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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Wrong Turn at Tahoe
Wrong Turn at Tahoe
Paramount // R // January 12, 2010
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 16, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Wrong Turn at Tahoe is a fairly dull action film swayed in all directions by the winds of expectation. The movie stars Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., once a marquee name but long since relegated to Blockbuster premieres in action movies (for whatever reason), and it's a direct-to-video release, a factor that causes people's hopes to dry up extra quickly. Anyone who reads my reviews frequently will probably have noticed that I'm a lenient guy. First and foremost, I watch movies to be entertained, and my willingness to be entertained is pretty high; I've seen hundreds of movies that weren't very good, but managed to squeak by thanks to one or two elements that I enjoyed even while everything else around it falls as flat as a board. For better or worse, I am also strongly swayed by the expectations that I bring to the movie, and watching Wrong Turn at Tahoe, I began to wonder: what do viewers actually expect out of a direct-to-video film?

Having seen several myself, I have a hard time believing that the average Netflix user goes into it looking for the same kind of quality they'd expect out of a theatrical release. How important is the level of expectation that one has for the movie when considering its merits? Again, direct-to-video features are notoriously bad, so any semblance of amusement will cause some viewers to jump for joy, but at some point, it all starts sounding like the same old crap. In the case of Wrong Turn at Tahoe, we have an excellent performance by Miguel Ferrer and one or two passable action sequences as distractions, but I have trouble understanding anyone who's ever seen a gangster thriller in their life seeing this screenplay (by Eddie Nickerson) and thinking they had to make it.

Gooding plays Joshua, the longtime bodyguard of a crime boss named Vincent (Ferrer), a man to whom Joshua owes his life. One day, on a surprise tip-off from an old friend, Joshua and Vincent identify small-time drug dealer Frankie Tahoe (Noel G) as a man to eliminate. Unfortunately for them, after completing the task, they discover that Frankie Tahoe had a boss of his own, the extremely dangerous Nino (Harvey Keitel), who either wants the money that Frankie would have provided via drug dealing, or Joshua and Vincent dead. Worming their way in and out of this central story are several uninteresting side stories, including Joshua's desire to quit, Vincent's unfaithful wife (Alex Meneses), and the longtime friendship between Vincent and the tipster (Michael Sean Tighe).

Gooding has had an unusual career, starting with his role in Jerry Maguire, through to a string of misguided comedies (Boat Trip, Snow Dogs, Daddy Day Camp), and finally the home video market, where he's reinvented himself as an action hero. I haven't seen anything he's been in in quite awhile, but here he plays things strangely quiet, as if Joshua is always contemplating something that annoys him. I'm not sure it's a good performance, per se -- you're supposed to feel acting rather than notice it, and Gooding's choices call attention to themselves -- but it's an interesting take on the role. As Joshua's boss, Miguel Ferrer is much more interesting, bringing a wonderful sense of low-key menace to his character that elevates the scenes he's in. It's not a lost gem or anything, but it is the primary bright spot in Wrong Turn at Tahoe.

The sense that the picture just doesn't gel can probably be attributed to Franck Khalfoun, whose direction feels formless. The action scenes are lightly engaging and remarkably bloody, but the rest of the movie has trouble emphasizing the threat and danger of each situation, and the film basically feels like it's just meandering towards its ending rather than building. Khalfoun and editor Patrick McMahon also can't find a good balance between the film's characters, which renders the second half of the movie's climactic shootout annoying, each cut feeling like it's rudely interrupting the things the audience would rather see. I was also bored by the movie's framing device (starting at the conclusion and then circling back) and the choice to inject a little ambiguity in the ending, because both of these choices are becoming increasingly common, and they're usually pulled off a lot better than they are here. I was also annoyed that a hand-to-hand fight was shoehorned in; the rivalry built up between Gooding and Louis Mandylor feels totally fake.

Still, it comes back to expectation: is this all the audience wants? Most of the people who rent Wrong Turn at Tahoe are probably expecting the worst, and will be more pleased to see Ferrer do well than observant of what the movie does wrong. And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, because more might have been lost on such viewers, but as far as I'm concerned, this direct-to-video effort is just overwhelmingly tired, a sensation that will hit the viewer like a tidal wave whenever the film has nothing to offer that might distract them otherwise.

Wrong Turn at Tahoe is graced with perfectly boring but relatively acceptable cover artwork. The design doesn't do anything other than arrange bland photos (caps right out of the movie) over a generic background, but the color scheme is reasonably appealing and no Photoshop crimes are comitted. The disc has a basic silver finish with the disc surface forming the lettering, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Paramount offers this film in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that looks harsh for a new film. For the most part, colors seem accurate, but the contrast levels are a shade off. Blacks fare better, and the night scenes look alright, but whites are clearly blown out. Compression artifacts are also visible on dark jackets and hiding in the film's grain, and the whole thing appears to have been digitally sharpened (not like edge enhancement but more like an artificial picture setting on an HDTV). Shadows also reveal noticeable posterization effects when the light moves slowly on or off of something. From a reasonable distance, some of these problems aren't noticeable, but on any sort of close inspection, the flaws are easily spotted.

Dolby Digital 5.1 is better. One of the most distracting things about direct-to-video 5.1 mixes is that the sound effects themselves often feel noticeably cheaper, but Wrong Turn at Tahoe apparently had access to a quality library (although a few ADR lines rang of the low quality I'm talking about). The movie itself is not an explosion-packed action thrill ride, but there is action from time to time, and it sounds good, while dialogue is nice and clear straight through the front and the music and ambience comes in through the surrounds. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
There is a single behind-the-scenes piece included here, titled "The Making of Wrong Turn at Tahoe" (11:54). Everyone who shows up (Cuba and Keitel are relieved of interview duty) seems friendly and pleased to be there, which is a refreshing change of pace from featurettes with subjects that are clearly bored to tears, but it's a run-of-the-mill experience, with an overuse of film clips and all of that nonsense.

Automatic trailers for Carriers, The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard., and Echelon Conspiracy play before the menu, with two additional spots for Road Trip: Beer Pong and Paramount TV accessible along with the first three from the special features menu.

Wrong Turn at Tahoe comes close to landing amongst a crowd of marginally entertaining direct-to-video films that might be worth a spin for the supremely bored for a few passable action sequences and the performance of Miguel Ferrer, but it fumbles a little too much to be worth even a rental recommendation. The DVD contains an uninteresting EPK to accentuate the seriously flawed movie and questionable technical specs, so I'm going to advise that viewers skip this one entirely.

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