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I consider myself a fairly vocal Michael Madsen fan! I often think that if he would have worked in cinema fifty years ago nowadays we would be watching some very interesting noir-pictures. His trade-mark has always been the tired look of a man with too much on his shoulders, the raspy voice, the "me against the world" attitude that always lands him if not prominent at least passable B-movie roles. The dirty cop he plays in Kyle Dean Jackson's latest film Chasing Ghosts is not an exception: Madsen's character is beat up, sharp-talker, and with cojones the size of extra-large coconuts.
The plot of Chasing Ghosts is simple! Someone is on a killing spree in New York City meticulously eliminating prominent crime figures. From the little we are given in the opening scenes we learn that ten years ago an undercover cop has been shot during a covert operation. His murder was never solved and the case was closed due to insufficient amount of evidence. Fast-forward ten years later and people associated with the crime boss the undercover cop had investigated are now being eliminated with a deadly precision. The case is reopened and the local police department where Madsen's character works is now looking for some answers.
Clocking in at nearly two hours Chasing Ghosts most certainly wants to be an engaging viewing material. However, with a team of actors such as rock star Michael "Meatloaf" Aday, Gary Busey, Michael Rooker, and Corey Large among others this film simply begs to be classified as a B, possibly cable in the future, affair. Furthermore, in Chasing Ghosts even the key elements such films typically rely on: a major car chase, a few broken ribs, plenty of bar scenes, and the obligatory finale set either in a shipping yard or an abandoned industrial zone do not quite live up to the expectations.
The "mystery" of Chasing Ghosts is so easily predictable that if you have seen a fair amount of police head-scratchers chances are you will figure out the direction this film is heading most probably after the initial thirty minutes or so. Add to the mix a predictable semi-romantic relationship which does not really contribute much to the plot of the film and that is just about all that Chasing Ghosts offers. Only it takes Kyle Dean Jackson nearly two hours to tell you that his film will be quickly forgotten.
The parts where Chasing Ghosts actually excels have a lot to do with Madsen's character. The fact that the film opens up with a gallery of flashbacks clearly revealing the "dirty" side of the cop the audience is asked to embrace brings an interesting flavor to an otherwise tasteless story. Yet, even the sporadic scenes where we see Madsen contemplating his past can not hold well enough to arouse our curiosity. At the end Chasing Ghosts feels too long, too predictable, and perhaps too vulnerable to comparisons with such shows as CSI where at least the action is flashier and the director does not require two hours to bring his story to a closure.
How Does the DVD Look?
Despite of the fact that the back cover of Chasing Ghosts indicates an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 the film is actually presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's. Colors are exceptionally well rendered, contrast is held at satisfactory level, and for the most part the little edge enhancement I spotted is not as distracting as it could have been. Other notable examples of digital manipulation that I could notice include a tiny bit of unusual flickering towards the end of the film (see the shooting scene at the New York house) and marginal degree of mosquito noise. All in all this is one very good print that should satisfy the more demanding amongst cinephilles.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original 5.1 English language track and a French 5.1 dub (both tracks are in Dolby Digital) Chasing Ghosts sounds exceptionally well. The dialog is loud and clear and during the shooting scenes the surround effects are used quite well. With this said, I did not notice any disturbing dropouts or cracks that could otherwise detract from your viewing experience. With optional, rather large for my taste, English and French subtitles.
SONY pictures have a few extras for this release that some viewers may find quite intriguing. There is a standard "Outtakes" section where we get to see plenty of footage that has been omitted from the final cut for this film. While some of these deleted scenes do contain an extra spoiler here and there I don't think that they would have made the story any more exciting. Indeed, what this section of "outtakes" contains is mostly second grade material that did not make it for a reason. Next, there is your standard "Making of" featurette which basically sums up the entire film for you in a manner of minutes. What is interesting here is the part where the director of the film reveals some of the magic behind Chasing Ghosts and precisely how parts of Los Angeles were digitally manipulated to look as if the film was taking place in New York City. Next, there is the gag-spoof "Shade and Spade" which totals no more than 3 min. and well does not quite belong here but the producers of the DVD has nevertheless decided to include it. Next, we are offered the "VFX Effects" extra which focuses on the manner in which most of the special effects in this film were shot. Keeping in mind that Chasing Ghosts had an extremely limited budget it is indeed fascinating to see how most of the car chases, shootings, etc. were put together. Last but not least there is a gallery of upcoming or already released SONY products.
Despite of my affection for Michael Madsen I have to admit that Chasing Ghosts is a film that did not impress me much. Overly-predictable, clichéd, and unusually long this film will test the patience of those who end up giving it a chance. There are better and substantially more engaging crime-thrillers than Chasing Ghosts. Still, out of respect for Mr. Madsen…RENT IT.