In the hopes of delivering a new spin on a standard thriller, Freezer screenwriters Tom Doganoglu and Shane Weisfeld took two tried and true storytelling devices and put them together in an unusual way in Backdraft cinematographer turned frequent television director Mikael Salomon’s new film.
For starters, they've employed Hitchcock’s classic wrong man paradigm to follow the plight of an unsuspecting everyman who finds himself persecuted by villains due to a case of mistaken identity and used it as a jumping off point. Upping the ante even more, Freezer sets the action in one confined, risky space to capitalize fully on the life and death stakes of a man whose environment is just as dangerous as the captors who’ve placed him there.
Predictably of course, given the title of the Salomon’s latest effort newly released on Anchor Bay Blu-ray, Freezer takes place in a freezer where – in an ironic pop-culture twist – recent Hostages hostage-taker Dylan McDermott embraces the same situation from the other side.
Having been knocked unconscious at his birthday dinner (offscreen), as the film opens McDermott wakes up to find himself restrained with tie-wraps, held hostage and locked inside a freezer.
Unlike the superior, survivalist tale of existential mystery and horror set inside a coffin in Buried that found Ryan Reynolds trying to escape from his deadly trap in a veritable one-man show, Freezer uses the clever Panic Room concept to hook us into the storyline before it ultimately devolves into a standard crime thriller.
At its best when it remains as genuine and authentic as possible as McDermott’s New York mechanic tries to figure his own way out of the mess with a little help from a cell phone chat with a policeman, Freezer goes very wrong, very fast when it turns into a dubious pissing contest between McDermott’s Robert and his Russian mob captors who suspect him of stealing eight million of their dollars.
Unsure what kind of tone it’s going for – Robert’s instantly over familiar, sarcastic wise-cracking banter with his captor including a suspiciously out-of-place flirtation with the woman we quickly realize is running the show seems neither plausible nor logical.
And while it may be used to make us question just who Robert really is as well as if we can trust him or another hostage (played by Peter Facinelli) who’s been seriously wounded, it’s so bizarre that it makes it hard to feel that invested in the fate of a man we can’t begin to relate to at all.
Filled with multiple twists including so many role reversals and revelations in the final act that you may need to watch a few scenes a second time, while I applaud Freezer’s inventive concept and obvious ambition, McDermott’s poorly written, overly chatty ‘50s stand-up comedian meets Humphrey Bogart characterization grates on the nerves and alienates viewers fairly early into the movie.
Honestly, it’s hard not to feel embarrassed for the otherwise charismatic actor given his truly awful dialogue and lighthearted take as though he’d been told to portray Robert like a long-lost cousin of John Travolta's Chili Palmer from Get Shorty whereas everyone else in the film had been directed to play it 100% straight.
To his credit, Mikael Salomon made the most out of his limited budget to build an actual freezer via a container room with removable walls to help heighten the rest of the performances and freely sweep a camera in to get any angle he wished as a gifted cinematographer. And this decision pays off as the gritty monochrome look of the freezer location grounds the action and helps sell the B-movie even when McDermott’s poorly written character threatens to swing from the rafters and chew the scenery with odd come-ons to his female captor about making love to Doctor Zhivago and the like.
In the end, it's just average for a thriller, which is particularly disappointing considering the talent involved on both sides of the lens. As promising as it begins, Freezer just isn’t able to deliver on its potential and becomes instantly forgettable once you press eject.
Nonetheless, given the one set-piece, something tells me that it might've fared far better on the stage than the screen, where the most could’ve been made of the film's thriller paradigm in the hands of the right script-writer like a David Mamet or a Christopher McQuarrie who know how to con an audience with the best of them.
Despite its flaws, Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray transfer of Freezer into its combo pack release is flawless in picture and sound. Serving up the filmmaker's work in two additional formats of DVD and Ultraviolet HD, the solid presentation also boasts behind-the-scenes bonus material including making of featurettes and interviews that are even more intriguing than the film itself.
As I haven’t seen Salomon and McDermott’s earlier collaboration via the TNT miniseries The Grid, I can't evaluate whether or not it’s worth a recommendation. And while I can say that although this may be worth a look for rainy afternoon or sick day fare for McDermott fans only, discerning viewers looking for a vastly superior thriller centering on Russians and Americans would do best to skip this in favor of Salomon’s pitch-perfect TNT miniseries The Company, from executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott.
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