A lot of impressive talent is wasted on the unfinished business of "Across the Line: The Exodus of Charlie Wright." The picture aims for a greater scope than it can handle, taking the viewer into the bowels of Tijuana without a plan to get back out, using flashes of violence and a cast of gifted actors to disguise the fact that there's little substance here, but a whole bunch of a poignant staring.
A Bernie Madoff-type nearing prosecution, Charlie Wright (Aidan Quinn) has fled the country, heading to Tijuana, Mexico to find a loved one he abandoned long ago. On his trail are Hobbs (Mario Van Peebles), a relentless federal agent; drug lord Jorge (Andy Garcia), who needs Wright's remaining billions to pay off critical debts; and Damon (Luke Goss), a Russian hitman looking to retrieve the crook for his own personal gain. While focused on the business at hand, Charlie quickly realizes the trouble he's in, soon finding himself trapped while three sides battle it out to claim their lucrative prize.
Perhaps "Across the Line" was intended to be a television pilot, kicking off the story of a runaway white-collar criminal in an episodic manner that would play out over 22 hours, creating a significant story arc able to fiddle around with themes of aging and male purpose. Unfortunately, director R. Ellis Frazier has only 90 minutes to establish and conclude a multi-character tangle of places and faces, and while his effort to sort successfully is noticeable, the final product feels shorn of purpose. It scrambles to make careful points of remorse and loss, losing its sincerity the more time it spends on the character carousel. Staying topical with Wright's Ponzi scheme evildoing is a nice touch, and Wright appears to know his way around the back roads of Tijuana, but the dramatic fireworks fail to ignite. Instead, the film feels unfinished, aching to move beyond basic narrative ingredients find a more significant plateau.
Casting helps Frazier immensely, with Quinn, Garcia (buried somewhere under a big white beard), and Van Peebles offering scraps of gravitas to an otherwise basic churn of internalized regret and frustration. I'm not sure how they became wrapped up in a film like this to begin with, but it's good to see some professionals on the prowl, darkening the feature up with their practiced skill. The C-list cast members, such as Goss, have nothing to do beyond brandishing guns, making their sections of the story less compelling. Unintentional hilarity arrives with actress Gina Gershon, improbably cast here as Jorge's Mexican wife, rocking a wobbly accent and Telenovela tears in a nothing role.
The MPEG-2 encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation does show some extraordinary detail on the faces of the ensemble. Crisp and tight, the textures of facial hair and anxiety read cleanly, keeping the tension of the film alive during the more heated showdowns. Unfortunately, contrast issues tend to muck up image intensity, with shadow detail registering as muddy during evening sequences. Colors are boosted, making for vivid Tijuana street life, though skintones feel too hot at times.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is a standard issue aural experience, with most concentration handed to dialogue exchanges, pushed up front to bring out a firm sense of the drama. Surrounds are useful to retrieve urban atmospherics, with solid crowd response when the action heads into the heart of the city. Shootouts bring compelling directional activity, though the more intense encounters hit a few tinny high notes. A 2.0 mix is also available.
There are no subtitles included.
The packaging lists Deleted Scenes and a Short Film, but these supplements were not included on the Blu-ray.
"Behind the Scenes" (22:29) is a fairly competent featurette covering the basics of the "Across the Line" shoot. Interviews with cast and crew (some captured on-set) are overly fawning, but tales of shooting in Tijuana and hearing the talent explore their motivations is interesting. Some BTS footage is included, but not nearly enough.
A Trailer has not been included.
Little asides, including various appearances from an age-reducing facial cream all the women in the film lust after, lead me to believe "Across the Line" was a phone book script reduced to a Christmas list of ideas before shooting. Depth is lacking, along with a rich sense of purpose. Still, marquee value helps, leaving the film more for die-hard fans of the cast.