Luis Llosa directed this 1994 ultra-slick film in which Sylvester Stallone plays a man named Ray Quick who was once the C.I.A.'s foremost bomb expert but who has now retired from that career to give it a go on his own as an explosives expert in Miami. His life changes when a woman named May Munro (Sharon Stone) loses her parents and decides that she wants revenge. She hears of Ray and decides that he is the man for the job and so she sets about trying to find him and to convince him that he should help her. Quick is understandably reluctant to get involved with this person he doesn't know, let alone blow up a few bad guys for her on her behalf, but things change once he learns who these three guys are. The main bad guy is named Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts), but she also wants to take out his old man, a high ranking mobster named Joe Leon (Rod Steiger) and, more interesting to Quick than anyone else, a guy named Ned Trent (James Woods) who was Quick's partner back in his C.I.A. days.
When Quick eventually does decide to help May out, their relationship takes a few different twists and turns and eventually they're showering together. Meanwhile, the bad guys have seemingly got every cop in Miami in their pocket and are none too happy about Quick's decision to come on board with May and are more than willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate them both - but who can Ray trust?
Set to a pretty solid score from John Barry, The Specialist is pretty much an exercise in style over substance but if you're in the right frame of mind for it the movie can be a lot of fun. It's the action set pieces here that come first, way before plot and character development and even before sex appeal, and Llosa, who also directed Anaconda and Sniper and as such is no stranger to the genre, stages these scenes well. There's some good tension here and the film does a solid job of building up to the set pieces rather than just throwing them at us. In addition to some solid firefights and explosions aplenty, there are also a couple of impressive hand to hand combat scenes as well, so at least there's a bit of variety here.
As far as the aforementioned sex appeal goes, Llosa lays it on pretty thick. Stallone was obviously in fantastic shape when he made this movie and has no qualms whatsoever about showing himself off. The same can be said of Sharon Stone, who has rarely looked better than she does in this movie. It's almost as if certain scenes in the film were written with the express intention of letting the camera ogle the two stars, and there's no shortage of provocative angles used throughout the film. Not only do they look great here, but their performances are good as well, at least when you consider what they had to work with. The script is fairly predictable and derivative and it doesn't exactly strive to take the action move in any sort of new or original direction, but our two stars play their parts with plenty of charisma and they interact well together on screen. The supporting performances from Wood, Steiger and Roberts as the three antagonists are also a lot of fun, each as evil as can be and seemingly entirely happy about that. They overdo it a bit here and there but the movie is all the more fun for it.
Original? Innovative? Intelligent? No, these words don't necessarily describe The Specialist but if you're in the mood for some over the top fun shot with a great eye for compositions and set to an impressive score with a great cast, it certainly fits the bill.
The Specialist looks pretty good in this AVC encoded 1.781 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. Colors are bright and bold without looking oversaturated or too boosted and while the movie looks a little hot in certain scenes, this has always been the case and it was obviously a stylistic choice. Skin tones generally look nice and lifelike, if a little too hot, and detail is noticeably improved over the DVD release, especially in close up shots but also noticeable in medium and long distance shots as well. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or anything but minor edge enhancement nor is there any obvious noise reduction to note. Black levels remain pretty strong from start to finish
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on this disc is a pretty solid one though you can't expect to get too much out of the rear channels aside from some of John Barry's score here and there as almost all of the action comes from the front of the mix. Bass response is very strong here, you'll notice it right from the opening scene and then all the way through the movie, particularly any time a gun goes off or something explodes, which is fairly frequent. Dialogue is never a problem to understand, it comes through quite clearly and distinctly while effects are fairly punchy and strong. The levels are well balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion of not. Could this have been more aggressive in certain ways? Yes, but if you remember how this sounded in theaters you'll probably note that this is a pretty accurate representation of that experience.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese with subtitles available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and last but not least, Swedish.
Aside from some simple menus and chapter selection, there are no extra features at all on this release aside from the film's original theatrical trailer which is presented in standard definition.
Despite the fact that there aren't really any extras here, The Specialist still comes recommended for action movie fans as, as clichéd and unrealistic as it may be in spots, it's a lot of fun and features two pretty solid lead performances from Stallone and Stone. Warner's Blu-ray is almost barebones but at least it looks and sounds very good and offers up a decent upgrade from the equally supplement free standard definition DVD release from a few years back.
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.