Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Charlotte Rampling, Daniel Stern, Jane Kaczmarek, Christopher Neame, Robin Johnson, Robert Knepper, Jay Patterson, Brion James, Jack Kehoe, Elizabeth Arlen, Karen Radcliffe, William Forward, Lee Gideon, Bill Bolender, John Hawkes
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue, based on a story by Charles Edward Pogue, Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Directed by: Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/18/1988

D.O.A. (1988)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

24 Hour Witness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This 1988 remake of Rudolph Maté's original 1950 film noir has many interesting moments to offer it, but it also feels somewhat compromised. Co-directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton and set in an anonymous American city, D.O.A. begins, like its predecessor, as the hero, Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid) makes his way to the police station and says he'd like to report a murder. "Who was murdered?" asks the cop at the front desk. "I was," replies Cornell.

Cornell, a washed-up writer who is now teaching at a university, has been poisoned and has some 24 hours to find out who did it. It's one of the greatest pitch-lines and set-ups in movie history. Cleverly, the first 20 minutes of the movie is well-covered, with Cornell going all over the place over the course of an afternoon and evening and drinking just about everything that's handed to him. There are plenty of opportunities and suspects.

The movie gets a bit cutesy and awkward when Cornell wakes up in the dorm room of one of his students, Sydney Fuller (Meg Ryan). He asks her help to figure out where he was drinking the night before, and when she refuses, he superglues his hand to her arm! It's a bit like the handcuffed-lovers motif that Hitchcock liked to use, but a bit crueler. It's also supposed to be kind of funny, but in D.O.A. it's not, given that the hero is about to expire. It was really only a silly way to get the two stars together, since they had fallen in love on the previous year's Innerspace, but it does feel forced.

The movie also sinks to the level of dumb fight scenes and car chases. A weird, abrasive music score by Chaz Jankel doesn't help matters. Otherwise, the movie does keep the mystery going and keeps up a stylish, nighttime, urban look, a kind of slick 1980s version of noir, with Christmas decorations besides. (The movie begins in a weird, December heat wave and climaxes in a pounding rainstorm.) A good cast keeps turning up to help things along, including Daniel Stern as a fellow teacher, Charlotte Rampling as a wealthy do-gooder with a secret, Jane Kaczmarek as Cornell's estranged wife, and Brion James as a detective. (Characters are named "Fuller," "Ulmer," and "Lang," perhaps as a tribute to the great noir directors, or perhaps just by coincidence.) The 1980s band Timbuk 3 is seen playing a couple of songs on stage in a bar.

Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray in 2018, with a fine transfer to highlight the movie's blues and blacks, and good crisp sound (the Timbuk 3 tunes sound great). The two directors each provide a separate commentary track, which struck me as odd, but I'm afraid I didn't have time to go through each of them to look for clues as to why. The disc offers optional 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes, and there are several trailers for other KL releases.

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