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DEA: Detroit

Paramount // Unrated // February 10, 2009
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted July 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
DEA: Detroit - 2-Disc Set!:
I don't know if there's hope anymore. Education, capitalism, drug policies, it seems sometimes like everything's messed up and nothing but a small group of amped-up civil servants stands between us and them. If COPS doesn't do it for you anymore you can always go to Spike TV for a little program called DEA: Detroit, which is presented in this two-disc, six episode collection. The notion of hardcore drug busts in the toughest city in America seems delightful for those of us who enjoy anything gritty and rough, but though this aggressive paranoia-festival delivers all the goods you'll love while upping the ante with a cast of real-life DEA agents who become characters instead of place-holders, the end result is formulaic and enervating.

Those familiar with this genre - and anyone who's sat in front of a TV after 11:30pm is likely familiar - will recognize what's going on. Buzzy flash-cuts of seedy scenes ride an ominous wave of gravelly narration intoning dire warnings about breaking the law. Watch in queasy amazement as bulletproof foot soldiers jump from a van, guns raised, screaming and chasing a barely clothed perp down a dirty street. Roll credits. Then go over it all again with more detail and more footage as each of six (in this case) 43-minute episodes unfolds. DEA: Detroit focuses on one crime-affected city, rather than taking the national view ala COPS. (How many people reading now know where Gwinnett and Dade counties are?) Also, instead of bouncing from goofy drunks to pathetic domestic disputes and other sundry crimes, the Detroit crew spends all of its time busting drug dealers.

Unlike the delirious transgressions of Robocop's motor city, what's found in this iron belt bastion is just the sad everyday of undereducated hustlers slangin' that rock, or duffels of weed, or what have you. As a decent improvement, we get to follow the same group of agents from episode to episode, allowing these men to emerge - at least in the show's narrow focus - as characters, rather than the usual Crown Victoria driving men in blue who describe why they like law enforcement before wiping blood off some wife-beater's knuckles. Nonetheless, even with this tightened focus, the guys mostly talk about details of each case, intricacies of busting dealers, and not wanting to get shot. You get more information simply from watching their faces from show to show - some of the faces more expressive than others.

But what happens is pretty much every episode goes the same way; the guys bust some small-time dealer and try getting him to 'flip', or rat out the next in line. In this way they hope to climb the ladder to the top. But will they ever get the Ultimate Dope Dealer and stop the madness? Nah, G: Ain't nothin' but a gangsta party. Moreover, each time our agents indicate a dealer might be so desperate to avoid jail that he'll come out with guns blazing, the dude either bolts in his drawers or sits all f-ed up on the couch claiming the drugs belonged to someone else. There's certainly a heavy degree of hype, repetition and blurry, manic camera work to pump up these true-life danger scenarios, but in reality and on the show it boils down to the same cops busting the same dudes over and over and over again. Unless you get off on scenes of hopeless inner city folk living in decrepitude, with the occasional shots of 20,000 dollars worth of crack cocaine, DEA: Detroit ends up as depressing as the drug situation in America itself.

The DVD

Video:
Widescreen presentations of 6 43-minute episodes look appropriately gritty, with that aggressive hi-def sheen that makes each flying mote of dust look hyper-real. Unfortunately that translates in this case to lots of aliasing and motion blur as well. Since frantic scenes are so frenetic this complaint is rendered fairly harmless, though. Colors are as drab as a cement street in wintertime, with a few cigarette wrappers and a McDonald's french-fry box languishing in the gutter. I'm sure Spike TV wouldn't have it any other way.

Sound:
English Dolby Digital Stereo is surprisingly lively and is balanced well between ominous music and nervous cops talking quietly about avoiding danger. Of course they then start barking and yelling with fury as they bust down doors, so if you're watching late at night, beware.

Extras:
One full-length episode of Real Vice Cops: Uncut is the sole extra, and that program suffers the same fate as DEA: Detroit, in that it presents a seemingly intractable problem in standard reality-cop format. Plus, it doesn't really seem uncut, as unsavory elements are blurred.

Final Thoughts:
Granting the grace of following the same group of officers through six episodes marks DEA: Detroit's only innovation. Otherwise, it's nothing COPS fans haven't seen before, only it's the same thing every time: Sarge describes the bust, agents don't want to get shot, bust goes down without a hitch - only sometimes they don't find the drugs - and repeat. Flashy editing and gritty camerawork don't hide the fact that DEA: Detroit presents the same sad story over and over again, kind of like the perpetual 'war on drugs.' Rent It.

www.kurtdahlke.com

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