Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ONE IN THE CHAMBER (DVD & Blu-ray)

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that if it wasn't for the presence of veteran action star Dolph Lundgren, director William Kaufman's hitman flick, ONE IN THE CHAMBER (2012) would be completely unmemorable. From its routine plot to its clichéd characters to its lukewarm action sequences, it doesn't take the viewer long to realize that the "one in the chamber" is a blank round.

Scripture quoting, conscience-plagued assassin Ray Carver (a mopey Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is making a living in Prague hiring himself out to competing, if essentially indistinguishable, Russian gangsters. When he fails to successfully carry out a contract (despite considerable collateral damage) and basically ignites a full-out mob war, his former employers import a new "fixer" - Alesky Andreev, a/k/a "The Wolf" (Dolph Lundgren, RED SCORPION, THE KILLING MACHINE) - to carry on his work.

ONE IN THE CHAMBER typifies the state of low-budget direct-to-video action movies today. Bleak Eastern European locations, lazy storytelling, formula scripting, and limited, under-choreographed action sequences covered with shaky camerawork and rapid Avid edits, shot without imagination or style (except for whatever borrowed flourishes happen to be trendy at the moment - in this case, elaborate Photoshopped character I.D. "title cards" that pop up and fill the screen in a vain attempt to help the viewer keep the interchangeable Russian mobsters straight). The photography shows all the flair of a 90s USA Network TV movie, and while I understand the film making economics involved, I've come to really miss the days when Manilla, with its colorful jungles, was the go-to location for cheapo action exploitation movies instead of the gloomy, gray Czech Republic.

I honestly have never seen Cuba Gooding Jr. give a good - or even enjoyably bad - performance, and in CHAMBER he is just completely uninteresting. He's not physically imposing, nor athletically convincing, and he plays the entire film like he's forgotten to take his anti-depressants. Co-star Lundgren, on the other hand, valiantly rises above his stock hitman role with a certain self-aware, knowing quality to his performance that puts a welcome, satirical edge on his cliché dialogue. I'd also be curious to know who chose his wardrobe, because I suspect it was his idea - a succession of colorfully tacky Hawaiian and bowling shirts with a jaunty straw hat that actually gives his character some, well, character that isn't there in the script. In fact, Lundgren is a joy to watch in this film, a true genre pro who really knows how to hold the screen and make the most out of the job.

The action overall is mediocre. There's an okay throwdown between the two stars, and an entertainingly violent early scene where Gooding's character shoots the hell out of a group of mobsters with a .50 caliber sniper rifle from across the street. Otherwise, it's the usual mix of uninspired gunplay that we've seen hundreds of times before.

The Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Anchor Bay is a typically solid release for a brand new film. The Blu-ray features a pristine, satisfying 1080p 16x9, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. The included DVD has a standard def, 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1. Both discs include the same Behind The Scenes featurette and a handful of previews.

ONE IN THE CHAMBER is, in a word, generic. There's literally nothing in this movie that you haven't seen before, and often done better. It might be worth a rental on a slow day just to enjoy Lundgren's superior performance, but you'll have to be patient - it's a full 25 minutes before his character shows up.

BUYOne In The Chamber [Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo]