Although it's never really a good idea to encourage doing the bare minimum, there's also something to be said about kicking a ball between the goalposts of "don't reinvent the wheel" and "don't bite off more than you can chew." If I'm at the Redbox or a Blockbuster looking for something with guns and explosions that isn't last summer's blockbuster, I don't need whatever I find to dazzle me with mind-blowing levels of invention (even if I won't put up a fight if it does). Sinners and Saints is a direct-to-video action movie that does a perfectly decent job of delivering what most viewers are going to want out of it, and I find that to be respectable.
The Fast and the Furious' Johnny Strong plays Detective Sean Riley. A rocky couple of years have left Sean with nothing to lose, and he finds his patience getting shorter and shorter in a city with increasingly ballsy criminals. The latest has taken to finding victims, lighting them on fire, dousing them, then repeating the process at least two more times. Riley is called in to augment the investigation with his knowledge of any perpetrators who might be capable of such a thing, which partners him up with Detective Will Ganz (Kevin Phillips), a family man just looking to make it home at the end of the day.
There are several elements in Sinners and Saints that could easily go wrong: new partners, a tragic past, and the fact that the film is set in and wants to draw attention to post-Katrina New Orleans could all become a tired burden on a film like this. Wise, then, of director/co-writer William Kaufman to avoid harping on any of them too much. Each angle is pushed just enough for the movie to get a little mileage out of them, and then Kaufman moves onto the story and characters at hand, trusting the viewer to be capable of filling in the blanks.
Kaufman also appears to have wisely cast for "capable" and "willing" instead of whatever slumming former A-lister was available to boost the profile of his film. Johnny Strong won't knock anyone's socks off, but he's believable during the action, convincing as an actor, and doesn't look like he'd rather be somewhere else. Tom Berenger also has a nice little turn as Sean's captain, Sean Patrick Flanery is good enough I'm almost willing to forget that he was in The Boondock Saints, and as a Saw fan to the bitter end, it's fun seeing Costas Mandylor again, who will probably carve out a long-lasting and successful career out of movies just like Sinners and Saints. They say a hero is only as good as the villain, and Mandylor is reliably despicable.
As far as action, the film doesn't have anything that will make the viewer leap out of their seat (Undisputed II comes to mind), but they're frequent and fast-paced without turning into a mess of bad CG or quick-cut/shaky-cam nonsense, and Kaufman mixes it up with gunfights, a fistfight, and a small car chase. I may not think the world needs more cinematic junk food, but I do think there's a place for it, and a place for delivering the basics instead of trying and failing to achieve more. Ultimately, the thing I liked most about Sinners and Saints wasn't a lightly entertaining action movie, but seeing a film by a filmmaker who is aware of what he can't do, and makes the most out of what he can.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, this MPEG-4 AVC 1080p is a decent HD presentation of a contemporary film, with the only things standing in the way of standard hi-def "pop" are the intentional cinematography choices by the director and his DP. The opening sequence is intentionally blown out and features heavy black crush. A distracting amount of grain is visible, possibly enhanced by the altered contrast. I think these effects are probably somewhat stronger in the pre-title sequence than they are afterward, but they are present on some level throughout the film. Some indoor scenes at moderate light levels look fairly naturalistic, and exhibit a little bit of depth. Fine detail is as high as one expects from Blu-ray throughout, from stubble and skin to the textures of the sets.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has nice surround ambience and environmental depth to it during dialogue sequences, but the track fails to shine quite the way I was hoping during the action sequences. Although the sound effects themselves have the weight often missing from low-budget and direct-to-video movies, the gunshots in the movie's frequent shootouts seem to flatten out rather than playing with full impact. It's a nagging disappointment that takes away from the action and the viewer's sense of immersion in it. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"Behind the Scenes" (3:40) is actually a surprisingly effective little juxtaposition of scenes from the movie and B-roll footage, without any overall narration or interviews. Although the content is technically no better or worse than any other EPK, it cuts right to the point without any other nonsense, so I approve. A short reel of inconsequential deleted scenes (7:00) complete a slim supplemental package.
HD trailers for Texas Killing Fields and The Son of No One play before the main menu. No trailer for Sinners and Saints is included.
Given that the film isn't likely to have much replay value, and the disc's lacking selection of extras, Sinners and Saints is probably only a rental, but I'll award it a recommended just because it stands head and shoulders over so many of the other direct-to-video offerings I've seen that desperately want to be Hollywood blockbusters.
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