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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/22/00

Best Laid Plans
Special Edition - 1999 (2000) - Fox Searchlight (20th Century Fox)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Best Laid Plans: Special Edition Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B

Specs and Features

92 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 51:38, in chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers, commentary with director Mike Barker and director's assistant, cast and crew bios, featurette, 8 deleted scenes, alternate ending, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish, Closed Captioned

Every once in a while, a film comes along with some great, unexpected plot turns and a very well done, surprising twist ending. In a competent film, these plot twists can add great depth and imagination to a story that would not necessarily need these points to be an engaging film. When done properly, you get a movie with the caliber of The Sixth Sense, a movie that people will be discussing in the lobby of the theatre after the movie ends and in the car on the way home. Unfortunately, when done poorly, you end up with something along the lines of Best Laid Plans.

The problem with Best Laid Plans is that it relies too heavily on the curves in the story line to attract and keep the attention of the viewing audience. The design of the story introduces all the kinks in the story in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, before we even get a chance to know the characters, then back pedals four months and essentially starts the story over from the beginning. Why? Basically, as a gimmick to make the story seem more intricate and involved than it really is.

I'm treading on thin ice here, but I'll try my best to relay the gist of the story without giving away too much of the "surprise" plot elements. Nick (Alessandro Nivola) works a dead-end job in a recycling factory in the small, depressing town of Tropico. His father dies, leaving him a wealth of debts to pay off and no practical way of repaying them. Add to this the fact that he helps out his buddy Bryce, in a reckless attempt to make some quick money with a poorly planned robbery. Keep in mind that the enormously-talented Reese Witherspoon also plays a big part in the story, but to discuss that would give away too much of the movie.

The movie could have been a lot better than it actually is. If you watch the trailers for the film (which are included in the special features section of the disc), you will find out that the intention of the movie is to be a comic thriller. But the comedic elements of the story are all too infrequently de-emphasized, so that the director can pay closer attention to the titillating stuff. On the rare occasion that they are highlighted, they seem out of place, smug, and unnecessary. For instance, at one point in the movie Bryce (Josh Brolin) explains to Nick, in great anxiety and fear, that he is being accused of rape. Nick's response -- "Guess that means you won't be getting a second date." The movie's ending is also a disappointment: far too light-hearted and catch all to be taken seriously.

I think the fault here lies on the director's shoulders. In the hands of an adept director, like Quentin Tarentino, the right mixture of humor and action can be a winning combination. But in the wrong hands, things can definitely go wrong. The writer, Ted Griffin, has proven that he can write a complicated, dark, and funny movie. His script for Ravenous was a darkly comic thriller, that didn't fail to surprise or amuse. But this film suffers from a sadly average job of directing. One high point of the film, is that most of the lead actors (Witherspoon and Nivola most notably) give strong, if slightly reserved performances.

The video presentation of Best Laid Plans, all in all, is pretty good. Occasionally, the movie takes on a softer look and a bit of grain appears from time to time, but this isn't overly distracting. Every now and then, a bit of edge enhancement is evident as well, but again not so much as to distract. Best Laid Plans is one of the first releases in Fox's newfound pseudo-commitment to anamorphic enhancement, and they really deliver the goods. The director chose to film in mostly bright colors, and there is little if any blue present anywhere in the film. These color choices are nicely maintained in the transfer. On the audio end, Fox has included a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Though it's relatively low key, making only occasional use of the rear surround channels, it's still a very good sound mix.

The extras are good, and for the most part entertaining, but they are by no means as extensive as you would be lead to believe by the "Special Edition" moniker. The 9 deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, take up the bulk of the extra feature space. To be honest, most of these are better off on the cutting room floor. They add too much weight to an already plot-heavy movie and would have served only to lengthen the running time. The director's commentary is by and large insightful, but at times it's a bit dull. The director and his assistant start to give commentary on what is happening on screen, then inevitably get sidetracked into other, less relevant discussion. The featurette is pretty much a waste of space. It honestly adds nothing to the content of the disc and is too short to be consequential. Rounding out the disc are the usually cast and crew bios and the aforementioned trailers.

While it isn't first-rate, this disc is a step in the right direction for Fox. Hopefully, they will continue their commitment to anamorphic enhancement and adding real features to their future discs. Best Laid Plans may float some people's boats, but it sunk me right from the beginning. If you're in the mood for a Reese Witherspoon movie, rent the far superior Election instead.

Dan Kelly
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