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Rich Cowan
Ray Liotta, Christian Slater, Ving Rhames, Gisele Fraga, Sarah Ann Schultz, Michael Rodrick, Melora Walters
Writing Credits:
Steve Anderson

You can't escape the past!

The sins of the past are not forgotten in this chilling suspense thriller starring Ray Liotta, Christian Slater and Ving Rhames. When the first body was discovered, it seemed a coincidence. But now homicide detective Jack Verdon (Liotta) has cause to worry: the victims of a series of brutal sex murders are all his former girlfriends. Suspected by the FBI agent who’s taken over the case (Slater) and suspended by his captain (Rhames), Jack must work outside the law if he’s to find the killer, save his future and protect what’s left of his past.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 9/20/2011

• Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Rich Cowan, Cinematographer Dan Heigh and Editor Jason A.Payne
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Steve Anderson, Actor/Producer Sarah Ann Schultz and Actors Gisele Fraga and Michael Rodrick
• “Making of” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The River Murders (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 16, 2012)

Ah, time for a little more “direct-to-video” goodness! Today we find a few faded semi-stars in 2011’s The River Murders.

Sarah Richards ends up murdered down by the edge of a river. Detective Jack Verdon (Ray Liotta) dated her 12 years earlier, and the corpse landed right near the last place the pair had sex. This immediately makes Jack a suspect, though of course he declares his innocence.

This becomes the first of many deaths connected to Jack. Next his mother passes, and then his old high school girlfriend is found murdered in the same style as Sarah. This leads to other discoveries that appear to link Jack to the crimes, so we follow the chase as the cops try to locate a serial killer who seems to be obsessed with Jack’s past.

Every once in a while a direct-to-video film provides a pleasant surprise. The format does tend to lead one to fear the worst; after all, if a movie isn’t good enough for a theatrical release, one would assume it comes with fatal flaws. However, some demonstrate a reasonable level of quality and intrigue.

Murders isn’t one of those – not by a long shot. At its core, it possesses an interesting concept, and it makes us vaguely curious to find out more about the killer. The film identifies the culprit quite early, so that’s never in doubt; the only potential tension relates to why he does what he does.

Even that’s not especially compelling, mostly because the film’s ham-fisted storytelling ensures that the eventual reveal with be clumsy and cheesy. The rest of the film follows those lines, so why shouldn’t a major plot point fall into the same category?

Murders comes from a group of professionals, but it feels awfully amateurish. It suffers from lazy, meandering storytelling, so don’t expect much tension or urgency to the tale. Characters tend to pop up in a convenient manner, and many seem to exist just to provide easy exposition. People are constantly explaining everything, and it simply doesn’t feel natural.

This translates to most elements of the film. The acting tends to be stiff, and dialogue feels unnatural and “written”; it’s speech that makes sense in a composed way but rarely feels like anything an actual person would say.

Murders doesn’t even bother to attempt to be original. Throughout the film, you’ll find multiple lifts from Se7en, and the movie’s climax blatantly steals from it. This isn’t homage – it’s a rip-off, and a poorly executed rip-off at that.

All of this leads to a long, slow 92 minutes. I like the serial killer/thriller genre, but only if the story tells us something interesting. The River Murders lacks the panache or coherence to become anything more than a clunky dud.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The River Murders appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This became a surprisingly good SD-DVD presentation.

Sharpness looked solid. A few shots were slightly soft, but these were minor concerns. Overall, though, definition was quite good. No jagged edges or edge haloes occurred, and shimmering was insubstantial. Source flaws were a non-factor, as the movie stayed clean.

Like most modern thrillers, Murders opted for a stylized palette. It tended to be somewhat desaturated, actually, with fairly chilly blue-green hues. Within their parameters, the colors appeared well-developed. Blacks seemed deep and tight, while shadows were solid; they showed positive clarity. In the end, the transfer proved to be very good for its format.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Murders, it was a decent mix. The mix tended to be music heavy, as the score played the most prominent role. Effects tended to be atmospheric; they displayed environmental material in the various channels but nothing that came across as especially memorable or engaging.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech was crisp and distinctive, with no edginess or other concerns. Music was full and rich, while effects came across as clear and accurate. The track boasted positive low-end when appropriate. All of this was good enough for a “B-”.

We get a few extras here, highlighted by two separate audio commentaries. The first features director/producer Rich Cowan, cinematographer Dan Heigh and editor Jason A. Payne. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the opening credits and photographic choices, editing, sets and locations, cast and performances, some effects, and a couple of additional filmmaking topics.

Expect a pretty average chat here. The men deliver a reasonable look at the standard assortment of subjects but don’t do more than that. We learn a bit about the movie but don’t get a terribly compelling piece.

The second commentary features writer/producer Steve Anderson, actor/producer Sarah Ann Schultz and actors Gisele Fraga and Michael Rodrick. (We also get some guest appearances from Schultz’s young son Dominic, the kid who plays “Young Jack”, but he doesn’t say much.) All of the crew sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion of how the various participants came to the project, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, costumes, script and story topics, and a few other areas.

While this commentary isn’t much more informative than the first one, it’s more enjoyable due to the level of energy displayed. The participants interact well and provide a fairly lively piece. As with the prior piece, we don’t get a ton of great insights, but we find a moderately likable chat.

A ”Making of” Featurette lasts 10 minutes, seven seconds. It provides notes from Cowan, Anderson, Fraga, Rodrick, Schultz, Heigh, producer Richard Salvatore, and actors Ving Rhames and Christian Slater. The program looks at story and characters, cast and performances, photography and the atmosphere on the set. Other than a few shots from the production, there’s not much of value here, especially after two commentaries; most of the information appears in those. This is a pretty forgettable promotional piece.

The disc opens with ads for Arena, Legend of the Millennium Dragon, The Caller and Breaking Bad. These also appear under Previews. No trailer for Murders shows up here.

With an unusual premise within the serial killer genre, The River Murders boasts decent potential. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from too many flaws; it comes with clunky dialogue, stiff acting and a general sense of lethargy, all of which make it a dull “thriller”. The DVD delivers very good picture, acceptable audio and a decent set of supplements. We find a pretty nice DVD for a forgettable film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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