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Mel Smith
Minnie Driver, Mary McCormack, Kevin McNally, Mark Williams, Danny Dyer, Michael Gambon
Kim Fuller, Georgia Pritchett

Crime has never been so attractive.
Rated R for language, some violence and nudity.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 86 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/9/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Mel Smith and Writer Kim Fuller
• “Low Lifes and High Heels” Featurette
• “Action Overload” Montage


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High Heels and Low Lifes (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Okay, I admit it: sometimes my thinking emanates from below the waist. When a copy of 2001’s British action-comedy High Heels and Low Lifes arrived on my door, I initially planned to skip it. I never heard of the flick, and it didn’t seem terribly interesting. However, as I scanned the case, I noticed that part of its “R” rating stemmed from nudity. Granted, you’re never sure what kind of skin you’ll get in a Brit flick - after all, they’re the folks who made The Full Monty - but perv that I am, I decided to give Heels a shot.

On the negative side, Heels includes almost no stimulating skin. There’s a brief flash of bosom during a scene in a strip joint; no complaints there. We also find a quick shot of an old guy’s butt; could’ve done without that.

On the positive side, even though the movie lacked significant positive nudity, it provided a reasonably entertaining affair. Heels follows the adventures of two friends who live in London. Frances (Mary McCormack) struggles to get by as an actress, and Shannon (Minnie Driver) works long hours as a nurse in a hospital. She also lives with her boyfriend Ray (Darren Boyd), but he’s more interested in his odd sound collages than her; even on her birthday, he ignores Shannon to spend time collecting samples of peoples’ phone calls.

Because of that work, Frances and Shannon get the phone number of a criminal. At first they don’t realize what they’ve heard, but when news of a big heist escapes, they know they tapped a private line to one of the crooks. Frances decides this offers their ticket out of unhappiness; she wants to blackmail the crooks for 500,000 pounds, and she convinces Shannon to go along with the deal since some of the money can be used to purchase better equipment for the hospital.

From there, their odyssey begins. Frances makes the threatening phone call to low-level hood Danny (Danny Dyer), and he agrees to pay. However, his bosses - including Mason (Kevin McNally) and his chief Kerrigan (Michael Gambon) run the show, and they don’t intend to suck it up and hand over the money.

The rest of the movie follows the women as they attempt to get their cash and keep alive. The ante gradually goes higher and higher, and a couple of moderately quirky cops slowly start to hop on their trail. That means Shannon and Frances must work hard to avoid capture by both sides.

While much of Heels seems fairly predictable - we’ve seen this sort of screwball caper comedy before - it still offers some entertainment. Frankly, this is one of those movies for which I find it difficult to nail down anything in particular I liked. That’s not because I didn’t enjoy the flick, for I did; it seemed reasonably engaging and amusing. It simply failed to offer anything especially fascinating.

While it lacks much creativity, Heels nonetheless appeared consistently witty and likable. Although McCormack occasionally got on my nerves to a small degree - she seemed to overplay the obnoxious American bit - I thought Driver was nicely warm and believable. I didn’t expect a full-blown character from this sort of flick, and McCormack made Frances somewhat cartoony. Driver avoided that trap and offered a fairly rich and full portrayal for Shannon. She helped ground a film that otherwise might have become excessively fluffy.

The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B+ / Bonus C

High Heels and Low Lifes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The disc provided a simply stunning picture from start to finish.

Sharpness appeared immaculate. At all times, the movie remained terrifically crisp and well defined. I never noticed any softness or fuzziness in this tight picture. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no concerns, while edge enhancement seemed absent. In addition, print flaws appeared completely nonexistent. Never did I discern any grain, specks, grit, nicks or other defects in this clean, fresh presentation.

Colors offered another terrific element of the image. The movie boasted a broad palette with wonderfully bright and vivid hues throughout the film. The tones remained concise and lively, with no problems related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Black levels seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was clear and appropriately opaque. Frankly, Heels looked so good I almost gave it an “A+” for picture, something I do very rarely; this was the best DVD image I’ve seen in a while.

Though not quite that strong, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of High Heels and Low Lifes also seemed positive. The soundfield largely maintained a forward emphasis, and it displayed good breadth in that realm. The front speakers demonstrated solid stereo imaging for music, while effects presented a nice, realistic and engaging presence. Those elements blended together well and moved smoothly across the area.

Surround usage seemed acceptable but generally unspectacular. Actually, at the very start of the film, I thought it’d offer very active support from the rear. During the opening scene, a lot of the “digital eavesdropping” sounds emanated from the back speakers, and the segment made good use of the split-surrounds. After that, however, the rears mainly bolstered effects and music from the front. They offered nice atmosphere and support, but they weren’t as strong as I initially thought they’d be.

Audio quality appeared solid. Despite a few badly looped shots, dialogue sounded natural and distinct, and I discerned no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects seemed crisp and accurate, and they showed no distortion, even during the louder action-oriented scenes. Music fared best of all, as the score appeared clear and vivid. Tunes heard in nightclubs were very rich and lively themselves, and the movie showed tight, rich bass response from start to finish. Ultimately, the audio of High Heels and Low Lifes nicely supported the material and sounded very good.

A few supplements round out the package. First we discover an audio commentary from director Mel Smith and writer Kim Fuller, both of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. Frankly, they offered a dull commentary. The vast majority of the piece consisted of praise. They told us how great the actors were, how great the crew was, and how great the movie is. Much of the time they simply went “that’s a terrific shot” or similar statements. Along the way, a few decent notes about changes made to the story along the way and some other elements emerged, but they were few and far between, as this track seemed uninformative as a whole.

Not much better was the featurette entitled “Low Lifes and High Heels”. That 19-minute and 22-second program consisted of film clips, shots from the set, and interviews with participants. In the latter regard, we heard from director Smith, writer Fuller, producers Uri Fruchtmann and Barnaby Thompson, production designer Michael Pickwoad, makeup artist Paul Gooch, and actors Minnie Driver, Mary McCormack, Kevin McNally, Danny Dyer, Len Colin, Michael Gambon, Mark Williams, and Kevin Eldon.

With so many subjects, you might expect the documentary to offer a lot of good info. You’d expect incorrectly. While “Lifes” included a few decent notes about the film and showed some fun images from the shoot, overall it felt like a glorified trailer. It mainly offered a basic recap of the story, and it definitely gave away too much of the plot and its twists. That’s largely because most of the show featured film clips; it provided far too many of those. Don’t watch “Lifes” if you haven’t already seen the movie. Even it you’ve checked out the flick, it still didn’t offer much of interest.

While the DVD didn’t include the movie’s theatrical trailer, it did provide Action Overload. That 100-second montage combined a variety of movie snippets in a music video style. Why this instead of the proper trailer? I have no idea, but it seemed like a waste of time.

Overall, High Heels and Low Lifes provided a reasonably witty and entertaining piece of work. The movie didn’t do much to stand out from the crowd, but it seemed well made and engaging for the most part. The DVD offered absolutely stellar picture quality along with solid audio and some disposable extras. While priced a bit high for ownership, the film should merit at least a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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