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Prince, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // October 28, 2014
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 3, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Of all the criticisms one could direct at a movie, "cliched" is probably the most common, but to call a movie "cliched" isn't entirely straightforward. Many of the greatest movies of all time aren't the first to explore a certain subject or idea, and so to invoke "cliched" as a knock against a film (or any narrative art form) has to do with more than just recognizing that the ideas at hand are not original. In truth, "cliched" means the film's execution doesn't give the viewer something to latch onto or think about other than the cliches, stranding the viewer with the same old thing they've seen a hundred times before. The Prince is a movie that is inarguably constructed out of familiar tropes from gangster and western films, yet also one that could've been really entertaining with the right execution. Sadly, this is one of the ones that strands the viewer, unfolding its story with a near lack of verve or wit.

Jason Patric plays Paul Brennan, an auto mechanic who spends his days alone, working in his garage. He has a daughter, Beth (Gia Mantegna), who is away at college, and he is looking forward to her return for an upcoming weekend. On one of his Skype calls with her, he notices she seems fidgety and nervous, but thinks nothing of it until he gets a letter from her school saying her tuition hasn't been paid. He calls her back, but someone else answers the phone. Paul closes up shop and drives down to her school, looking for someone who can help him find Beth. In Beth's apartment, he finds a photograph of her and a girlfriend, who he eventually identifies as Angela (Jessica Lowndes). With a little bribery, he discovers the truth: Beth has picked up some nasty drug habits, and she disappeared off to New Orleans, where her connection lives. It's an unfortunate turn of events, because before Paul was a mechanic, he worked in New Orleans as a killer for hire, and he left town with a terrible price on his head.

I first read the basic plot of The Prince several years ago, when John Carpenter was considering directing it. All it mentioned at the time was a former gangster hitman returned to a city (at the time, I think it was Vegas) where every criminal and rat would be out for his head. It sounded like a great, hard-boiled throwback, one that would have a simple revenge story and a really bloody finale. Disappointing, then, that the first cliche of The Prince is the kidnapped female family member, the old standby of gritty action movies. Obviously, the script needs a reason for "The Prince" to return to a town he has no desire to visit, but it could be anything, even someone threatening his daughter without actually involving her. Instead, we get the usual scenes of women as generic victims, keeping their head down during gunfire, being held hostage, and maybe even serving as a love interest (although, thankfully, The Prince mostly leaves that stone unturned).

If Paul's return to New Orleans is like a match being struck and held to a fuse, the TNT on the other end is Omar (Bruce Willis), some sort of crime lord who was once on the verge of owning the entire city. He has a reason to hate Paul (one that involves more women as victims), a weird backstory that tries to have its cake and eat it too. The heart of the grudge between Omar and Paul (which is pretty obvious, but plays out in no less than three flashback sequences) manages the bizarre feat of simultaneously generating sympathy for and demonizing both parties. Omar is a crime lord, so he must be a bad guy, but you'd never know it from his behavior in the flashback sequence, all smiles and warmth. Paul, on his end, tried to take action, but it was too late, yet, if he hadn't been a sociopath, the situation never would've come up. The idea that everyone is guilty and everyone is sorry might've been an interesting thing, were The Prince to explore it, but it seems unlikely that the filmmakers even knew what they'd created.

Once all that is stripped away, all that's left is a generic movie with generic performances and generic action, point-and-shoot sequences that never manage to raise the pulse. In defense of the performances, it's not for lack of trying. All three of the film's top-billed actors seem to be engaged enough (Patric brings a nice edginess to his performance, Willis goes big in his most villainous moments, and Cusack has a nervous energy that makes the film feel more interesting), but all three are let down by the script. Patric and Willis are given nothing but some half-assed speechifying ("tell me what I wanna know or you're gonna die", a story about phantom limbs), and Cusack's part is minimal. Lowndes has one of the film's only interesting roles, Beth's friend Angela who starts out as just a source of information for Paul but ends up along for the whole ride, but her performance is inconsistent, and one performance just isn't enough to distract from the familiarity of everything else.

The Blu-ray
The Prince arrives on Blu-ray with a an extremely glossy embossed slipcover, featuring the old standby "the wrong names over the wrong faces." It's a pretty generic template, used on front and back. The one-disc release comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is a paper insert inside the case with the UltraViolet Digital Copy code.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio, The Prince is granted an extremely strong home video presentation. Fine detail is razor sharp, blacks are rich and inky, and colors are vibrant. Any instances of banding or artifacting were so minimal and brief, they might've just been optical illusions. The sound mix has a little of that "direct-to-video" feel to it, but it's a bit beefier than its competition, offering decent surround during large gunfights and some nice bass during explosions. Dialogue sounds just fine, and the track is occasionally immersive. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, English subtitles, and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
The disc opens with an audio commentary by director Brian A. Miller and actor Jason Patric. Right off the bat, there are some significant pauses in the conversation, with Miller offering some general insight into his thought process behind his creative choices (and not without a hint of ego -- they've made something better than other thrillers, the character arcs are all great, etc). Patric is fairly quiet, only chiming in from time to time with more anecdotal details (often, Miller will prompt him to speak and then forget to stop talking).

Video extras start with "Capturing The Prince" (9:58, HD), a general overview of the production. The writers cite Unforgiven as an influence, a strong example of how this film could've been better than it is. This is followed by a series of cast and crew interviews (14:10, HD) are basic on-set promotional material, with each subject summarizing their character and the story, then answering some basic questions about their co-workers, or the shooting location. Of course, much of this material ended up in the making-of featurette, so seeing the two back-to-back is repetitive. A short reel of deleted and extended scenes (10:28, HD) is also included. All of the trims are pretty inconsequential, and, oddly, presented out of order.

Trailers for The Expendables III, Reclaim, The Frozen Ground, Fire With Fire, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu. An original trailer for The Prince is also included.

The Prince is about a man falling back into old habits. It's too bad the film is all about falling back into familiar patterns. That's not to say the story needs to be any fresher -- it's got a strong, simple hook -- it's more that the execution fails to energize those beats. Skip it.

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