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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

THE STRANGER -- DVD review by porfle

Former WWE wrestler Steve Austin may be a tough guy, but his biggest battle in THE STRANGER (2010) takes place in his own mind--which a group of shadowy bad guys from his past are doing everything they can to waste.

Steve plays Tom, a fugitive who suffers from amnesia due to some unbearable trauma in his past. Every once in a while his mind will create an entirely new identity for him, which he'll live out until his pursuers track him down and he must lose himself again. Two people especially interested in locating him are his concerned psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra), and FBI agent Mason Reese (Adam Beach) who believes that Tom's mind holds the key to the identity of a Russian mole within the bureau. But they'd better find him fast, because every time he turns around someone else, including the Russian mob, is trying to kill him.

Surprisingly, THE STRANGER doesn't really have that many big action setpieces and is more concerned with telling a mysterious tale than getting our adrenaline racing. Flashbacks abound as snippets of memory keep darting through Tom's head, mostly centered on his wife and daughter apparently being killed while he's mixed up in some dangerous sting operation. We're teased with such scenes numerous times during the film as much of Tom's struggle is more internal than external. But while it's not that hard to piece much of it together ourselves, it's interesting to watch the characters slowly unravel the secrets of Tom's identity and discover a few other startling surprises as well.

There's still a good deal of action although it's mostly meat-and-potatoes stuff. The film begins with the standard foot chase through alleyways and over chainlink fences as cops pursue a long-haired and bearded Austin (now there's a sight) after he kills a gangster while foiling a kidnapping. A cop-car vs. motorcycle chase later on is similarly uninspired, while Tom's battle with a group of FBI agents in a junkyard features the usual stalk-and-disable stuff.

My favorite sequence is the one in which Tom is bound to a chair and tortured, then breaks loose and kills his way out of a Mexican police station. Austin is quite convincing performing this kind of stuff and his punches seem bone-crunchingly solid. He can also mumble a pretty good quip, such as the remark "I hope your fat ass floats" right before knocking a guy over the rail of a fishing boat.

As for acting ability, Austin has fifteen years of experience playing a WWE wrestling character and acquits himself well enough in this type of role. Erica Cerra is very appealing as Dr. Grace Bishop, who risks her life in order to help Tom put his own life back together, and Adam Beach (COMANCHE MOON) does his usual good job as FBI agent Mason Reese. (I wonder if screenwriter Quinn Scott intentionally named him after a former child actor?) The rest of the cast is good as well.

The film is adequately entertaining although the cinematography tends to be a bit murky at times and Robert Lieberman's direction is rather artless. Action junkies may be disappointed by the lack of constant visceral thrills or high-concept setpieces. The gradually unfolding mystery is interesting, yet its resolution seems like more of a set-up for part two than a satisfying conclusion. Thus, the film ends just when it should be kicking into high gear for the big finish, apparently saving the best part of the story for the sequel.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras include a brief "making of" featurette and a trailer.

I enjoyed THE STRANGER as much for its story as for the action scenes, which are okay but not all that awesome. But just when Steve Austin's character finally gets his head together, puts on a pair of cool shades, and hits the street looking for some big-time payback, the movie's over.

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