THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Back in July, 2001, I wrote that there were two films I remembered from
childhood that really blew me away. One, The Last
Dragon, I had
the opportunity to review at the time and the other Band of the
Hand, I speculated was a long shot for DVD. Well, much to my
comfort, Band of the Hand is here, but unfortunately the disc is
The fact that it's bare-bones doesn't bother me (although a cast
commentary would have been amazing,) Rather, it's the disgraceful
treatment of the image; It's available in full-frame only, a tactic not
kind to anything with the Michael Mann stamp of approval.
Executive Produced by Mann (whose slick creations include Miami
Vice, Heat and The Insider) and directed by Paul
Michael Glaser (Starsky!), Band of the Hand is the gritty tale
a group of juvenile convicts in the Florida system, dubbed the worst of
the worst. Their punishment is straight out of Sally Jesse Raphael:
Their corrections officers drop them in the middle of Florida's
unforgiving Everglades with no preparation. Once they're there Joe
(the very serious Stephen Lang) gives them some lessons in basic survival.
These lessons come
handy when, in the film's second half, the band finds itself back in
Miami trying to straighten up and fly right in an abandoned house Joe helps them fix up. Surrounded by the Dawn of the
Dead-esque citizens of Miami, the band have a tough time staying out of trouble and, in one of the most morally
ambiguous plot twists ever, Joe heavily arms the teens and sends them on a crusade to massacre the local drug lord and his
gang. While the film promotes this turn as a positive one, the viewer can't help but squirm a bit at the gung-ho call to
violence passed off with positive reinforcement.
Then again, if you're getting your civics lessons from Band of the Hand you've got bigger problems. The best part of
the film is the Everglades section. There is something original and mysterious about these kids getting toughened up in the
vast swampland setting. Once they hit Miami the film settles into slightly more standard territory, although there is still
enough weirdness and energy to carry the story to the end. Band of the Hand has aged surprisingly well, with the
energetic cast and pumped-up violence keeping the film fresh. With actors like Leon, John Cameron Mitchell and Lauren Holly
making some of their first screen appearances here the movie is always alive. Equally effective performances are delivered
by Larry Fisburne, James Remar, the late Michael Carmine and Danny Quinn.
The soundtrack, too, helps fuel the film's burn.
With an original song by Bob Dylan (backed by the Heartbreakers) plus some classic 80's new wave gloom, the film has the
cool feel of Miami Vice. It's also the closest any film of the era comes to predicting the mission-based Miami world
of the recent video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. There are times when Band of the Hand almost looks like
a live-action version of the popular game.
The full-frame video, in addition to only offering part of the image,
blurry and dull. There are no technical problems evident from the
compression process, but this image isn't too many notches above a
brand-new VHS copy. Granted, the disc won't degrade the way tape would,
but this treatment is unacceptable.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is fine. The voices are clear and the music sounds dynamic. Nothing spectacular here, but it works. English and French subtitles are available.
Only trailers for New Best Friend and Little Nikita, but not
Band of the Hand.
Big fans may still want to pick this disc up, although it's a shame to
financially reward the studio for such shoddy work. Still, there's
probably not going to be a reissue, no matter how many petitions you
sign. It's a shame because, although it might be dated, Band of the
Hand is solid entertainment. Whether or not to buy the disc, however, is a tough call. The video is a disgrace and the
MSRP is shockingly high. Maybe only big fans should take the plunge. A rental would do fine by most viewers.