Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, fullscreen, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, Spanish Digital Stereo, subtitles: none, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 97 min., $27.95, street date 12/7/99.
Directed by Yuri Zeltser. Starring Gina Gershon, Ron Silver, Rory Cochran, Alison Eastwood.
A rookie cop gets assigned to a tough, sexy female partner, a veteran officer legendary for her ruthless, but effective style. The pair begins a very passionate affair while on their toughest case - the hunt for a serial killer. When the rookie receives mysterious evidence, he starts to conclude that his own partner and lover is the prime suspect for the grisly murders.
"Straight to video" movies have a terrible reputation, but you know what? It's one that's pretty much well earned. The vast majority of the films are fairly lousy and weren't missed because they bypassed your local Multiplex.
Black & White is a cop drama that didn't make the theatrical cut, but it's actually not a bad piece of work. (For the record, two genres dominate straight to video offerings: titty-filled crime dramas - about 80 percent of which star Shannon Tweed - and titty-filled drunken comedies - about 80% of which star a brother of a famous person, such as Jim "Buford's Beach Bunnies" Hanks or John "Moving Violations" Murray.) Note that I didn't say it was a great piece of work; it's really just a little bit above the level of "mediocre." Still, for a straight-to-video offering, that's high praise.
Right off the bat I want to establish that despite the presence of Gina "Showgirls" Gershon, Black & White contains no nudity. I didn't think the law allowed straight to video movies to go without any skin, but although Gershon disrobes in one scene and showers in another, we see nothing more provocative than her shoulders and her stomach. (This just isn't my night. Splendor, the movie I watched earlier today, actually included a scene in which mega-sexy Kathleen Robertson strips and is supposed to dance naked around a room. Do we see any skin? We do not! What's wrong with this world??!!)
Despite the crushing ramifications of the lack of nudity, I still thought B&W was an eminently watchable and semi-exciting film. It's extremely typical of the genre - when the inevitable shocking plot twist occurs at the end, you're not very shocked because it was, well, inevitable; I'd be much more startled by a film that didn't finish with some unexpected turn. No, I didn't completely foresee the movie's exact conclusion, but I anticipated every street and alley it took to get there; there's not a whole lot of originality on the screen.
Still, even though the journey is predictable, it's a decently fun little ride to get there. A lot of this is due to the actors involved. Gershon's main talent is the incredible sneer she maintains with that permanently curled upper lip of hers, but she works pretty well here. As rather unbalanced cop "Hugs," she manages a nice level of scariness and toughness mixed with sex appeal. She won't win any awards, but she does much better than the average video bimbo.
Also surprisingly good is Rory Cochrane as our protagonist, O'Brien. His character undoubtedly changes the most through the film, as he goes from innocent churchboy to hardened cop, and Cochrane pulls these nuances off well. He handles all the different facets of the part nicely and makes the changes believable and fairly natural.
Ultimately, Black & White offers a decent but unexceptional take on the standard crime drama. Its good acting elevates it somewhat, but it's still nothing special.
Nor is this DVD. It comes from Columbia Tristar (CTS), one of the best studios in the DVD biz, and it's a good piece of work, but it's in no way exceptional.
Black & White appears in both its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed edition has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The image looks good but not great. Sharpness is relatively strong, though scenes occasionally seem soft and fuzzy for no apparent reason; no predictable rule dictates which segments will suffer this problem. Print flaws are minimal - a mark here and there - and few moire effects appear; I noticed some blinds that shimmered at one point, and that was about it.
Colors generally look decent, though much of the film seems bathed in a light orange cast, something that occasionally offers that same tint to skin tones. Black levels look very good, and shadow detail seems strong; as would be expected in a crime thriller, many scenes occur in low light situations, but I never felt that I had to strain to make out the nuances of the picture. It's a nice image, but it includes a few too many faults to be anything more than pretty good.
Black & White offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As with the image, it's decent but unspectacular. Actually, it gets better as the movie proceeds. Early on, much of the audio seems nearly monaural in nature, but it opens up quite a bit as the film continues; the last half an hour portrays a pretty nice soundstage, with effective use of all five channels. As a whole, however, the audio appears lacking in intensity and sonic ambition. The score is nicely distributed between the various speakers, but the dialogue always is rooted in the center, and until the last third of the movie, that's where most of the effects reside as well.
The quality of the soundtrack also is good but unexceptional. An overall tone of slight harshness disrupts the proceedings; it's not strong, but all aspects of the audio seem slightly trebly and shrill. Distortion occasionally rears its ugly head, particularly during some dialogue sequences. I also found speech to be understandable and reasonably natural, though. Effects sound pretty good, with some depth and sharpness, and the music seems relatively smooth, although it tends toward the slight edginess I already mentioned. Again, the audio is pretty good, and it definitely improved as the movie continued - my rating slowly edged up from a "C" to a "C+" to its final "B-" - but it clearly could have been a lot better.
Despite the straight to video origins of Black & White, the DVD actually contains a few supplements. The big attraction here is an audio commentary from director Yuri Zeltser. It's really very good. Although it suffers from too many silent gaps, Zeltser offers a lot of interesting information about his film and he's not shy about criticizing it. I'm always suspicious of commentaries in which everything is relentlessly positive; they seem like they're afraid to admit any faults whatsoever and are hard to believe. Zeltser definitely spends most of his time praising the actors and the crew, but he's not afraid to point out areas he felt could have been better. All in all, it's a very listenable and informative track.
The rest of the extras are more commonplace. A trailer for the film appears, as does a TV ad; both are decent but blah. Atypically for CTS DVDs, we also see some fairly extensive talent files. Biographies and filmographies for eight actors and four crew members appear, and unlike the usual extremely abbreviated and useless bios on most CTS DVDs, these are fairly informative and complete. They aren't the best I've seen, but they blow away what I expect from CTS. At least one factual error appears in these bios, however. The listing for Alison Eastwood states that her father - that'd be Clint - directed her in Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil which was his second directorial effort. Close! It was actually his twentieth.
One negative way in which B&W differs from other CTS DVDs, however, is the lack of a booklet. Most CTS titles include a four page leaflet with some production notes; this DVD only has a double-sided card with a couple of photos and some chapter listings.
While I found Black & White to offer a surprisingly polished and entertaining experience, it's definitely not a DVD I'll urge you to buy. It's an okay movie and a decent DVD, with pretty good picture and sound and one good extra in its audio commentary, but there's nothing of much note happening here. You may want to rent it, but that's probably as much as you'll want to commit to it.
Current as of 12/21/99
Gina Gershon: An Unofficial Tribute--A very attractive site with terrific contents on the actress. Highly Recommended!
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