First Look Pictures // R // $24.98 // October 12, 2004
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 9, 2004
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Stateside is closely based on the life of Reverge Anselmo, the film's writer and director. Anselmo's analogue is Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker), a high schooler who's grown up in privilege and is accustomed to shrugging off responsibility. That all changes when an alcohol-fueled prank goes awry, disfiguring one classmate and paralyzing someone else. Mark's father (Joe Mantegna) wields enough influence to keep him out of prison, but he doesn't exactly have a Get Out of Jail Free card forked over to him. Mark has to enlist in the Marines, but before he's shipped off to boot camp, he stops to apologize to Sue (Agnes Bruckner), the classmate who was injured in the accident. While at the hospital, he meets cute with Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook), a schizophrenic actress-musician prone to prattling on about chatty Jell-O ingredients and transvestites poking around the monkey bars. That encounter sticks with Mark as his drill instructor (Val Kilmer) shapes him into both a man and a marine, eventually helping him muster the nerve to ask Dori out. The two quickly fall head over heels for one another, but it's an unhealthy relationship -- Mark's unable to stay in one place for more than a couple of days at a time, and his constant coming and going is such a distraction for Dori that her sickness gets progressively worse.

The crux of Stateside is a relationship that's equal parts sugary sweet and self-destructive. It's a welcome change to see an "us against the world" romance where the world is right in trying to keep the lovers apart, but that's the only particularly interesting thing about this melodrama. As frequently as I'm told that these two people are very much in love, I never really felt it. Part of the blame can be placed on Jonathan Tucker, whose wooden, detached performance is kind of surprising for an established actor with such a sizeable filmography. It's hard for me to relate to a character whose chief interest in someone is to have a pen pal with girl parts. The dialogue doesn't have any sort of natural flow, sounding like it's being read from a screenplay, and one that thinks it's more poetic and insightful than it really is. The early '80s etting is squandered -- if not for the constant screenings of The Evil Dead and a mention of Lebanon, it could've just as easily taken place anytime between the '50s and last Thursday. It seems to be set in that time not because the movie requires it, but as part of an attempt to duplicate director Reverge Anselmo's life as much as possible. Those stabs at authenticism at all costs hurt the movie -- characters and subplots are briefly introduced, quickly forgotten, and sporadically revived, many of which have no bearing on the movie as a whole. That's the downside of shooting a movie so intensely personal to the person pulling the strings. Many people have a tendency to pile on too many tangential details when telling their own stories, and without anyone else to filter it through, every last detail seems more integral than it may actually be. I'm going to venture a guess that there was a lot of this sort of footage to wade through in post-production, which could be why the editing seems kind of incoherent. Stateside relates the facts but doesn't make much of a story out of them, and the movie never manages to be truly engaging. The biggest response it got from me was flinching at some of the brief bits of violence, but I didn't feel drawn into any of the various subplots the movie weaves. The closest I came was the lengthy boot camp sequence with Val Kilmer as a drill sergeant, in part because of the intense torment he inflicts (most memorably one involving a stapler and one not involving a gas mask) and because his dialogue is so odd and unconvincing. Would a stern drill instructor take a moment and wistfully describe his homelife to a group of people who are, at least for another day or two, still scum-slurping maggots? Stateside attempts to incorporate many different tones and sidestories, but none of them gel. With so many elements at hand, it probably would've been possible to draw a good movie out of them somewhere, but the decidedly uninteresting Stateside doesn't pull it off.

Video: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video is decent but below average. A couple of backgrounds with solid colors take on a noisy appearance, and the image often looks oversharpened with some ringing occasionally evident. A number of edges and patterns are prone to aliasing and distortion, and the source material is surprisingly speckled as it nears its final moments. Black levels are rock solid, but the movie's odd palette is tougher to gauge -- some sections look oversaturated, and the appearance of fleshtones varies wildly throughout. The DVD is certainly watchable, but this disc doesn't stack up particularly well next to what most companies are putting out these days.

Audio: The DVD defaults to stereo, so if you have a multichannel rig, hit up the 'Audio Setup' menu before starting the movie. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fairly timid -- even when the nostalgic soundtrack kicks in or Dori's band takes the stage, there's no real punch or strength to the audio. The track sticks mostly to the front channels, and though some scattered ambient effects and music leak into the rears, the surrounds mostly lie dormant. The subwoofer is also infrequently used to any great effect, with a little bit of a thump coaxed from it from some songs and a bit of gunfire. The 5.1 audio is encoded at the oddball bitrate of 320Kbps, which I don't think I've ever seen before. The DVD offers Spanish subtitles and is not closed captioned.

Supplements: Considering that this movie is such an intensely personal project for writer/director Reverge Anselmo, not to mention the fact that he co-owns the label that's putting out this DVD, it's not surprising that he contributed quite a few extras. First up is an audio commentary with Anselmo, who's joined by Jonathan Tucker, Rachael Leigh Cook, Agnes Bruckner, and Daniel Franzese. It's a very chatty discussion, and it's clear that all five of these people really enjoyed working with each other and feel strongly about the movie. There's a lot of laughing and rattling off of random stories, but it doesn't make enough of an impression for me to slap a label on it like informative, funny, vapid, or anything else in particular. I feel completely indifferent towards it, not having nearly as much fun listening to this track as the five of them clearly had recording it. Some of the topics covered include Ed Begley Jr. making a four-day cross-country juice binge in his Prius, excised cat conversations, Rachael Leigh Cook's granny panties, griping about an embarrassingly out-of-sync coffee shop performance, and their collective shock that Begley was underwhelmed with the finished product.

The DVD includes three sets of interviews, with "Premiere Party" capturing comments on the red carpet, the less ambiguously titled "Cast Interviews" catching several actors during some downtime on the set, and "Behind the Scenes"...doing the same? Each set runs around nine or ten minutes, interspersing vertically elongated clips from the film throughout. Those interviews frequently have an EPK soundbite quality to them, but director Anselmo gets a chance to offer something more substantial in eight minutes of footage from a moderated discussion after a screening at USC. There's also a nine and a half minute chat about the grueling boot camp some of the actors endured, featuring comments from people on both sides of the torment. Also piled on are previews for Close Your Eyes, The Healer, and Mayor of the Sunset Strip. The DVD sports a set of 4x3 animated menus and twelve chapter stops, and a sizeable press kit is tucked inside the keepcase.

Conclusion: Stateside is a jumbled mess of a movie, and the uninspired acting and direction are unable to elevate the muddled material. I don't want to give the impression that this is some sort of horrific, unwatchable movie, but with tens of thousands of DVDs out there to choose from, something as merely okay as Stateside is difficult to recommend. Worth a rental if you're intrigued, but I wouldn't suggest it as a purchase sight-unseen.

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