As Clint Eastwood movies go, Blood Work (2002) is decidedly minor. When my pal Jeff Flugel heard I was reviewing this, his response was, "Gee, that's too bad. I don't envy you," but that's overstating things. It's certainly not in the same league of awfulness as Pink Cadillac (1989) or The Rookie (1990), two of Clint's worst in the same genre. Blood Work starts out reasonably good despite an unlikely premise, one that, unavoidably, hints at an older, frailer Dirty Harry Callahan. But the picture does fall apart completely toward the end, and the dénouement is especially ludicrous. Most of this ludicrousness was added in adapting Michael Connelly's 1998 crime novel.
One of a small handful of Warner-owned titles omitted from 2010's big Blu-ray campaign (timed to Eastwood's 80th birthday), Blood Work comes to high-def in an impressive, if expectedly so, transfer with a couple of interesting extra features. The all-region disc defaulted to Japanese menu/subtitle options on my Japanese PlayStation 3.
Eastwood plays Terry McCaleb, an aging Los Angeles-based FBI profiler part of a task force searching for the "Code Killer," a serial murderer modeled after the Zodiac Killer, and who leaves a similarly cryptic message, "903 472 568," at each murder. At the latest crime scene, McCaleb spots the killer in the crowd of lookie-loos, who keeps to the shadows with his features hidden under a hood. A foot chase ensues (unbelievably a single-handed one, despite police helicopters monitoring the chase from overhead) and McCaleb is struck down by a massive heart attack. The Code Killer gets away.
Two years later McCaleb is 60 days post-heart transplant, still smarting and under the motherly care of his cardiologist, Dr. Bonnie Fox (Anjelica Huston). He's contacted by Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesús), whose sister was gunned down in an unsolved convenience store robbery - and whose heart, she discovers, is now residing in McCaleb's chest. She wants McCaleb to look into the cold case and, feeling guilty, he reluctantly agrees.
He learns of the murder of a man some miles away in Lancaster, an apparent ATM robbery but otherwise with the same M.O. The police assume the two victims were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, but McCaleb operates from a different premise, that the two were specifically targeted by the killer, and not for the sake of mere robbery. With the help of neighbor Buddy Noone (Jeff Daniels) and against the advice of his physician, McCaleb delves further into the matter.
(You now have enough information to solve this crime, you amateur sleuth, you.)
The premise, a murder victim's heart winding up in the chest of the FBI agent resolved to solve her murder, requires some suspension of disbelief, but movies can usually get away with one outrageous conceit if the remainder of the story is logical and methodical. Problem is, Blood Work has a strong first hour but a progressively weaker second-half. The novel had several clever ideas but screenwriter Brian Heldeland, who runs the gamut from excellent (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) to terrible (Payback, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake), imposes a ridiculous twist as inane as it is obvious, topped by a slam-bang climax guaranteed to have the viewer rollin' them eyeballs.
Sandwiched between the frivolous but fun Space Cowboys (2000) and the one-two punch of Mystic River (2003) and the revelatory Million Dollar Baby (2004), Blood Work straddles the last gasp of Eastwood as a movie tough guy and a more mature, richer and challenging phase of his directing career, hit-and-miss though it has been. Like Paul Newman did as well in his seventies, Clint finds an excuse to take his shirt off, as if to prove to movie audiences even at 72 he's still got it. Considering, he does indeed, but he's also obviously too old to be chasing serial killers through Warner Bros.' backlot streets.
McCaleb isn't Harry Callahan, and apparently there was never any thought of making him Harry Callahan, but it's still fun to think of the character in those terms: an aging cop with a bad ticker, trying to solve one last murder before retiring. The script adds Dirty Harry-like reminders, most prominently in the extremely lame, groan-inducing verbal sparring between McCaleb and foul-mouthed Detective Ronaldo Arrango (Paul Rodriguez). Even The Enforcer had wittier repartee.
Video & Audio
Filmed in Panavision, Blood Work looks quite good in 1080p, with excellent detail, strong color, and solid contrast throughout. The region-free disc, manufactured in Mexico, likewise has strong 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, accompanied by 5.1 French and Castilian Spanish mixes (and a 2.0 Latin track), along with subtitle options in all three languages, as well as hidden alternate subtitle and audio options, such as the aforementioned Japanese one.
Supplements, disappointingly all in standard-definition, include an 18-minute making-of featurette, a 14-minute "Conversion in Spanish" with Eastwood, De Jesus, and Rodriguez, and a pair of trailers.
Fair-to-middling Clint Eastwood still beats most of the competition, and Blood Work's first-half is pretty good for what it is, though what follows is trite and unrewarding. Still, marginally Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.