Made Men

Made Men (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: James Belushi, Vanessa Angel, Timothy Dalton
Extras: Commentary Track, Outtakes, TV Spots and Trailer

And once again we have a classic case of a movie that has been misrepresented by the studio, for some reason cloaking its real nature behind a presentation that has little or nothing to do with the movie’s original intentions. This time it is Columbia TriStar’s "Made Men" that is hiding in an Amaray keepcase, grazed by some ugly and inappropriate artwork that creates very unsuitable expectations for the film. It was only the fact that James Belushi is one of the credited stars in the movie that I decided to give it a check-up. Boy, am I glad I did, because "Made Men" turns out to be a furious and humorous action thriller with a wildly clever script that jolts the viewer from side to side from the first to the last second. A movie so wild and riotous that you never know what you know, that every minute something new happens that turns your supposed knowledge of the story’s details upside down.

Bill Manucci (James Belushi) is an ex-criminal in the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has given up his previous identity and with his wife Debra (Vanessa Angel) he lives in the tranquil small town of Harmony, a town of a meager 803 souls, where everyone knows everyone and his past is truly a thing of the past.

Or so it seems, until one day a group of mobster hitmen enter his house and it turns out that Bill has actually been stealing $12 million from his former employer before he disappeared. Now that his cover has been blown, his only chance to survive is to keep the hitmen searching for the money as long as possible, so that he can think of a plan to escape. But these tough guys have their own agenda and put Bill through their torturous mangle, having their own methods of making him speak. Too bad they are interrupted by a local redneck sheriff (Timothy Dalton) who is not particularly fond of the suspicious gang, and starts trailing them. But Bill’s loaded mouth gets them all into even more trouble and eventually bullets start to fly everywhere they turn, while everyone takes a shot at Bill, trying to figure out where he stashed the money.

What initially starts out like a dark urban type of film rapidly turns into a ravishingly hilarious action comedy that shows its strengths especially in the dialogues and the absurd situations it throws the characters into. Every time you think you‘ve seen it all, the story comes around full circle and whacks the viewer – and usually James Belushi, too – over the head, drastically changing the scenario and as a result the potential outcome of the film. It is entirely unpredictable and you will find yourself nailed to your seat, trying to figure out what’s going on. Who is double-crossing who, becomes the central question over where did he hide the money. It almost becomes irrelevant how everything started, as the story is taking off at light speed.

What makes the film even more enjoyable is the fact that there are virtually no good characters in the film. Practically everyone that appears in the story has a dark, oftentimes unexpected shady side and as a result the viewer does not particularly root for anyone. Oftentimes you can only work up some disgust for their personalities. That on the other hand gives the many shoot-outs quite a bit of impact, as we watch the bad guys kill each other – almost deservedly so. As you would assume, despite its racy nature and the offbeat humor, "Made Men" is also quite brutal in its display of violence and contains plenty of gunplay.

Strangely this release of "Made Men" for Columbia TriStar Home Video is not quite up to par with the studio’s usual DVD efforts, which tend to be of flawless quality. The film is nicely reproduced with a sharp image that is devoid any film defects or film artifacts and is presented in its original 1.78:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer. However some compression artifacts, mostly in the form of <$pixelation,pixelation> are clearly visible throughout the film’s presentation. Especially in fast moving scenes the compression artifacts become very evident, to the point that they almost distract from the film. I am not sure why Columbia has decided to run the film at such a low bitrate but limiting the number of audio tracks could certainly have helped freeing up space for a much better looking presentation. Due to the very natural and warm lighting for the most part, the film looks beautiful with rich and bold colors that are never washed out or muted. The color reproduction on this disc pays full tribute to this quality, rendering images with very deep blacks and good highlights. Fleshtones are very faithfully reproduced and the level of detail in the shadows is quite exemplary.

Much better than the video is the audio section of this release. Presented in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track in English, as well as an English <$DS,Dolby Surround> track and a Spanish Stereo track, the audio is always very clear and balanced. Especially the <$5.1,5.1 mix> with its furious dynamics has a great frequency response and good surround integration. Although the sound effects are a little heavy in the mix as opposed to the dialogues, the two never interfere and create a pleasing sonic presentation for the film. The DVD also contains subtitles in English and Spanish language.

"Made Men" also contains a number of supplements, starting with a great <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Louis Mourneau and his main actor James Belushi. The commentary is not nearly as entertaining as I had hoped it would be, given the presence of James Belushi, but at the same time it is very informative, covering many aspects of the film’s production. A series of great blooper outtakes are also part of the release. They look quite good and are definitely worth watching, as they feature some great misses and puns from the cast. The movie’s original theatrical trailer and TV Spots round up this release together with extensive talent files featuring cast and crew.

I am not sure what Columbia’s intentions were, packaging "Made Men" the way they did, giving it a very dark, urban feel. Just look beyond the artwork and you will appreciate "Made Men" for what it is – a gritty thriller with a lot of humor and a cleverly staged story line. It is one of those cases where it is a lot of fun to simply sit back and let the bad guys kill each other. If you can get over the surprisingly mediocre video quality of this DVD, you should check this disc out. I am sure you won’t be disappointed by the laughs and thrills it delivers.