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Thursday, December 30, 2010

THE HESSEN CONSPIRACY -- DVD review by porfle

You don't watch Billy Zane movies because he's a great actor.  (He's pretty good, but not great.)  You watch them because he's...well, he's Billy Zane.  And you never know what he's going to turn up in, whether it's one of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history (TITANIC) or some DTV piece of dreck where you can imagine him snagging his paycheck and yelling "Taxi!" the moment he tosses off his last line (BLUE SEDUCTION). 

Somewhere between these two extremes is the not-great but definitely pretty good THE HESSEN CONSPIRACY, aka "The Hessen Affair" (2009).  What's ol' Cal Hockley up to these days?  Well, he's heading a post-WWII U.S. Army occupation force that's holed up in a German castle, enjoying the spoils of war now that the Third Reich has gone belly up.  Already we can tell that, whatever else, this is going to be a handsomely-mounted production with lush photography.  Director Paul Breuls utilizes actual locations well to give the film a more expensive look, and infuses it with convincing period atmosphere.

Amidst the nightly parties and other post-war frivolities, Col. Jack Durant (Zane) goes ape for a gorgeous but hard-to-get WAC lieutenant named Kathy Nash (Lyne Renée), who's more interested in searching the place for hidden treasures left behind by the vacating Prussian princess.  One night they discover a nifty stash of vintage wine.  The next night they run across...the Crown Jewels.  Now, the only problem is getting them to the States and finding someone to sell them to without getting caught along the way.

Back in New York, THE HESSEN CONSPIRACY sheds the military trappings and becomes a semi-hardboiled 40s crime thriller.  Not that it ever actually gets all that thrilling--the pace remains leisurely throughout as the story unfolds and there isn't a whole lot of action.  With the introduction of Michael Bowen as Ben Cassidy, a Vegas casino czar who's interested in buying the hot ice, the plot begins to twist its way through a maze of double-crosses, suspicion, and murder.  Jack and Kathy eventually reach a point where they no longer trust each other, but who's conning who?  We don't find out until the mildly suspenseful finale when everyone shows their hand.

As Kathy, the stunning Lyne Renée has the look of the classic noirish dame from Hollywood's past.  Michael Bowen ("Buck" of KILL BILL, VOL. 1), one of the best old-style character actors working today, plays a convincing bad guy while maintaining a light touch.  The cast is stocked with several other good supporting players including Gene Pyrz as an Army lawyer on the trail of the stolen jewels, Rudolph Segers as a volatile sergeant seeking revenge against Jack for cutting him out of the deal, and Noah Segan as their other weaselly cohort.

The script by Nicholas Meyer (STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, TIME AFTER TIME) and Ronald Roose goes light on the violence and never tries to be shocking or intense--it's less of a pressure cooker and more of a crock pot.  The most hardboiled aspect of the film is the running voiceover in which Zane occasionally veers into Bogart territory, as when he describes Kathy as "the one you can't take your eyes off...that white-hot beauty that sneaks into a million dreams...the kind men die for."  Meyer is obviously having some fun with us here, which is pretty much what the whole movie is about.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  No extras.

Watching THE HESSEN CONSPIRACY is like settling into a mildly interesting pulp novel with very nice illustrations.  Not exactly gripping entertainment, but it does have its rewards if you stick with it.  Plus, Billy Zane is in it, and he's...well, darn it, he's Billy Zane.

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