Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Paramount, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 16 chapters, Theatrical Trailer, rated R, 125 min., $29.99, street date 4/11/2000.
Directed by Bruce Robinson. Starring Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, John Malkovich, Kathy Baker, Kevin Conway, Graham Beckel, Lance Henricksen.
They are the unidentified victims of an unsolved death spree, women linked by a killer's gruesome handiwork…and by police files giving them the code name "Jennifer." Homicide investigator John Berlin believes he's made a breakthrough in the case when he uncovers a key witness: a young blind woman named Helena. Yet who can rely on the testimony of a witness who cannot see? Who can trust Berlin when he is ultimately suspected of the murders? And who can keep vulnerable Helena from becoming the next Jennifer?
Hollywood sure can pump out the sequels with abandon! Geez, they've released Jennifer 8 and I don't even remember ever hearing about Jennifers one through seven! (One of these days we may have to run a poll: Colin's lamest lead ever. Gotta feeling this one may cop a few votes, but I like it anyway!)
Jennifer 8 is the absolute definition of a solid but unexceptional thriller. I saw this one theatrically way back in 1992 and felt virtually the same at the time. Nothing has changed in the past eight years; there's a lot to like about the film, but little that makes it stand out from the pack.
What does J8 do well? It's a reasonably well-paced piece, and it maintains a decent level of suspense. When the killer is revealed, it's not exactly a surprise, but the story makes the situation vague enough that the person's identity isn't a complete given.
J8 manages a nicely creepy atmosphere that reminded me of better films like The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. It's clearly not in a class with those two classics, but director Bruce Robinson creates a solid air of decay and menace throughout the picture. Yeah, he uses mainly the same cheap movie tricks - lots of rain, very little daylight or bright colors - but if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The film offers a nice twist on the genre in that the only witness to the crimes is a blind woman (effectively played by Uma Thurman). I wouldn't call this aspect of the film revelatory, but it does at least alter the usual playing field to a degree. The worst part is that it creates a female lead who's even more helpless than most; however, at least the woman's passivity seems more believable here.
J8 features a very strong cast, and most acquit themselves nicely. I thought Andy Garcia seemed a bit overwrought and too emotional as our hero, but I suppose it's a nice change from the usual overly cool and calm lead. I've always liked Thurman as an actress, and she does a nice job here. Most impressive is the way that she really comes across as blind; she never wears glasses, so she has to create that unfocussed look in her eyes all on her own, and she does this convincingly.
The supporting cast seems much better than most. We find stalwart veterans like Lance Henriksen and Kathy Baker, plus a strong turn by John Malkovich in a small but crucial part. This kind of thriller doesn't usually rate such a terrific cast, and it's probably the best aspect of this movie.
Unfortunately, a great cast can't carry the whole load, and the somewhat pedestrian story and lackluster direction are what keep Jennifer 8 from going to a higher level. It's unquestionably a solid movie that's worth a look, but I didn't think more of it than that.
Jennifer 8 appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. "Good but unspectacular" seems to be the phrase of record for J8; it applies to the movie itself and also to the picture found on this DVD.
Sharpness looks consistently pretty good, with little softness creeping into the image, although the movie did often seem vaguely flat and murky. Moiré effects appeared on a few occasions, and I saw a few jagged lines as well; artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were an infrequent issue, but they were there nonetheless. The print used for the transfer seemed largely without serious flaws, but it displayed semi-frequent white speckles and also appeared somewhat gritty at times.
Colors weren't much of an issue for this film. It's a pretty monochromatic and dark affair, but what hues we do see looked decent; they seemed appropriately saturated but were a little lifeless and flat. Black levels generally appeared adequately dark, though they could be a bit brownish, and shadow detail was very good, with nice definition in the many dimly-lit scenes. Because of the overall level of darkness in the film, J8 is a difficult movie to bring to home video, and while it doesn't look great, the DVD offers a pretty strong translation of it.
Jennifer 8 appeared in theaters right around the time Dolby Digital began to hit screens, so I don't expect the DVD's DD 5.1 mix to match those of today's pictures. (I'm less forgiving for movies from 1993 and later, which are more clearly within the Digital era.) Still, although it's a pretty modest track, the audio seems pretty involving and acceptable. The forward soundfield is quite strong, with excellent stereo separation and a lot of audio that stems from the right and left channels. The surrounds are used frequently but less involvingly; they mainly bolster music and effects, and split usage seemed rare, though it did occur.
Audio quality appeared very good. Dialogue was clear and natural and displayed no intelligibility problems. Music was bright and lively and offered some moderate bass, and effects were clean and realistic without distortion. It's not a killer track but it does the job.
Less satisfactory are the DVD's extras. As is usually the case with Paramount discs, all we find here is the film's theatrical trailer. Paramount are showing some signs of special edition life, but you wouldn't know that from this DVD.
Jennifer 8 isn't a classic, but it's a solidly entertaining and somewhat chilling thriller. The DVD offers good sound and picture, though it lacks substantial supplements. The movie doesn't compare with the best in its genre, but it's a decent piece of work that seems worthy of a rental.
Current as of 5/1/2000
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