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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Drop Dead Fred
Drop Dead Fred
Artisan // PG-13 // July 22, 2003
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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"The Megabitch squashed my head! The Evil One reigns supreme!"
Seemingly every possible cause has at least one Internet petition putting its meager strength behind it, and though they rarely have any sort of appreciable effect whatsoever, apparently this Drop Dead Fred petition caught the eye of someone at Artisan Home Entertainment. In their haste to get the 1991 comedy in the hands of the 2,670 signers, Artisan forgot to make a DVD worth buying. While this no-frills, full-frame DVD might be enough to satisfy Richard Stern, who signed the petition with "I am not bothered about Extra features", the dozens who just wanted a widescreen presentation will go away disappointed.

Drop Dead Fred marked one of the last silver screen appearances of Phoebe Cates, who stars as the lovelorn Elizabeth. Her husband Charles (Tim Matheson) is fooling around on her, and when Lizzie storms into his workplace to tell him it's over, she's unceremoniously dumped before she can say a word. Crushed, she's reluctantly dragged back home by her domineering mother (The Goodbye Girl's Marsha Mason) and spends the night sobbing in her old bedroom. A nocturnal smack on the forehead rings familiar, inspiring her to sift through her closet and dig out an old jack in the box. It's not a creepy, spring-loaded clownhead that eventually lurches from the long-neglected toy, though, but her childhood imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall).

"Snotface, you are looking great!"
When Lizzie was a young lass, no one could see or hear Drop Dead Fred but her, but the evidence of his destructive antics were kind of tough to overlook. Fed up of hearing those three monosyllabic words repeated incessantly, her mother had kept Fred taped shut in that jack in the box for the past couple of decades. Lizzie had obviously changed over the years -- older, married, reshaped to look as much like her mother as possible -- but her non-corporeal pal was the same old Fred. He still had the same British accent, dissheveled flourescent red hair, garish green suit, and an appetite for destruction. Fred tells "Snotface" that she's stuck with him until she's happy again, and she goes about doing just that by trying to recapture Charlie's affections, setting her on a capsizing, spaghetti-flinging romantic adventure.

Drop Dead Fred seems to be almost universally disliked, but I thought it was surprisingly funny. The comedy is often stupid and silly, but that's rather the point. Boogers and repeated references to poop don't really do much for me, but the physical comedy -- Carrie Fisher's battle with an unseen foe and Fred flinging Lizzie's limbs around in a restaurant like a marionette, to name two -- had me in hysterics. Not just brief chuckles, but actual prolonged laughs. Rik Mayall's manic energy is perhaps the movie's greatest benefit, as a whirlwind of a destructive force that still manages to remain sweet and charming. Drop Dead Fred is a fun, goofy movie, and one that manages to sneak in a fairly serious theme as well.

Artisan doesn't seem to go to any real effort for all but their highest-profile catalog titles, and Drop Dead Fred is another in a series of uninspired, featureless full-frame releases.

Not a drop dead gorgeous presentation.
Video: Drop Dead Fred's packaging has the somewhat conflicting phrases "Formatted from its original version to fit your screen" and "Presented in the 1.33:1 format in which the film was shot" less than an inch from one another. Perhaps the disparity stems from the fact that this appears to be, for the most part, an open-matte presentation rather than heavily cropped. Regardless, Drop Dead Fred isn't presented in its original aspect ratio, and even for a full-frame presentation, it's not all that spectacular. The image frequently exhibits mild grain and a lack of fine detail, closer in appearance to a broadcast on TBS than a newly-released DVD. Contrast is occasionally murky, particularly in some of the more dimly-lit sequences, and in large chunks of the film, colors look drab and dated. The source material used is riddled with a fair number of specks, and aliasing, shimmering, and moire effects can be spotted throughout.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (256Kbps, a bitrate I don't see all that often) fares a little better. The music scattered throughout doesn't sound incredible, but is a bit fuller and louder than I went in expecting, and there's some thunderous bass in a dream sequence where a tree crashes through the floor. The dialogue has a dated, at times almost muffled, quality to it. I recorded an mp3 (52.9K; 96Kbps) from the first couple of minutes of the movie, and though a compressed mp3 obviously isn't going to fully represent the DVD's soundtrack, it ought to be sufficient to at least give an indication as to what to expect.

Drop Dead Fred also includes a set of closed captions.

Supplements: The packaging for Drop Dead Fred rattles off a list of special features including "Full Screen Version" and "Scene Selections", but I guess my standards aren't low enough to consider those all that "special". There are no real extras to speak of at all, not even so much as a trailer or IMDb-rehashed filmographies.

Drop Dead Fred includes a set of 4x3 static menus, and the transition from the main menu to the 'Chapter Index' is animated. The movie is divided into twenty five chapters that are listed on the insert inside its Amaray keepcase.

Conclusion: I enjoyed Drop Dead Fred quite a bit, and I'd have been more than happy to give a better DVD a giddily enthusiastic recommendation. Despite being available online for less than $8 shipped, I'd hold out on the off-chance that a better release might someday hit stores, or at the very most, opt for a rental. If you have to watch this uninspired DVD release, Rent It.

Boring Image Disclaimer: The screen captures in this review are compressed, slightly digitally sweetened, and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on DVD.
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