Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: River's Edge (1986)
Studio Line: MGM

Based on the horrifying real-life murder of a young California girl, this "powerful portrait" (Newsweek) of deadly, disaffected teens stars Keanu Reeves (The Matrix), Crispin Glover (Charlie's Angels: The Movie), lone Skye Leitch (One Night Stand), Daniel Roebuck (Final Destination) and Dennis Hopper (Ed TV) in a tale that is "chilling to witness" (The New York Times).

On the bank of a river lies the naked body of a brutally murdered young girl. At the nearby high school, Samson (Roebuck), brags to Matt (Reeves) and his friends about how he killed her. Drunk and stoned, the doubting teens trudge to the river and discover that he isn't lying. And oddly, they decide to protect Samson behind a loyal wall of secrecy. Tormented with guilt, Matt questions their silenceÖand suddenly finds himself in a troubling position: should he do what he thinks is right, or should he keep quiet and live with this demon for the rest of his life?

Director: Tim Hunter
Cast: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Dennis Hopper, Joshua John Miller
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles Spanish, French; single sided - single layered; 16 chapters; rated R; 99 min.; $19.98; street date 1/23/01.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD


Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C/D-

Every generation has its films about ďyouth gone wrongĒ, so why is it that when these appear, so many people seem to feel that the experiences depicted are unique? Granted, 1986ís Riverís Edge appears more emotionally neutral than most, and the teens involved show less involvement in the world, but its portrait of flawed kids seems less than remarkable.

Actually, I suppose my introduction is somewhat unfair, as RE does it something of a disservice, as I make it sound like there are many other films that resemble it. Thatís not really the case. My point was that every generation seems to feel that messed-up kids are a problem unique to their era, and thatís not the case; despite the age difference, youíll find a surprising number of similarities between the teens in RE and those in 1955ís Rebel Without a Cause.

The differences come from the ways in which the kids behave, and thatís what makes RE somewhat unique. The film revolves around a group of late-teen friends who live in an unspecified town that appears to be in the northwest US. At the start of the movie, we discover that one of their number - hulky ďJohnĒ (Daniel Roebuck) - has strangled his girlfriend Jamie. John seems less than bothered by this occurrence, and the remainder of the movie covers the other kidsí reactions to this crisis.

Not that many of them act as though thereís much of a problem, since this is a mellow group of teens. That largely stems from their frequent intake of pot, a factor that seems to have rendered them even more passive and apathetic than theyíd be without it. Only one member of the group, the oddly hyper Layne (Crispin Glover), appears interested in doing much about the issue, and he tries to involve the rest of the gang in his efforts.

RE is an odd piece in that it moves slowly and takes its sweet time going anywhere, but it remains strangely compelling. This isnít due to any kind of great insight or incisive characterizations. The film never really gives us a grasp on the reasons for the kidsí detachment from society, though the usual bugaboo of disinterested and/or self-absorbed parents appears. The kids arenít alright, but the movie doesnít attempt to explore their concerns or lack thereof; it just takes them on face value and rarely tries to challenge their conceptions.

The acting is actually fairly good, including a rare solid performance from Keanu Reeves. The ĎNu was at his best when he played somewhat dopey teen dudes like Matt. Thatís why some of us actually believed he had potential as an actor through vivid work in movies like RE, the Bill and Ted flicks and Parenthood; only when he had to act like an adult did we discover his limitations. In any case, Reeves displays authority and grace as Matt and he makes for a very believable presence.

Easily the weakest - and oddest performance in the film comes from Glover. Although every other kid seems sluggish and stoned throughout most of the movie, Layne comes across as a dude in desperate need of some Ritalin. Glover provides a hyper and strangely-stylized portrayal that sticks out like a sore thumb. Layneís more spazzy Valley Boy than anything else, and he doesnít fit with the group at all. In fact, so odd was Gloverís performance that insert shots were taken after the end of production to attempt to explain his atypical behavior; those scenes in which Layne pops pills werenít part of the original plan.

Due largely to the presence of Dennis Hopper as warped shut-in Feck, RE occasionally feels like a stoner version of Blue Velvet, but Hopperís psychoses and the northwest setting are really all that the two have in common. BV features a picture-postcard world in which all is rotting underneath, but none of the flaws found in the environment of RE are hidden from the surface.

Instead, everyone knows thereís something wrong, but no one seems able or willing to do anything about it. Thatís probably the most compelling aspect of Riverís Edge: itís passive condemnation of a world in which no one will go out on a limb to do the right thing. The film suffers from a lack of depth and introspection at times, but it nonetheless provides a compelling look at Eighties-style youth gone wrong.

The DVD:

Riverís Edge appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it seemed generally acceptably, the picture of RE rarely looked more than just decent.

Sharpness caused some of the problems. At times the movie appeared fairly crisp and well-defined, but much of it was fairly soft and fuzzy. While the image never seemed annoying out of focus, the lack of clarity could be distracting. Despite the softness, some minor moirť effects appeared at times. Print flaws cropped up on occasion but they generally seemed modest. I witnessed a little grain plus some examples of grit and speckles, but these presented no significant concerns.

Colors were drab and lifeless - intentionally so, I believe. The setting and the topic donít lend themselves to a Technicolor extravaganza, so the muted and bland palette of RE seemed appropriate. Black levels seemed a bit flat but generally were acceptably deep, while shadow detail looked a little murky. Low light scenes appeared fairly visible, but they seemed a bit muddled at times. As a whole, Riverís Edge provided a watchable but unspectacular experience.

Similar comments apply to the filmís monaural soundtrack. Frankly, the mix lost points right off the bat for its one-channel nature; a movie from 1986 should offer at least a stereo track. Yeah, I know itís a low budget affair, but I canít imagine it would have been too costly to provide stereo audio for the songs heard in the film.

In any case, although itís a mono track, itís a decent one. Some edginess could be heard during louder speech, but most dialogue sounded acceptably natural and distinct. Effects seemed clean and relatively realistic, while music came across as thin but clear. The majority of the track sounded a little lifeless and lackluster, but it provided few overt flaws not related to its monaural nature. The soundtrack to Riverís Edge did little to boost the movie, but it didnít hurt it particularly either.

Riverís Edge contains almost no supplements. We find the filmís lame theatrical trailer plus three ďCinema FactsĒ listed on the DVDís case. Itís not much, but I suppose itís enough of a surprise that this obscurity made it to DVD anyway; additional features would have been gravy.

Riverís Edge probably never would have earned its release without the presence of megastar Keanu Reeves, so itís a happy coincidence that the movie itself happens to be pretty good. Reeves provides an unusually solid performance in this dark but compelling look at teen alienation. The DVD offers fairly mediocre sound and picture plus virtually no extras. As such, Riverís Edge stands as a good candidate for rental; the disc isnít quite strong enough to buy, but the film deserves a look.

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