Former WWE Champion 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin (or, if you were a WCW fan, 'Stunning' Steve Austin) may not have had the same sort of success in the movies as Duane 'The Rock' Johnson did before him, but he had an effective tough guy presence in The Condemned and hey, he's got a role in the upcoming The Expendables alongside Stallone, Li, Statham and a few other action film luminaries. And then there's this film, The Stranger, a straight to video picture directed by Robert Lieberman and released on DVD and Blu-ray by Anchor Bay.
At any rate, the movie follows a Federal Agent who, when we meet him, is suffering from serious amnesia after having been dealt some serious blows, both physical and emotional. This man, or stranger if you will, remembers only bits and pieces of his former life - just enough that he knows a whole lot is missing and that he'd best piece it all back together again. Surprisingly enough, while details of his personal life remain very vague, he still remembers how to kick all kinds of ass and speak all sorts of foreign languages, so things could be worse for our mysterious hero. Regardless, he wants to know what happened to him and who did it, so he sets about trying to figure all of that out. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people want to stop him before that happens, even if it means putting a bullet between his eyes.
The only person this guy remembers enough to be able to reach out to is his doctor, Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra), who is not only a handy person to know, but a fun person to look at. She's also connected enough that she's able to enlist the aid of Federal Agent Mason Reese (Adam Beech). The three of them work together to piece together his past but also to uncover the truth about why his memory was wiped out in the first place and who was responsible for it. He sets out on a path of righteous vengeance and winds up on a mission that will take him to the far reaches of the government and place his very existence in jeopardy with the Russian mob.
The Stranger is basically a retread of The Bourne Identity but not nearly as interesting or as well made. Not only is the plot similar, but so too is the cinematography which means that you're in for a lot of handheld shaky camera work and dizzying close-in fight scenes alongside some artificially produced grain to give the movie its tough and dirty look. We've seen this done before and we've seen it done more effectively than it's used in this particular film. On top of that, the film makes use of a really bland color palette, overdoing it in the grim and gritty department and ensuring that a lot of its action takes place indoors or at night. The Stranger really isn't much to look at.
Austin more or less grunts his way through the picture, and while he's certainly not the world's greatest actor, he is at least believable in the moments where the film requires him to beat the bejeezus out of the bad guys. Some scenes of intense and sporadic violence ground the film in R-Rated territory, but don't really make up for the plot, which meanders all over the place and never really seems to hit its stride. On top of that, Austin has next to no chemistry with his co-stars, and the scenes he shares with Beech and more specifically with the lovely Ms. Cerra come across as awkward and forced. In The Condemned he was more or less set loose on an island and allowed to kill anyone and everyone who got in his way - here he's required to emote a bit and he just doesn't really succeed in the more dramatic parts of the movie. He's a likeable guy and he has a fair bit of natural charisma, but you wouldn't really know it from his work here.
The film does offer enough action and suspense that less discerning action movie fans can still have a good time with it. The film brings absolutely nothing new to the table and it isn't even really good as a Bourne knock-off, but it does provide enough footage of Austin beating people up and shooting at people that it's just barely passable as Z-grade entertainment.
The Stranger looks like the low budget straight to video release that is on this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition transfer. While this Blu-ray disc offers more detail and texture than would be present on the standard definition release, the film's bleak color palette doesn't really lend itself to high definition awesomeness. Skin tones look decent enough and close up shots show off a fair bit of detail in that regard, but backgrounds look a bit smeary, sometimes rather flat, and are frequently pretty bland looking. Black levels wander a bit and some crush is obvious in more than a few scenes. Contrast wavers from scene to scene and the picture is fairly inconsistent, the only constant really being the glum looking colors which isn't so much the fault of the transfer as it is just the way that the movie was meant to look. There are some instances of really noticeable macro-blocking that occur once or twice, but generally things are watchable enough, even if they never approach great in appearance.
For some reason, the Blu-ray defaults to a standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, but if you cruise through the menus or change tracks with your remote, you'll find that there's actually a lossless PCM 5.1 track included here as well. While this isn't an amazing track, the PCM mix sounds decent enough. Gun shots don't pack quite as much punch as you might hope they would but the levels are generally well balanced and dialogue is easy to understand. The track is fairly front heavy but surround usage is noticeable throughout the movie and some fun directional effects help things out in that department. Both 5.1 tracks are in English, while subtitles are offered in English SDH and Spanish.
Extras are pretty slim on this release. Aside from the film's original theatrical trailer, there's a six minute featurette entitled The Stranger: Behind The Scenes. Here we get a chance to see the film's director deal with his actors on set and a chance to hear Steve Austin discuss his character and how awesome he is. A few unrelated trailers play before you're able to get to the main menu screen. All of the supplements on this disc are in high definition, but there's not really very much here.
The Stranger isn't all that original or really all that smart but it's got a few decent action scenes despite a fairly uninspired performance from Austin in the lead. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch this one over and over again, but as far as completely mindless diversions go, you could do worse. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray doesn't look much better than just okay but it sounds fairly decent even if it is light on extras. Hardly essential viewing, but low budget action movie fans or Austin devotees might want to rent it on a slow, weekend afternoon - everyone else can safely skip this one.
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.