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Bobby Z

Sony Pictures // R // September 4, 2007
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 6, 2007 | E-mail the Author
I'm fond of identity manipulation flicks. Seeing how a character plays out when in different skin, such as the way its masterfully achieved in Infernal Affairs and more literally conceived in Face/Off, brings a lot of intrigue to the table. So when Bobby Z, an action based identity flick directed by John Herzfeld (15 Minutes), showed its face with Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne in the key slots, I was eager to see how this would come together. I'm still eager to see how this can come together, since Bobby Z failed to do so this time around.

The Film:

In order to sell this story, adapted from the book by Don Winslow, it's got to shoot itself much higher than a face value synopsis. Simply, it's the wayward tale of a problematic, ex-Marine jailbird Tim Kearney (Paul Walker) who physically resembles a heavily pursued surfer drug lord, Bobby Z. Since he holds such a prominent similarity to this key player believed to be vanished by his ring, border DEA officer Gruzsa (Laurence Fishburne) and his department decide to use him as an exchange for a captive officer being held by an infamous druglord's crew. If Tim scurries off amidst the flurry or seeps into Bobby Z's persona, then it's on his head. Of course, Tim doesn't exactly have much of a choice since he's looking at a long, hard time in jail hunted by an equally menacing group of inmates set to kill him.

Something is begging to go awry with said scenario, and as such a flurry of missteps and backstabs ensue. Instead of an exchange and scurry situation, Tim ends up ensnaring the persona of Bobby Z across the border within his paradise existence. He struts around a beautiful hacienda vineyard, hitting up Z's contacts and blindly waltzing around aged comrades who can't tell the difference between him and his somewhat notorious "inspiration". Of course, it's only a matter of time before Z's, as well as Tim's, unhappy enemies will come a knocking. Tim will have to fight around these speedbumps to find his way, as well as through the discovery of Bobby Z's child and his gorgeously tenacious ex-girlfriend Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde).

I might've been able to get sucked into a tense version of such a plotline. A polished action flick packing a few splashes of false identity intrigue regarding an ultra-slick drug dealing surfer? If done right, it might work. Cock the barrel back and load it up with the always resounding Laurence Fishburne and Paul Walker who, as of recent, has impressed me with a similar narrative in Running Scared? Now we're in business. Right?

Sadly, Bobby Z is a disappointment. Ill-conceived characters behind deficient acting and a laughable script dip this alternate identity caper achingly close to discomfort. Not only is the sense of belief non-existent, but the attempts to add humor and flavor to this misfire walk dangerously close to the boundaries of ineptitude. Many of the plot kinks just click into place way too easily with very little believable panache. Once you start to toss in the sloppy misadventures of Paul Walker's fake Bobby Z and the real Bobby Z's illegitimate son, then you know you've stepped into something unsavory.

Lo and behold, we're only working with a glimmer or two of acceptable action sequences tacked onto this flick. Races on dirt bikes and horseback blended with a little close-quartered hand-to-hand combat made my ears perk up a bit. Actually, the fight choreography was surprisingly solid in this. Whenever Walker's Tim gets into his disgruntled fisticuffs as Bobby Z, you'll see speckles of his character that we nearly completely lose when he's flexing his dramatic poise. Just don't think too hard about how this particular late 20's - early 30's gruff ex-military jailbird knows all that he does, such as little points like cantering and jumping on saddle and proficiently knowing how to vault up MX-style on bike.

When you take a look around at this place where everything is going down, you'll find Bobby Z's few strengths: location and photography. Every single shot in the film that shines does so only because of this fantastic shooting locale. Squealing bike sounds and galloping across the desert work just fine to provide some much-needed attractive sweeping shots. Of course, you notice the beauty of the scenery a lot more when you're unengaged and desperately searching for something of substance to favor.

It's a shame that both Laurence Fishburne and Paul Walker aren't working with different material, because this pairing obviously has a bit of chemistry. Alas, it's nowhere near enough to fight Bobby Z out of this corner. Hearing painful dialogue escaping Fishburne's lips is a lot like watching gold shavings and dust blow into the wind. He commands such a grand, booming persona, yet really suffers with his tediously inane material here. With cowboy hat rustled back and gruff eyes peering past the brim, his projection just doesn't satisfy once we hear what he has to say. Walker, who really was on an incline after his 2004 bombast thrillride in Running Scared, suffers a similar fate as our front man Bobby Z. He's given excruciatingly dry lines, and delivers them like a dull knife because of this fumbling tangibility. You can see glimmers of his mounting electric persona inside his visual action and intensity; then, once you get on board, Tim's drive and persona eccentricities fail to mesh together very well.

Ultimately, there's a lot that doesn't mesh within Bobby Z. Motives don't add up, even when the film's twist offers a glimmer of intrigue. I still can't comprehend why a running, hunted ex-con would eagerly toss a "clean" gun, his sole weapon, plummeting into deep water with a multitude of villains on his tail. Many similar inconsistencies that lack fluid explanation float to the top of this storytelling, especially once everything comes together in an absurdly undemanding conclusion. Bobby Z is a serviceable story that wasn't done apt service when splayed on screen.

The DVD:

Sony brings us Bobby Z in a standard keepcase DVD with coverart and discart that'll look strikingly familiar to its menu shots.

The Video:

Available in both anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen presentations on the same side of this disc, Bobby Z looks fine enough. The scenery's lush shots and color solidity worked decently, though a fair amount of mosquito noise is present. Minute details on Fishburne's face look alright, but textural consistency in architecture isn't terribly strong. Plus, there's a few instances of murky edge enhancement present. Though mildly muted at times, Bobby Z holds a functional, bright image that benefits from decent photography.

The Audio:

Bobby Z continues with a functional streak in its Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation. Sound richness isn't horribly prominent; though, its vocal levels and gunshot effects were plenty crisp. Rear channels received a little bit of separation action, which is a suitable plus. Minor elements, like horse's hooves and dirtbike revs sound somewhat pleasing. It's a audio presentation that works, but doesn't really offer much in the way of inventiveness. A French track is also available, as are English, French, and Spanish optional subtitles.

The Extras:

- Behind the Scenes of Bobby Z -
Bobby Z's sole extra feature is a short piece featuring some rather generic character explanations. It explains a very small amount about motivations and assembling the film, however it seems that at least half of its runtime is filled with clips from the film. We get some interview time with Walker and director Herzfeld, but not much stands particularly memorable in this bit.

Other than Previews for Hostel Part II and Rise, that's about it.


Final Thoughts:

For fans of this genre, Bobby Z won't satiate much of that desire for a sharp undercover identity film. Though well photographed and holding a few strong action sequences, the overall unnatural demeanor and character dialogue quickly plummets any tangibility that you might be able to hold onto. With this cast, beautiful location, and talented action components, Bobby Z could've been a lot more if given some room to breathe naturally. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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