BETTER WAY TO DIE, A
Reviewed October 14th, 2001 by David Nusair
A Better Way to Die is the latest neo-Tarantino crime flick, filled with quirky characters, impossibly bizarre situations and a gaggle of celebrity cameos.
Writer/director Scott Wiper stars as a cop who, in the opening scenes, becomes so disillusioned with his job that he quits. He decides to return home and marry his girlfriend (played by Natasha Henstridge), but he quickly discovers thatís not going to be as easy as he might have hoped. His journey becomes a very dangerous one when, through a series of unfortunate decisions, he is eventually mistaken for a missing undercover FBI agent. Before he disappeared, this agent was carrying an important computer chip, so both the bad guys and the good guys now want to get a hold of our hero.
Included in the cast are Andre Braugher, Joe Pantoliano and Lou Diamond Phillips. With an eclectic bunch like this, how can you go wrong? Well, you can Ė sort of. Wiperís treatment of his own script varies from appropriately humorous to dead serious. And when youíve got a film with as many contrivances as this one does (Pantoliano plays a one-armed private investigator whoís got a gun stashed up his remaining arm, who basically pops up, gives Wiper some information, and then dies), taking a grim tone at any point isnít just inappropriate, it makes the loopy stuff that came before seem even more out of place.
But the film is consistently entertaining Ė Wiper keeps the pace quick and the action constant Ė so itís hard to really complain. However, as the end of the film begins to near, the coincidences really begin to pile up. Without giving anything away, the Wiper character is saved from certain death on more than one occasion by the last character youíd expect. And this same character ďfakeĒ dies one time too many.
Itís a shame that Wiper made the first half of the film so Tarantino-esque, because the second half really isnít that bad Ė but by that time, itís difficult to care about anyone. But the few good action sequences and plethora of character actors that pop up make this a worthwhile rental.
Audio: A Better Way to Die is presented with a surprisingly aggressive DD 5.1 soundtrack. Just check out the first 10 minutes, and youíll get a fairly accurate representation of the rest of the disc. Thereís a shoot-out here, and youíll swear youíre in the middle of it as bullets whiz by you. Quieter scenes are equally effective. For a straight-to-video flick, this soundtrack is unusually good.
Video: Ditto the video transfer. Presented anamorphically at 1.85:1, this transfer is very crisp and clean, with nary an artifact to be had. Since much of this movie takes place in the outdoors, the transfer has a lot of work to do (thereís shots of cloudy skies, massive cornfields, etc.) and itís certainly up to the task.
Extras: Besides a trailer, the only extra here is a commentary track with star/writer/director Scott Wiper. Understandably, heís very proud of this film and spends much of the track praising his crew and cast. He talks about everything from the long struggle he had in getting this film made (he shot the opening shoot-out and used that footage to attract other actors) to the various homages to previous action flicks to his relationship with the actors in the film. While this is a very interesting track, itís bizarre listening to Wiper take the movie so seriously. He talks about it as though he were making Gandhi or Lawrence of Arabia or some other classic flick Ė when it reality, itís just a silly action movie. But his insights provide a new perspective on the film, which made this track a pleasure to listen to.
Conclusion: A Better Way to Die, while it wonít win any awards for originality, does provide a suitable amount of thrills to warrant a recommendation Ė add to that a thoroughly entertaining commentary track, and youíve got a decent rental.
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