**/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Eddie Cahill
screenplay by Eric Guggenheim
directed by Gavin O'Connor
Broken Lizard's Club Dread
**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Brittany Daniel, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Jordan Ladd
screenplay by Broken Lizard
directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
by Bill Chambers That it's well-cast, well-shot, and well-edited leads one to conclude that Miracle is, in fact, well-directed (by Tumbleweeds' Gavin O'Connor). It's therefore invaluable, really, as proof that nothing can save a hackneyed screenplay. The film, which recreates a rink-bound pissing contest between the U.S. and Soviet hockey teams at the 1980 Olympics that retroactively came to stand for a Seabiscuit-like national uplift, is so self-critiquing that watching it is purely a formality and only an occasional joy, not for its underdog intrigue, but for its technical proficiency and the ever-dependable Kurt Russell. (If there are better actors than Russell, there certainly aren't better movie stars.) Surmounting a number of aesthetic obstacles, including a moptop that looks scalped from his character in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Russell skillfully essays real-life coach Herb Brooks, a failed puck-slinger looking to live vicariously through a gold medal line-up.
The unusual choice of Aerosmith's "Dream On" for exit music validates the fleeting notions one has throughout that O'Connor wanted to make not a period piece, but rather a piece that felt like it was from the period. This is inherent in his decision to shoot Miracle in anamorphic Panavision instead of Super35, and in a few deliriously beautiful zooms unlike anything since the heyday of Vilmos Zsigmond. It's even there in how "Dream On" turns cynical on a dime, underscoring a series of American Graffiti post-scripts that portend a depressing fate for many of the players portrayed in the film as real estate agents and insurance brokers. ("Dream on," indeed.) While the titular phenomenon may refer to America's unlikely victory in the '80 games, it best applies--in the televangelist sense--to how accommodating the Hollywood paradigm was of such real-life coordinates as the wifey-wife (Patricia Clarkson, subsidizing her indie sojourn in a curiously arousing helmet of Eva Marie Saint hair) who, wouldn't you know it, thinks Herb is spending too much time at his job.
The Seventies and Eighties also return in Broken Lizard's Club Dread (chasing Miracle in theatres and now on DVD), a tepid slasher spoof singularly elevated, if not redeemed, by a nude scene from Cabin Fever's Jordan Ladd. It's not just that Ladd, daughter of "Charlie's Angel" Cheryl Ladd (and granddaughter of Alan Ladd), is impeccably sculpted, but that gratuitous undress is a hallowed genre tradition less than upheld in recent times, instilling this neo-April Fool's Day with a dubious integrity. The new Puritanism is so aggravating that one is forced into the sexist position of applauding the exploitation of a third-generation starlet.
Half as clever as Scream and too winking in its nihilism to approach the invigorating immorality of Scream 2, Club Dread relocates the summer camps of countless American gialli to an island paradise run by Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton, whose smarmy beachcomber take on Jimmy Buffett is scathing until a character explicitly draws the comparison, thus exposing a fatal strain of insecurity in the writing), where the resort's staff and its guests essentially assume the camp counsellor/troop dynamic and the would-be counsellors are bumped off one-by-one according to the lyrics of a Coconut Pete song. None of it is scary or funny, save the killer's motive (its very arbitrariness the only thing in Club Dread that approaches authentic satire). It's a shame that, like the makers of Miracle, the comedic ensemble Broken Lizard were game to revive a bygone ethic with a script that's merely passé.
Disney's double-disc, THX-certified release of Miracle presents the film in a gorgeously raw 2.35:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer.* The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is extremely aggressive and enveloping--and, truthfully, the only thing that got me through the climax, what with its predetermined outcome and fundamental repetitiousness. Extras on the first disc include a making-of (18 mins.) rendered obsolete (save vintage glimpses of the Olympics event in question) by the second platter's supplements, in addition to a film-length yak-track with O'Connor, DP Daniel Stoloff, and editor John Gilroy. Though the gregarious trio failed to abate my disappointment in Russell's commentary absence (he usually joins in for his starring vehicles and is always a delight), they have a collective charm. Nevertheless, given the presence of two key technicians, I wish the conversation cut deeper than what is by and large a protracted lament about weather and scheduling problems. For what it's worth, the three men cite deleted passages that sound promising but were unfortunately left off the DVD, probably so as not to threaten the sanctum of Miracle's PG rating.
Disc 2 of Miracle contains behind-the-scenes footage beneath its main menu, betraying its nuts-and-bolts objective. Comprising four featurettes (five counting the 4-minute "outtakes" montage of flubbed lines), it all begins with "From Hockey to Hollywood: Actors' Journeys" (27 mins.), a piece that profiles the real-life hockey players (as well as professional actor Eddie Cahill, he of a gaze so predatory I feel ill at ease mentioning him) who wound up delivering surprisingly accomplished performances. (O'Connor's instruction "Don't act!" indeed served them well.) "Miracle: ESPN Roundtable with Linda Cohn" (41 mins.) reunites Olympic champions Mike Eruzione, Buzz Schneider, and Jim Craig and throws Russell into the mix. Likely regarded as an interloper, Russell seems uncomfortable, to say the least.
In "The Sound of Miracle" (10 mins.), O'Connor confides that he wanted the film to have the aural impact of Saving Private Ryan. As the challenges of recording and mixing Miracle are illustrated in some detail, it's a shame this segment wasn't afforded more than the standard two channels of audio. Meanwhile, "First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers" (21 mins.) divides the wisdom of Brooks--as bestowed on a small group of individuals involved with the production just prior to the start of principal photography--into sixteen captioned pearls ("Creating the Team Morale," etc.). Captured with cheap video equipment, it's not easy to sit through for that reason, but posterity justifies its inclusion. Jumping back to Disc 1, trailers for Aladdin, Around the World in 80 Days, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and The Three Musketeers round out the package.
Fox issues Broken Lizard's Club Dread in widescreen and pan-and-scan on opposite sides of a flipper platter. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is clean, vibrant, and boasts of excellent shadow detail; in an unsubtle hint to stay away from the fullscreen transfer, the disc's two commentary tracks accompany the widescreen version only. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is forceful without being particularly expansive, the rear discretes all but ignored at key intervals. Director/star Jay Chandrasekhar (Candra-say-car) joins actor Erik Stolhanske in one yakker while stars Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, and Paul Soter huddle together for the other. Both are relatively sedate affairs; one of the few edifying tidbits is Chandrasekhar's confession that early views of Club Dread are actually table scraps from Danny Boyle's The Beach; Broken Lizard's previous effort, Super Troopers, is referenced often in a variety of contexts--perhaps my ignorance of it is a handicap, though I suspect it's something closer to bliss. A 30-second soundtrack spot rounds out the disc.