AKA: Across the Line
Turning fact into fiction works all the time on slickly made, heavily sponsored hour-long network TV police procedurals like Law & Order. Yet deciding to draw on national headlines for plot inspiration becomes a trickier proposition altogether when -- instead of a megabuck blockbuster -- the topical material is utilized for the feature filmmaking debut of an indie director working with a minuscule budget.
Of course, however, there are exceptions to the rule, especially if said filmmaker is helming a documentary with their eyes on the award show prize or focusing prospective audience eyes on what occurred behind-closed-doors in a dramatization of an American scandal.
Yet as risky as it is to center a movie on a character inspired by Bernie Madoff, it's an even greater gamble when the writer/director in question morphs Madoff from Ponzi scheme puppeteer into an unlikely hero on a journey towards redemption.
Needless to say, we'd much rather cheer on a crusading cop or journalist cop ready to expose a scam to ensnare eleven billion dollars rather than watching Aidan Quinn's eponymous amoral middle aged whiz kid walk away from the feds (including Mario Van Peebles) in Exodus before crossing the Mexican border with the government and ripped off Russian gangsters close behind.
But to writer/director R. Ellis Frazier's credit, the set-up of his film is naturally intense given the way he carefully builds suspense by introducing us to various heavy-hitting, locked and loaded villains all out on Charlie's trail as though Exodus were careening to a Tarantino styled guns blazing confrontation in the wild (south)west of Tijuana.
Yet despite the movie's wall-to-wall earnest and rather unusual portrayals offered up by an impressive cast, sadly, the final standoff is anticlimactic at best and the last actions witnessed by at least two main characters go against everything that had come before it in the film.
Likewise, even though it's great to see Charlie Valentine star Raymond J. Barry again, overall the Russian subplot should've been axed as it resembles a recycled group of scenes left on the cutting room floor from another movie.
And this is particularly true as -- aside from the portrayal of Luke Goss -- we're much more caught up with the conflict across the border in in the form of the group of two Mexican crime lord brothers (Andy Garcia and Danny Pino) who abduct Wright in the hopes of paying off their heavy debt with any remaining dough he might have stashed for survival.
Yet by demanding his actors to literally speak some of the film's obvious moral lessons aloud, Frazier loses his rhythm and the film -- which was done zero favors from its pretentious title -- begins to make good on the foreshadowed preaching.
Ironically, it's evident after the final credits roll that one of the biggest problems of the movie is that Frazier is as in love with his actors as the fans are and because he doesn't have enough time to build up their plots or make their conversations meaningful, he offers them heavy-handed dialogue that further confuses audiences as to the overall aim of Exodus.
The quality of the Blu-ray quality itself is adequate at best. Yet from a filmmaking standpoint, it's technically solid and downright heart-racing, especially during a carefully executed stadium shootout.
However, and regardless of the fact that it turned me into an instant fan of actor Danny Pino, ultimately it becomes obvious that Wright can't decide whether it wants to be a B-level action movie or something akin to Crash.
Obviously, the latter would've required a rewrite (or three) to add dimension, color and texture into the emotionally and even logically challenged lines Frazier hastily worked into the ninety-five minute running time. But Madoff inspiration be damned; we can't help feeling that we should've been much more moved by this Exodus than unfortunately we were overall.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: Blu-ray Review