Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // $19.97 // December 2, 2008
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 15, 2009
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The Film:

On the list of signs pointing towards the impending apocalypse -- along with Uwe Boll directing an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel -- you'd likely find the concept of a gangster picture put on by Lifetime Women's network. It'd take a pretty special story for this idea to actually work at tapping into the essence of both a good crime flick and a narrative that'd tap into their core market, a balance that Wisegal gets right a bit more than it gets wrong.

"Tame" is a good description for this watchable Alyssa Milano vehicle. It follows the framework of a true story, capturing Patty, the wife of a fallen cop, who slinks into the world of money running for the mob. It starts with a sweet gesture from a suave gangster (Jason Gedrick), then transforms into a solicitation from the "big boss" (James Caan) for her services. Patty begins to worry about the safety of her children as her ascent into the criminal underworld boosts, turning into an atmosphere with little trust -- except in some unexpected directions. It's a story that blends motherly instinct with a taste of the dangerous, a concoction that seems tailor-made for Lifetime to grab a hold of and try to turn into a viewer-appealing production.

As the film starts out, we know that Patty's obviously going to take this turn -- but it begins with her draped in a black coat and pistol in hand, threatening the life of the man outside her door. It introduces this idea so that we can see how she transforms along the way, which Wisegal handles with more delicateness than expected. It doesn't just flop her into the world and churn her with a complete 180 once the prospect of financial security rolls into the picture. Instead, it keeps things somewhat realistic. Wisegal never shakes the feeling of being "Gilmore Girls meets The Sporanos" -- most notably in its static television-style angle -- but the energy that it generates is unexpected.

Alyssa Milano is largely responsible for this jolt of interest. Though her New York accent gets a little stagey and she dips into some of the same mannerisms that she brought to her "Charmed" character, the attitude she gives Patty keeps Wisegal consistently enjoyable. Part of it comes from the fact that she's naturally charismatic, but she also obviously has a lot of fun with the role. She stands tooth-and-nail with the largely overblown mobster stereotypes, all which still seeming somewhat unsullied and easy to get behind as a heroine. She's not the only strong turn here, however; James Caan lends a delicate angle to the omnipresent mob boss, a role that dips his toes into the pool of successful characters he's portrayed from a few years back.

Alas, it's the nature of Wisegal's story that makes it a difficult one to swallow down -- primarily because of the easiness that it finds in slinking in and out of the world of crime. It's impracticable to compare it to other mobster canons, both television and film alike, since it's been engineered to try and teeter along the line between temerity and danger for its audience's taste. In that, it makes the film somewhat unmemorable during the heart of Patty's transformation, opting to give a predictable emotional chord to her stiff descent and the aftereffects of her career. Still, for a television mobster film that focuses on a blend of motherly instinct and genre suspense, Wisegal could've been a lot worse.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Since Wisegal was shot directly for television consumption just a year or so ago, it sports an expectedly strong transfer. Coming from Anchor Bay in its original 1.78:1 framing and enhanced for widescreen televisions, Wisegal showcases all the elements that build into a strong static-camera image. Dimensionality and color saturation are both very nice, while many small details in clothing and set design remain memorable -- especially in the purple and black night club scene. Flesh tones lean a bit on the warm side a few times, but generally they stay highly stable and very pleasant to the eyes. When Wisegal does step into the realm of shaky cam movement, it handles itself with little ghosting or unpleasant distortion.

Though backed by a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the sound design remains focused to the front and highly dialogue-driven. Outside of the sound of a drill whirring and a few light sound effects, Wisegal swings mostly on the words exchanged between Patty and her mobster acquaintances. Dimensionality stays relatively static, but everything here sounds fairly clean as well. Verbal clarity, the element where this track needs to excel, is crystal clear and rarely distorted due to yelling or other vocal strains. Though marked by some musical backdrops in a few scenes that fall a bit flat, it's a pretty pleasant track. Subtitles are only available in English.

Special Features:

All we've got here is a short Wisegal: Behind the Scenes (4:23, 16x9) featurette that's about what you'd expect with the time it takes out -- interviews, character motivation, a little behind-the-scenes footage -- and an anamorphic Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

In all, Wisegal is basically a step above what you'd expect -- a little more tense, a little more resonant, and a bit better played from the actors involved. It's not typically strong in all of those areas for a narrative drenched in mobster conflict, but it does a nice job at presenting a balancing act between all elements for the audience in mind. Alyssa Milano and James Caan both do well here, which help boost this made-for-television flick up to a healthy Rental.

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