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29 Palms

Artisan // R // August 19, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Something about 29 Palms attracted an impressive array of talent. The film, penned by a first-time screenwriter and marking the first American production by a budding South American filmmaker, stars a number of familiar faces, including Rachael Leigh Cook, Jeremy Davies, Keith David, Chris O'Donnell, Michael Lerner, Michael Rapaport, Jon Polito, and Bill Pullman. I'm not sure what drew a recognizable cast like this towards a project as uninspired as 29 Palms, but their presence apparently wasn't enough to rescue the uninspired flick from direct-to-video obscurity.

A small Indian casino with its eye on expansion inspires a judge on the take and a tribal chief to knock off a squeaky-clean clerk suspected to be an undercover FBI agent. A hitman is dispatched to do their dirty work, but a lecherous security guard spots him with a bag filled with cash and decides to take it for himself. The bag passes from person to person...a hot-headed cop who's as interested in assplay as he is in the loot, the now-dishevelled court clerk, a frustrated waitress... Everyone wants the bag, and they're willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to get it.

29 Palms reminded me somewhat of Sally, another independent film starring Rachael Leigh Cook. Both films have a grainy appearance, Cook's characters hitchhiking, vaguely similar shower scenes, an overabundance of flashbacks, a slow pace, and...really just aren't particularly good at all. 29 Palms is more subdued than your average heist flick, offering little in the way of thrills, a not-entirely coherent story, and an unsuccessful attempt at imbuing the film and its characters with Tarantino-esque quirkiness. It's not a dismal, unwatchable train wreck by any stretch, but there isn't much that distinguishes 29 Palms from the dozens upon dozens of other "everyone betrays everyone in search of some sort of MacGuffin" flicks littering video store shelves aside from its cast. Neither the talent in front of the camera nor director Leonardo Ricagni's visual flourishes are able to elevate the material, but they do make it more bearable. I'll admit that the only reason 29 Palms has a space on my DVD shelf is that Rachael Leigh Cook, Michael Rapaport, and Jon Polito are in it.

Although 29 Palms is a direct-to-video bore, it didn't discourage Artisan from giving it a nice release on DVD, including 16x9-enhanced video, the six-channel audio treatment, and a decent assortment of extras.

A slightly zoomed example of some of the ringing.
Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation has a gritty, grainy look to it, boasting the sort of indie appearance that looks as if it could've been lensed at any point in the past seven years. The pervasive film grain and unremarkable level of detail are likely representative of the intended look of the modestly budgeted movie. As is to be expected from such a recent production, there's little in the way of print flaws, limited to a handful of small flecks throughout. There is a fairly substantial amount of ringing around many edges, which could prove to be a distraction on larger displays. This DVD release of 29 Palms isn't going to serve as demo material to show off the glossy display of users' home theaters, but it's a decent transfer, limited by the low-budget source material and some unfortunate edge haloing.

Audio: 29 Palms sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps. Dialogue comes through reasonably well, though some of the more mumbled lines can be somewhat difficult to discern. Cars careening around on-screen provide some smooth pans across the soundstage, and the amount of gunplay offers some directionality as well. The surround channels at times provide decent ambiance, such as the clinking of chips in the casino, dust scattered by the wind, and draining water after a shower. The rears also memorably come into play in the film early on as a haunting Indian chant bounces from channel to channel. 29 Palms didn't constantly have my subwoofer booming, but effects such as the Drifter's heavy heartbeat in the first few moments, the roar of desert wind, and thunder contributed a healthy amount of bass. There did seem to be some slight underlying hiss, and a couple of pops were spotted.

The disc also includes a Dolby Digital stereo surround mix (192Kbps), Spanish subtitles, and closed captions.

Supplements: 29 Palms features an audio commentary with four of the movie's producers, J. Todd Harris, Marc Forby, Craig Davis Roth, and Michael Lindenbaum. Although I was fairly indifferent towards the movie when I first watched it, I enjoyed 29 Palms immeasurably more when listening to this track. The four producers provide an excellent glimpse into the indescribably stressful world of independent filmmaking, including a budget spiraling out of control, the painful process of acquiring financing and even dipping into personal nest eggs, and how seemingly everything that could possibly go wrong does. The four of them are candid about the problems with the movie; one freely admits to not being all that fond of the script, at least initially, they point out the lack of chemistry between two of the leads, particular shots they aren't all that fond of, and how 29 Palms had be heavily reconceptualized during editing. A highly-recommended listen.

A letterboxed, non-anamorphic trailer (1:22) is the only video extra on the disc; 29 Palms features more text-based supplements than any DVD I've seen in months. The first is a "Story Bible", a seventeen-page plot synopsis that covers the highlights of the story, including a significant reveal that was excised from the final cut. I don't think I've ever seen anything similar to the "Editing Notes", which is presented as a journal of sorts. Throughout its thirty-eight pages, the producers' goals for 29 Palms are discussed as well as the changes that need to be made in the editing booth to get there, from overdubbing to outright gutting. The editing notes provide some inkling as to how a project is really shaped throughout the course of post-production. Finally, a set of detailed production notes (around twenty-three pages of text) delve into how the project came together, including comments from those involved both in front of and behind the camera.

The last of the extras is a set of cast and crew bios. These aren't the usual single paragraph of text and a list of IMDb-sourced filmographies, though. The bios are reasonably lengthy and even include members of the crew that are often overlooked. The biographies are provided for cast members Rachael Leigh Cook, Keith David, Jeremy Davies, Michael Lerner, Chris O'Donnell, Jon Polito, Bill Pullman, director Leonardo Ricagni, writer Tino Lucente, director of photography Horacio Maira, production designer Walter Luis Brito Brunialti, and producers J. Todd Harris, Marc Forby, Craig David Roth, and Michael Lindenbaum.

The single-sided, single-layer disc comes packaged in an Amaray keepcase, and the included insert lists the movie's twenty chapter stops. 29 Palms' menus are animated and enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Conclusion: Fans of the talent involved may want to give 29 Palms a look as a rental, but I found the movie to be too unremarkable and slow-moving to recommend as a purchase sight-unseen.

Related Links: The Internet Movie Database has a trailer for 29 Palms, available in Windows Media and RealMedia formats.

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