Written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by William Friedkin (who notoriously rewrote so much of Eszterhas' script that he at one point wanted his name taken off of the movie!), Jade was the recipient of a fair bit of hyperbole when it hit theater's in 1995. This was, after all, David Caruso's debut as a big screen leading man after he had risen to quite a bit of popularity thanks to his work on the hit TV series, NYPD Blue. It seemed like it would have been a hit - Friedkin was a proven director with a knack for suspense and action and joining Caruso in the cast were talented performers such as Chazz Palminteri and Linda Fiorentino - but the film was a commercial and critical failure and, along with Kiss Of Death, it cut Caruso's film career very short.
When the film begins, a man is murdered with an antique hatched inside a lavish home decorated with bizarre tribal artifacts. The Assistant District Attorney, Corelli (David Caruso), is called in to investigate and he finds a strange clue at the scene of the crime - a silver box with a Chinese character engraved on the bottom. A little bit of legwork and Corelli learns that the man who had the box made is in Chinatown. A quick interview tells him that the box was made in China as a gift to a rich man from a beautiful lady, but that's not too much to work off of. He does learn, however, that the character on the bottom means Jade.
As Corelli tries to figure out who Jade is, he becomes tangled in a web in which he finds out that his former flame, Trina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino) may be involved. Complicating things, however, is her marriage to a philandering lawyer named Matt (Chazz Palminteri) and some rather unorthodox ties to the Governor Lewis Edwards (Richard Creen), the most powerful man in the state of California, who just so happens to have a taste for beautiful women.
While it's entertaining enough, Jade has some very big problems. The script may have been rewritten extensively by the film's director but Eszterhas' stamp is still all over it. The man who gave us Basic Instinct, Sliver and Showgirls isn't the most subtle screenwriter to have made his mark on Hollywood and the sleazy sex and violence that made this aforementioned titles as popular as they were is employed here as well - but without the impact it's had in some of his other works. Part of the reason it lacks that impact is Caruso. An actor capable of delivering believable and intense performances, here he sort of walks his way through the movie without much emotion or obvious investment in a case that grows increasingly personal as it unravels. He was great in NYPD Blue and would return to form with his work on C.S.I. but here he seems uninterested and it almost sinks the ship. Almost.
There are a few things that at least partially redeem the film. First off, there's enough sex and violence here that even if it doesn't have the impact the script obviously want it to, it still provides some cheap thrills. Let's face it, Fiorentino looks good naked and while she's clothed for the vast majority of the film, when we do see her in full on seductress mode she's very effective. She plays her part well here, and looks just the type, vamping it up and using her sexuality as best she can. At the risk of sounding like a typical male pervert, however, the film could have used more of this. The sex is kniy enough that you'll notice and it's great to see her in control, but it stops a little short of really standing out. Palminteri plays the type of role he's known for, a bit over the top and a little smug, even sleazy, in spots, while Crenna does a fine job bringing the fairly one dimensional governor to life. Those surrounding Caruso's lead do a better job than he does.
There's also some solid direction from Friedkin, and though it's nowhere near as consistent as, say, The French Connection or To Live And Die In L.A. the film has some stand out moments. Friedkin's love of car chases gets a chance to shine through in a tense scene on the streets of San Francisco. It's not on par with Bullit (the standard which all San Francisco car chases shall be judged against) but it's still quite thrilling. There's also a great scene, as clichéd and stereotyped as it may be in some regards, where Corelli chases a suspect (Angie Everhart) through Chinatown. The film is also really well shot with some great cinematography and creative use of videotaped footage to help build suspense. As such, it's not a complete waste of time as some would have you believe, even if it doesn't rank as one of Friedkin's better movies.
Note: This is the R-rated version of the film. The unrated director's cut version was released on VHS by Paramount. There are some extended characterization bits which help to flesh things out a little bit more in the director's cut as well as some more graphic footage in the sex scenes. Lionsgate's standard definition DVD was also the R-rated cut, but it really would have been nice to see them step up and gives the film's fan base Friedkin's preferred version of the film.
Lionsgate presents Jade on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that offers only a mild improvement over the standard definition release. Facial close ups show more fine detail and colors are usually well defined but detail varies quite a bit from scene to scene. There isn't much in the way of print damage to complain about, only some fine grain, but the image quality does tend to be on the soft side in certain scenes. There aren't any obvious compression artifacts to note but check out the blood in the opening murder scene which looks more than just a little bit off. This is a watchable transfer but there's no doubt that the movie definitely could have looked better than it does here.
The sole audio mix offered on this disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, though subtitles are offered in English, English SDH and Spanish. The audio does sound a bit fuller than the track on the standard definition DVD did. The car chase, for example, has some really strong low end and good surround activity. That said, this isn't a track that'll blow you away. There could be more rear channel activity in some spots and there are times where it sounds a bit front heavy. That said, the dialogue is always clear and easy enough to understand and the levels are well balanced. On top of that, there aren't any audible defects to note. This isn't reference quality by any stretch but it sounds okay.
Lionsgate has supplied menus, chapter selection, a bookmarking option, and a trailer. That's it. There's no commentary, no featurette, no documentary, no extended or deleted scenes - just the trailer - given the film's odd history and the issues that existed between Friedkin and Esterhas, the makings of a great retrospective look at the picture were certainly there, but Lionsgate couldn't be bothered to do anything more than the bare minimum here.
Despite the heavy thrashing that Jade took from a lot of critics when it bombed in theaters in 1995, it's not nearly as bad as its reputation would have you believe. While it's far from Friedkin's finest and it definitely has its share of problems, it makes up for that by moving at a good pace and upping the sleaze factor to the point where this plays more like a raunchy exploitation B-movie than the big budget major studio production that it is. In short, it's no masterpiece, but it's entertaining enough. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release, however, is a bit of a wasted opportunity. The audio and video quality don't offer as much of an upgrade as most fans are going to want and the only extra on board is a trailer. On top of that, this is the R-rated cut, and not the director's cut. As such, it's worth seeing but hard to wholeheartedly recommend as a purchase. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.