When looking over the list of film adaptations of Elmore Leonard's work (both in the western and crime genre), it is actually a bit of a surprise at how many were at least decent overall. "Freaky Deaky" is one of the most recent big-screen adaptations, specifically of the 1988 novel of the same name; what sets it apart from your average crime film and is liable to catch the eye of Leonard fans, is the heavy 1970s look, that instantly telegraphs its vibe as a darkly funny farce of a tale. Running a scant 93-minutes, "Freaky Deaky" throws viewers into an increasingly confusing world of washed-up cops, two-bit psychopaths, and delusional B-movie producers. Directed by Charles Matthau (the son of the late, great Walter Matthau), "Freaky Deaky" is a film that struggles with adhering to a cohesive identity on both the visual and narrative front, ultimately proving it is leagues from being placed anywhere near the truly great Leonard adaptations like "Jackie Brown" or "Out of Sight."
The cast of "Freaky Deaky" is often, simultaneously it's biggest asset and biggest hindrance, with an eclectic band of B-actors handling the pseudo-labyrinthine plot, often to poor effect. The casting of Billy Burke as the film's lead Chris Mankowski, who on paper is supposed to be a down-on-his-luck, boozing detective, comes off as well as you could expect from an actor most well known for playing fourth-string backup in the "Twilight" films. Burke has the physical demeanor down, but struggles to stay consistently surly or sly; instead his performance could easily be confused at times for narcoleptic. Likewise, his leading lady Sabrina Gadecki seems terrified at times, failing to convincingly portray a thinly sketched caricature. The supporting cast however, makes up for the two leads' shortcomings in spades, with Crispin Glover and Michael Jai White stealing the show as an insane B-movie producer and his bodyguard/personal assistant, respectively. Glover is a natural fit for the hapless, eccentrically out-of-touch, Woody Ricks, while Jai White is a riot as Donnell Lewis. Jai White has been an underrated supporting player for years, proving his ability to be a leading man in "Black Dynamite" and he brings the best out of others (some of Burke's best work is working opposite him here).
Not doing anyone any favors though, is the film's script, which raises a questionable eyebrow almost immediately by adhering to the tired cliché of breaking itself into chapter-like segments. When done in moderation, such a concept can be refreshing or a stroke of narrative genius; here it just shows a filmmaker unwilling or unable to film a twisting plot without literal on-screen cues to viewers. At it's core, the film is little more than a crime caper that intersects rape accusations against Ricks by social climber Greta Wyatt (Gadecki) with a extortion plot involving two mad-bombers (played by Breanne Racano and an unhinged Christian Slater), catching both Donnell and Mankowski in the middle, with the former looking to put one over on everyone involved. Unfortunately, not a single bit of this is either straightforward or properly paced, with the film's first act serving as a shaky introduction to a rather small ensemble. Eventually after numerous clichés, increasingly poor acting, and plenty of time padding, "Freaky Deaky" comes to a conclusion that defies all logic by being both fitting, darkly amusing, and very much in the Elmore Leonard vein.
"Freaky Deaky" by no stretch of the imagination is a great film and on a different day, I wouldn't argue the case that it's even good, but it has flashes of brilliant and technical prowess. Matthau's film is just one key element off from being a minor hit; if the two leads had been cast with more accomplished players or the film's tone matching the 70s look rather than betraying the original novel's 80s origins (and to be quite a honest a few scenes look like an 80s TV cop drama), "Freaky Deaky" could have been a breakthrough directorial effort; instead it has just enough good will and consistent, darkly comedic tone to justify its existence as a direct-to-DVD diversion; it's decent fun, but the odds of you remembering much about it a day later are slim to none.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer feels artificially polished at times, with digital noise/grain levels feeling a tad dialed back, possibly suggesting some minor DNR work was done. Detail isn't firmly in the above-average range and the 1970s look of the feels lessened as a result. Colors are on the warmer end of the spectrum, but still retain a fairly natural look and do offset detail/grain issues, in terms of giving the vintage feel.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track comes across as a punched-up stereo track; with dialogue having an aggressive tone. Dynamic range is evident, but not nearly as immersive as it could be. The low end gets a minor workout with the funky score and a few loud, set pieces, but at the end of the day, it's generally a modest audio offering. English SDH subtitles are included.
The lone extra is a promotional style, making-of featurette that offers no critical insight into the film.
"Freaky Deaky" is definitely not the worst Elmore Leonard adaptation, but it's a long ways from even being classified as second-tier. Still, the period vibe and amazing supporting cast, coupled with the script's one consistent element, its darkly comedic nature, makes "Freaky Deaky" worth a rental for Leonard fans and those wanting something a bit different from the crime genre. Rent It.