The Curve

The Curve (1998)
Trimark Home Video
Cast: Michael Vartan, Matthew Lillard, Randall Batinkoff, Tamara Craig Thomas
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

When a film that was originally destined for a theatrical release is sent straight to video, usually one of two things has happened. Either a smart studio executive has saved the public from a bad theatre-going experience and $7.50, or a not-so-smart executive has made a mis-judgment and we now have a video diamond in the rough.

"The Curve" falls somewhere in between. It’s a well-made film that evokes a response from the viewer, but it doesn’t have much new to say. The easiest way to think of "The Curve" (original title: Dead Man’s Curve) is as a cross between "Dead Man On Campus" and "Deathtrap". During a well-crafted opening credit montage, we are introduced to two college students, Chris (Luke Perry lookalike Michael Vartan) and his roommate Tim (Matthew Lillard lookalike Matthew Lillard). Through the short, quickly cut scenes, we learn that Tim and Chris are plotting to kill their other roommate Rand (Tom Everett Scott wannabe Randall Batinkoff) so that they can get straight A’s and move on to Harvard for graduate school. Rand is a hard-drinking loudmouth who insults and threatens everyone, especially his girlfriend Natalie (Tamara Craig Thomas). After Rand embarrasses Natalie at a party and punches Chris, Tim and Chris go through with their plan and push Rand off of a cliff. Everything seemed to go as planned. But, as officials begin to ask questions, Chris begins to unravel. Is Tim double-crossing Chris? What is Tim doing with Emma (Felicity’s Keri Russell), Chris’ girlfriend? As the movie rushes towards its conclusion, Chris begins to realize that he can’t trust anyone around him and begins to wonder if he can trust himself.

"The Curve" marks the directorial debut of Dan Rosen, who also wrote the screenplay. Viewers may remember Rosen’s writing from the 1995 blacker than black comedy "The Last Supper". As with that movie, "The Curve" comes across as very mean-spirited at times, especially in the early scenes, which may turn-off some viewers. The characters presented here are larger-than-life and their crassness and cattiness is greatly exaggerated to the point that the viewer is glad to see Rand die. It always impresses me when a film can evoke an emotional response that I normally wouldn’t encounter in everyday life. I never meet people that I wish would die, but "The Curve" leads the viewer to side with characters who are doing despicable things. However, while Rosen shows a talent for creating tension, the basic premise for the story itself isn’t very original and after a short-time, most viewers will begin to guess the next plot twist. (Here’s a hint: Just think about the last thing that you would expect and that’s what will probably happen.)

Rosen keeps the film moving along at a good pace, especially during the second and third acts of the film. His visual style is impressive for a first-time director, bringing to mind the likes of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi with his use of crane and dolly shots. Also, Rosen attempts to fill the screen with a great deal of visual information, some of which give the viewer clues to the plot. Many of the scenes have an 8-ball in them… and I’m still working on that one.

The acting in the film is top-notch, with Vartan giving a somber, subtle performance as Chris, which helps the viewer relate to him. Lillard is good, but he seems to be playing the same character he played in Wes Craven’s "Scream". Batinkoff does an excellent job of playing a total a**hole, so much so that we stop seeing him as an actor and begin to only see a person that we would despise in real-life. Trimark’s presentation of "The Curve" on this DVD does justice to the film. The film is presented in a <$PS,letterboxed> format, framed at 1.85.1, showing no distortion or compression problems. The film appears to be correctly color-balanced, especially during the scenes on the cliff, where the only light comes from a small lighthouse. During these scenes, the blacks are a true, deep black, making the light seem to literally slice through the darkness. Some of the scenes, especially those in the dorm room, are a bit dark but it’s hard to tell if this is a transfer flaw or a stylistic choice. The picture is clear, with no graininess. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> Surround 2.1 soundtrack sounds quite good. I know, 2.1 soundtracks are very unusual so I made sure to check it is correct, and yes, the disc is indeed presented in a stereo mix with an additional low-end channel. It is active throughout the film, the highlight being again the cliff scenes with the wind and crashing waves. These scenes would have lent themselves to a fully immersive <$5.1,5.1 channel> surround mix, but I guess budgetary restraints of the entire production prevented this from happening.

The only extra feature on the disc is a full-frame theatrical trailer, which does a good job of advertising the suspense and action from the film. As on a large number of other releases from Trimark, a "hidden" trailer for another DVD release can be found on this disc. It is "Phoenix", a dark thriller with Ray Liotta and Jeremy Piven.

All in all, "The Curve" is a competent thriller that fares much better than more recent high-profile major studio outings such as "Disturbing Behavior" and "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer". The film features an intriguing story and solid, convincing performances. "The Curve" may not be very original, but writer/director Dan Rosen knows how to shake things up and the DVD presents a memorable viewing experience, so make sure to give it a shot.