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Monday, July 23, 2012

ON THE INSIDE -- DVD review by porfle

Here's another one of those movies about life ON THE INSIDE (2011) in which a guy who really isn't all that bad has to make it through life in the slammer (or, in this case, nuthouse) one day at a time while dealing with the genuine psychos and nutballs he's forced to live with. 

Only this time, Allen (Nick Stahl) isn't an innocent man, or someone who accidentally killed someone, as was Alan Alda's character in Truman Capote's THE GLASS HOUSE.  In the first scene we see him getting ready to murder a man for raping his girlfriend--which, in movie terms, is perfectly acceptable--but, alas, accidentally targeting the wrong guy.

So, we're pretty ambivalent toward Allen to begin with and will become more so when flashbacks reveal how troubled he really is.  This makes for a fairly interesting main character to serve as a vehicle for writer-director D.W. Brown's themes of redemption and forgiveness.  Stahl's performance is low-key almost to a fault (that's pretty much his style anyway, SIN CITY's "Yellow Bastard" notwithstanding), but then again, Allen is meant to be a little numbed by it all.

Living as he does in a psychiatric evaluation facility he meets a variety of interesting people including Pruitt Taylor Vince (NATURAL BORN KILLERS, DROP DEAD SEXY) as the rotund, googly-eyed Ben, a very troubled man yearning for friendship but plagued by terminal weirdness and the occasional burst of "acting out."  Ben hates women--which he attributes to a glandular problem--although he also admits to "a few non-women-related problems" too.  He's probably the film's most entertaining character and the talented Vance doesn't seem to have to work too hard to make him that way. 

The other two people in Allen's new life are ultra-violent sociopath Carl Tarses (Dash Mihok, THE FP, I AM LEGEND) and timid, insecure female inmate Mia (Olivia Wilde, COWBOYS & ALIENS, TRON: LEGACY).  An experimental program to bring male and female prisoners together socially allows Allen and Mia to meet-cute and fall in love, but their private time together will be shattered when Carl escapes from maximum security and wreaks bloody havoc within the facility, eventually ending up right between the two lovebirds with a pair of scissors. 

Mihok does his best but doesn't really invest Carl with either the unsettling menace or the "banality of evil" quality that we expect.  He's basically just a big hyperactive bully who kills, and is actually more funny than scary.  As Mia, Olivia Wilde struggles against some bad dialogue--her scenes with Stahl aren't all that well written--and direction in the final scenes that would probably make any actress look bad. 

Cross-cutting between Carl's escape and Allen and Mia's romantic encounter builds to a clash that should've been a lot more intense than director Brown manages to make it.  The whole thing finally becomes pretty mawkish and melodramatic at the end--made even more so by being awash in music that underscores every moment full-tilt--until the final minutes are so overwrought as to border on ludicrous.  A similar scene at the end of THE GLASS HOUSE shows how a bit less unrestrained sentiment can be much more effective. 

Tariq Trotter gives a good, natural performance as sympathetic guard Tom Bogotus, while Shohreh Aghdashloo is the very picture of the ineffectual, bleeding heart authority figure as Dr. Lofton.  When Tom tries to talk to her about lax security in the facility, she chalks his attitude up to difficultly with his transition back to work from vacation.  Later, a little blatant symbolism illustrates her cosmetic approach to problem solving. 

Joanne Baron ("Sledge Hammer!", DRAG ME TO HELL) is also fine as Mrs. Standings, whose caring demeanor helps bring Mia out of her shell.  Mrs. Standings is the only authority figure we see besides Tom who seems to know what she's doing and actually cares about helping the inmates.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and English and Spanish subtitles.  The sole extra is a commentary featuring director Brown, actress Joanne Baron, and actor Daniel Franzese, who plays one of the bad guards whom we just know is going to get his sooner or later.  The movie is also available as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

ON THE INSIDE is technically efficient and fairly involving, but no more so than that.  The over-the-top ending, an overt effort to wring out some sort of big statement, works against what should have been a simpler and more straightforward story.

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