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Blu-Ray : Recommended
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Release Date: January 6th, 2009 Movie Release Year: 2008

The Wackness

Overview -

New York, summer 1994, the greatest year in hip-hop, a troubled teenage drug dealer trades pot for therapy sessions with a drug-addled psychiatrist intent on living his life to the fullest. The two form an unlikely friendship, but things get complicated when the kid falls for the doctor's daughter.

Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48KHz)
Spanish Subtitles
Special Features:
Theatrical Trailer
Release Date:
January 6th, 2009

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


It is the summer of 1994, when O.J. Simpson became a name we'd all like to forget, those who were cool made mixtapes (yes, I said tapes), and people still played the original Nintendo. Wearing giant headphones was as common as wearing a watch, and newly appointed Mayor Rudy Giuliani was making a name for himself in New York by cleaning the streets of graffiti, boom boxes, and seemingly everything else that was part of the booming hip-hop culture. Young filmmaker Jonathan Levine found a great hook when he set the story of a high school drug-dealer who pays his therapist in bags of marijuana in this unlikely "period" setting.

Having Sir Ben Kingsley play the role of that therapist, surely exceeded anything Levine could have hoped for. Kingsley dons a scraggly long-haired wig for the role of Dr. Jeffrey Squires, and his performance as a down-and-out therapist, stumbling through life before a drug-dealer named Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) walks into his office, is the glue that holds this indie coming-of-age film together. A recent high school graduate, Shapiro's cover is a rickety ice cream cart in which he conceals copious amounts of gange. He's looking to find direction in his life, a real purpose, for which Squires' diagnosis is that he just "needs to get laid!" In exchange for that deep insight, Luke hands over a dime-bag of Brooklyn's best weed. Unbeknownst to Squires, his step-daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) is the girl Luke sets his sites on in the hopes of remedying his troubles.

Shapiro's growing confidence as a young man is timed with the emergence of the Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest, and the Wu-Tang Clan, musical performers whose works serve as the bassline and rhythm of the film. Angry, expressive, and provocative, Shapiro's street-wise exterior shells a sharp and genuine young man who would justly pop in a tape of R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind" and put hand-to-hip in the heat of moment. But while he may talk a good game, there's still a soft-spoken innocence within him, tapped only when Miss Stephanie is around. She is the hip to his hop and sets him up for the kind of major fall that many men will relate to. Squires meanwhile, still stuck in his rebellious youth, pines to such classic rock stalwarts as David Bowie and past memories of underground bands of the local scene, the little bit of anarchy in his otherwise mundane life. His wife, Kristin (Famke Janssen) longs to be divorced, while he longs for sex with another woman. The only things holding Dr. Squires together are his daily doses of lithium and other prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Though these differences draw a line between Shapiro and Squires, it's their failures (Shapiro's inevitable broken heart and Squire's miserable marriage) and crumbling homes that brings them closer together and define who they'll both become. Their bond is odd, but warm -- the child guides the adult and the adult guides the child -- as they both help each other avoid the "wackness" in their lives. Eventually, both come to grips with what life has offered them, no longer hindered by any false notion or fantasy.

A spirited Kingsley, slinging slang and lip-smacking with the elfish Mary Kate Olsen, among other random acts of silliness, is sure to make this film memorable. Peck's Shapiro, with his doped-out quick delivery of lines, is ever appealing as a character playing out the fantasies of a young man who still has much of the inner child in him.

Levine's story speaks especially well to those who came into their own in the mid 90's. The soundtrack targets that moment in time perfectly. I had a blast taking the trip back. As a product of the decade and a fan of Eric B. and Rakim, the Wu-Tang Clan, and De La Soul among others, The Wackness truly struck a chord. In turn, it could also alienate others who don't embrace that element of the time period, but all in all, the film successfully reveals what can be discovered through a little bit of failure and knowing how that failure can make you a better person.

Video Review


Having originally seen this film in theaters, this 1080p AVC-encoded Mpeg-4 transfer successfully recreates the theatrical image. A noticeable, but pleasant level of grain is present throughout. The Color palette is relatively drab, but when hues appear, for example the graffiti title cards, they are vibrant and lively. Even when Shapiro watches the weather on his old early 80's television set, the colorful graphics make the image look recent. In the third chapter, when Shapiro meets up with his supplier, Percy (Method Man), in a dark warehouse, specks of dust and lint in the air, as well as each stubble on Percy's face, and the ribbed lines in his tank top can all be picked out clearly.

At other times it seems the camera filters added a hazy, soft and foggy look to scenes, but that's a quality inherent in the original film and not a product of this video transfer. Several scenes are illuminated with a single source of natural light or low-watt lamps. As a result, these scenes are dark and low-lit, but edges are still clearly defined. Levine chose to keep 'The Wackness' soaked in the gritty, urban sprawl, and this transfer preserves that.

Audio Review


This is a dialogue heavy film, and much of the 5.1 Dolby True-HD lossless audio comes through the center channel very clearly. The bumping hip-hop soundtrack fades in and out of the film like a silent character, walking beside but not overpowering or drawing unnecessary attention to itself. Clear dialogue always seems to take first priority. Even though Peck has a delivery that could be described as a stoner mumble, I had no trouble understanding what he was saying.

Other than the music and city noises, the film has limited sound design. There isn't much in the way of spatial effects or what audiophiles would consider an immersive field of sound, but this doesn't take away from an otherwise solid mix. There is also a French 5.1 Dolby True-HD audio track available as well.

Special Features


'The Wackness' leaves a little to be desired in terms of thick and juicy special features. Most of them are in 480p standard definition and Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 with the exception of the trailers, which are in 1080p high def and 5.1 Dolby True-HD.

  • Audio Commentary - Levine and Peck reunite for a laid back but chatter-filled track that carries most of the muscle as far as the extras go. Lots of little stories and on-set experiences are shared that will pique the interest of those who enjoyed 'The Wackness." Levine drops technical bits here and there while sharing some personal memories of locations and plot pieces that made their way to the film. Both Peck and Levine were humbled by Kingsley's presence, prompting Peck to constantly remind himself the first day of principal shooting, "Don't forget your lines."
  • Featurette: "Time in a Bottle: Behind the Scenes of 'The Wackness'" (SD, 18 minutes) - Jonathan Levine, cast, and crew touch briefly on the casting choices and more intensely on setting a film in New York City in 1994, especially on getting the right music, and reflecting on how much the city has changed in 15 years. If set and production design are filmmaking elements of interest, then this is worth a visit, if for nothing else than for the sake of nostalgia.
  • Featurette: "Luke Shapiro's Dope Show" (SD, 8 minutes) - Done in the theme of a classic cable access show are two episodes "created by New Yorker Luke Shapiro in 1994" in the archives of Manhattan Cable Television. Shapiro talks to his superintendent in the first episode and discusses what happened at the Cypress Hill concert in the second. Like most cable access shows, they don't have much to say in front of a single camera set-up, cheesy transitions, terrible phone callers, and less-than-useable audio. It's a successful recreation of one of the more comical phenomenons of the 90's.
  • Featurette: "Deleted Scenes" (SD, 5 minutes) - Four extra scenes show Luke working in his cap and gown, an extended take of the Squires' vacation, Stephanie having a heart-to-heart with Squires, and another of Shapiro's father's epic failures.
  • Featurette: "Keeping it Real: A Day in the Life of Writer/Director Jonathan Levine" (HD, 8 minutes) - Cameras follow Levine as he discusses taking the film on the film festival circuit, completes a day of interviews via phone, radio, and TV, and ultimately takes the film to its L.A. Film Festival Premiere.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD, 7) - There's one theatrical trailer for 'The Wackness,' and four teaser trailers. Also included are theatrical trailers for three Sony titles, including 'Standard Operating Procedure,' 'Redbelt,' and 'The Fall.'

It's strange to see my youth ripe and ready to be cherry-picked for a period piece, yet out of these cultural touchstones comes a fresh take on the otherwise formulaic coming of age film. 'The Wackness' is one of those films that hits the right notes with some viewers and may leave others thinking it's just average. If flannel shirts and grunge fortified your teenage years, the charm may sail over your head, but an appreciation for rap and hip hop culture in its silver age will make viewers' hearts grow fonder for 'The Wackness.' If you're not hip-hop savvy, the chemistry between Sir Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck is worth the price of admission. This Blu-ray maintains the stylistic integrity of the theatrical release, with a faithful video transfer, a warm, inviting True-HD audio mix, and some fun supplements. Recommended.