"Overall, Crimewave was a lesson about abject failure -- no matter how you slice it, the film was a dog, and everyone involved can pretty much line up to take forty whacks. As filmmakers, we failed to execute a misguided project and our studio refused us the benefit of any doubt."
-Bruce Campbell, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor
Oh, I've heard lots and lots and lots of terrible things about Crimewave over the years, and as it turns out...? Every last one of 'em is true. Playing kind of like Blood Simple filtered through some Three Stooges' wooo-woo-woo-woo, Crimewave is Sam Raimi's
followup to The Evil Dead and his first time wading around in the studio system, plus you've got Bruce Campbell on the bill, and this sucker was co-written by the Coen Brothers. I know! ...and, somehow, it's pretty much unwatchable.
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Well, Vic (Reed Birney), I've got good news, and I've got bad news. Good: tonight, your losing streak is over and done with when you meet this blonde bombshell (Sheree J. Wilson) who's had her fill with heels and is ready to give a nice guy a shot for a change. The bad: before you really get a chance to enjoy it, you're going to be hunted down by a couple of weasely exterminators-slash-hitmen (Brion James and Paul L. Smith), you're gonna get framed for murder, and this is your last night of freedom before getting shuffled off to death row. Um, I did mention that this a comedy, right?
There really are a bunch of things I like about Crimewave. Even though Bruce Campbell had the lead swiped out from under him, he's clearly still having a blast as the smug, smarmy, sleazy badnik Renaldo. It's a small-ish role, sure, but Campbell still manages to run away with every last scene he's in. Sam Raimi and cinematographer Robert Primes have assembled some genuinely inspired visuals, not letting a meager budget get in the way of some remarkably ambitious camerawork. As you'll hear mentioned 18,000 times in the extras, Crimewave is pretty much a 1940s cartoon come to life. Its spastic energy, deliriously over-the-top sense of humor, and show-stopping setpieces like bulldoggish Paul L. Smith crashing Kool-Aid-Man-style through a hallway with dozens of multicolored doors...it's a flesh-and-blood Tex Avery cartoon, and there's no way I'm gonna say no to that. We're talking about a noir that's pretty much a period piece except for a bunch of mid-'80s Japanese electronics; no, there's not a whole lot else out there like Crimewave.
At the end of the day, though, Crimewave is pretty much a disaster. It's a comedy without a single worthwhile laugh. Most of the characters range anywhere from grating to completely forgettable, up to and including Reed Birney in the lead. There's no real emotional or dramatic hook bobbing around anywhere in here, which would be okay if there were some solid gags to buoy the whole thing along, but no, not so much. Even though Crimewave is practically bursting at the seams with manic energy, the pacing is actually kind of a slow, meandering slog. The score is a full-frontal assault
of wacky!, the cinematic equivalent of a laugh track from some shitball sitcom on TBS. Crimewave was initially conceived as more of a serious noir-ish crime/romance/drama, and what glimmers of that remain too closely echo the Coens' Blood Simple. Embassy Pictures yanked control of the movie away from Raimi and company during post-production, and they took a movie that probably would've been a stinker anyway and managed to make it even worse. This isn't a diamond in the rough; it's just...bad.
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If you're an obsessive completist when it comes to Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and/or the Coen Brothers, then...well, you don't really need this review since Shout! Factory could count on your twenty bucks anyway. If you're not a reeeeeeally devoted fan of any of the talent involved, though...? Skip It.
Not bad! Crimewave is pretty grainy and fairly soft -- I mean, no one's going to bounce up to it on-stage with a bouquet of roses, a tiara, and a Miss Teen USA sash -- but there's no excessive digital noise reduction or assorted filtering, no oversharpening, and very little in the way of speckling or wear. For a hopelessly obscure, low budget flick shot all the way back in 1983, definition and detail are pretty much where I'd expect them to be. 'Sokay.
Crimewave and its stack of high-def extras get to lounge around on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The movie itself is encoded with AVC and dished out at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.
Crimewave's 24-bit, two-channel mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty decent too. Even though the score kind of bludgeons me over the head with its zzzzzzaniness, its reproduction here is genuinely impressive. The dialogue and assorted sound effects all come through fairly well too, sounding at least a couple years more recent than they really are. Nothing that'll curl your toes or anything but still a solid effort.
Optional English subs are along for the ride too.
- Audio Commentary: Oh, Crimewave! You had me at "Bruce Campbell commentary". Campbell doesn't pull any punches, building on the stories he spun in If Chins Could Kill. Someone nearly getting shot in the eye with a BB gun for the sake of a gag, Louise Lasser insisting on painting her face clown white with bright red lipstick, having to get a forklift to rescue Paul Smith from the aftermath of a Warner Bros.-style comedy setpiece,
how so much of Detroit has been abandoned that much of the city is practically a backlot, being so inexperienced that their stunt cars would run out of gas before making a big jump: no one -- not the movie, not the studio, not even Campbell himself -- escapes unscathed. Unbelievably funny and genuinely insightful, this is one of Bruce Campbell's very best commentaries, and considering how incredible he always is, that's kind of saying something.
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- Interviews (40 min.; HD): Sam Raimi and the Coens sit this one out, but you do get interviews with would-be-leading man Bruce Campbell, actually-was-leading-man Reed Birney, and producer/first-and-only-time-in-front-of-the-camera Edward Pressman.
There's a good bit of overlap in Campbell's interview (15 min.) with his audio commentary, naturally, but this is a good place to catch the highlights: what a miserable experience making Crimewave was all around, how much he, Raimi, and Rob Tapert learned from its failure, and how he's kind of glad the movie disappeared from view. Birney (16 min.) tells a pretty terrific story about his last-second casting and how Crimewave accidentally made him an international movie star, plus it's pretty neat to see some home movies from the set scattered around here. Finally, Pressman (9 min.) chats about basically being bullied by Raimi into a prominent role even though he'd never be mistaken for an actor, and yet he could still get recognized in Japan where the movie was somehow a cult hit. All three interviews are definitely worth a peek.
- Alternate Title Sequence (1 min.; HD): This time, the title card reads "Broken Hearts and Noses".
- Photo Gallery (7 min.; HD): Thrill to a montage of high-res behind the scenes shots, production stills, and even a little poster/video box art.
- Trailer (2 min.; SD): This full-frame trailer looks like it was nicked from an old VHS dub or something.
In case you missed it a little further up there, Crimewave is a combo pack, so you get a DVD out of the deal too.
The Final Word
Of course it's a thrill to see that Shout! Factory has rescued Crimewave from obscurity. I mean, we're talking about a flick that only played theatrically on these shores in Alaska and Kansas, this is its first time officially winding up on a shiny five inch disc over here, and it's scored a pretty terrific special edition to boot. I'm really glad I had a chance to catch up with a movie I'd heard so much about for so many years, I can cross this off my Campbell/Coen/Raimi bucket list, and I definitely dug all the extras. At the same time, I'm preeeeeeetty certain I'll never, ever give Crimewave another look again. For particularly zealous completists only. Skip It.