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Mighty Quinn, The

Olive Films // R // September 22, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 31, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Most people have probably heard the saying, "all sizzle, no steak", which comes to mind, but is not quite applicable, watching The Mighty Quinn. The 1989 Denzel Washington mystery was a staple on MGM's bargain DVD racks that once occupied grocery stores nationwide, which labels like Olive Films and Kino Lorber have started snapping up for Blu-ray (Quinn being an acquisition of the former). The "sizzle" comparison implies deception or trickery, which isn't accurate, but there is a sense that Quinn began life as a two-hour movie that blended the mystery with material for personality or flavor, stuff that fleshed out the characters and utilized the movie's Caribbean setting. Then, when it came time to trimming the movie down in the editing room, the opposite of the expected happened: most of the movie's plot hit the floor, and all the flavor material stayed.

Denzel plays Xavier Quinn, chief of police of an unidentified Caribbean island. Police work on the island doesn't seem too taxing, with Quinn free to attend a wedding during the workday and cops rigging beer-related pranks for the familiar prisoners in the station's holding cell, but today's case is different: a millionaire resort owner has been found dead in his Jacuzzi with his head chopped off. A politically powerful local named Thomas Elgin (James Fox) identifies Quinn's boyhood friend and local troublemaker Maubee (Robert Townsend) as the culprit, and the governor (Norman Beaton) agrees with the accusation, insisting to Quinn that he find Maubee and bring him in. Quinn, however, is suspicious of everything -- Elgin and the governor's insistence that he not be allowed to perform an autopsy, their certainty that it was Maubee, and his knowledge of Maubee himself as a decent man all point to something rotten going on behind the scenes.

Right from the beginning of the film, when a howling scream is revealed to be part of a joyous musical performance, The Mighty Quinn has cultural spice to spare. The island is apparently a small one, where most people seem to know Quinn by name, a real community of friends and relatives who all generally get along with one another. The film dabbles in mysticism with the character of Ubu Pearl (Esther Rolle), a local witch who seems to know something about the case, and whose niece, Isola (Tyra Ferrell), is Maubee's girlfriend. The film features a surprising amount of musical performance, both right at the beginning and again later as Quinn tries to work through a rough patch with his wife Lola (Sheryl Lee Ralph), who is busy getting a singing act together with two of her girlfriends. It's also colorful in the most literal sense, with eye-popping green trees, beautiful blue-green oceans, the vivid reds of Maubee's outfits, and the crisp white of Quinn's usual uniforms.

Through all of this culture and color, The Mighty Quinn definitely establishes itself as a unique and memorable movie, but the brightness of these details emphasizes the blandness of the mystery, which the movie cuts back to awkwardly and abruptly. It feels as if all the transition scenes in the film have been cut out: at one point, Quinn interrogates a local for a bit of information, and with little more than a shot of a woman swimming in a pool to branch them, he's then face-to-face with Elgin, arguing once again about whether or not he should pursue the case. Quinn's scenes with the governor are also strange: each one feels like pretty much the same scene, with Quinn seemingly sensing corruption, then returning to the governor later and being once again surprised that his pursuit of the truth is not being appreciated. From the beginning of the film, Quinn seems convinced that Maubee is not guilty, but when he and Maubee finally confront each other again, Quinn suddenly seems suspicious of his friend.

At the center of it all is Denzel, who seems to be giving a decent performance that has been rendered inconsistent by the film's choppy construction. For the most part, this is the slightly wry, charismatic kind of character we're used to seeing him play, but other scenes are slightly puzzling. How much of a sexual game is he playing with Elgin's beautiful wife, Hadley (Mimi Rogers), or with Jax (Maria McDonald), a woman who pursues him? What exactly is the root of his fight with his wife, and how should the viewer be expecting him to fix it? In one scene, Quinn arrests a man (Alex Colon), who he suspects is up to no good, without reading him his rights, later taking a ton of cash away from him without any real evidence of what happens to it. The movie is never quite clear about who Quinn is and how we should really feel about him. He seems essentially decent, and the townsfolk like him, but it often feels like the movie is defining the lines that make up Quinn by coloring outside of them instead of in, leaving a void that the viewer must narrow down to his personality instead of understanding it. There is nothing wrong with the film's essential lack of interest in its crime subplot compared to its characters, but without defining its characters better, the result is a movie with a fuzzy focal point and a weak mystery. More like The Middling Quinn.

The Blu-ray
MGM's DVD art for The Mighty Quinn had an image of Denzel brandishing a revolver on a beach, but there was a mountain looming large on the horizon that made the image seem sort of dark and moody. Olive's new Blu-ray rectifies this by putting in a replacement beach with crisp off-white sand and a baby blue ocean lapping at its edges, with a blue sky above it. Not sure that the core element, Denzel with the revolver, is any more accurate to the movie's fairly leisurely pace, but at least it seems more tropical. The one-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Arriving in 1.85:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, this is a generally satisfying presentation of The Mighty Quinn. At times, the image appears a little on the soft side, but closer inspection reveals an impressive amount of fine detail to be had within the image, especially textural detail, such as fabric and skin. Colors seem properly saturated; a slight yellow lean to some of the outdoor scenes seems to be part of the photography rather than an issue with the disc. Print damage is noticeable throughout the presentation, but it's little more than a fleck or two on the image. The 2.0 mix captures dialogue fine, but of course, the real star of the show is the vibrant music, which sounds lively and clear on the HD mix. The one major disappointment, as with so many Olive releases, is the lack of any captions or subtitles to assist with the thick Caribbean accents.

The Extras
As with MGM's old DVD, the one extra is the film's original theatrical trailer.

The Mighty Quinn fails to fully accomplish its goals as either a character piece or a mystery, yet it's still a vibrant, colorful film bursting with life and personality. The film itself is more like a rental, but I'll give the disc a recommendation based on the strength of the presentation.

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