a look that diverts somewhat from the norm, but the film
appears to be presented accurately and attractively on DVD.
Audio: My DVD watching over the past few weeks has consisted almost entirely of comedies and discs with lackluster mono and stereo tracks. I'd almost forgotten how a great Dolby Digital 5.1 mix can get the blood pumping, and In The Shadows' audio is particularly invigorating. The overall number of action and stunt sequences may be comparatively low, but the quality of the audio makes them seem seven or eight times better than they would have otherwise. These scenes, particularly the firebomb of the decrepit church and the high-speed sheriff cruiser crash, are among the most immersive in an already impressive mix, unrelentingly sucking me into the action. The audio also offers occasional smooth panning across the soundstage, some outstanding split-surround effects, and thundering bass from the LFE channel. Even general ambient sounds during outdoor strolls and nasty weather are rendered in a more varied, realistic way than I typically encounter on DVD. I was also pleased with the choral portions of the score. Instead of the surrounds merely reinforcing the music, particular voices in the arrangement are relegated to certain channels. Dialogue remains clear throughout, though Draven did sound oddly tinny in his conversation with Sal around the 44 minute mark. I'm tempted to say that I'd be willing to shelve the pod race sequence in The Phantom Menace and pair Toy Story 2 with In The Shadows the next time I feel the need to show off the capabilities of six-channel audio.
There is not a stereo downmix, nor are there any alternate language tracks. English Closed Captions and subtitles in English and Spanish have been provided.
Supplements: The only extra is a full-frame trailer for In The Shadows that strips away everything that makes
the film stand out above the rest. A quick click on the Lion's Gate logo turns up a letterboxed trailer for American
Psycho 2 (hey, was that Lindy Booth?) and a full-frame trailer for Lantana.
Conclusion: Don't be turned off by the fact that In The Shadows is a direct to video 'action movie'. The
production values are theatrical quality, the cast is effective, and the plot takes a welcomed turn from the norm. Factor
all of that in with the respectable quality of the DVD's presentation, and you're left with a strong rental or a decent
purchase. Available online for as low as $17 shipped, In The Shadows is Recommended.