Nick and Frank Starkey were both policemen. A scandal forced Nick to leave the force, now a serial killer has driven the police to take him back. A web that includes Frank's wife, bribery, and corruption all are in the background as Nick tries to uncover the secret of where the killer will strike next, and finally must lay a trap without the police.
Filmmaker Norman Jewison served as producer and director on 'Moonstruck' (1987), which earned John Patrick Shanley an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The two reunited for Shanley's next screenplay, 'The January Man' (1989), although Jewison only served as the film's producer. In his place, director Pat O'Connor helmed the mystery thriller about a serial killer terrorizing New York City.
The film opens on New Year's Eve. Alison Hawkins (Faye Grant), an heiress, and Bernadette Flynn (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the mayor’s daughter, are out on the town, but they call it quits shortly before the ball drops at midnight, which seems an odd choice for two twenty-somethings. In Alison's home, an unknown assailant strangles her with a blue ribbon. She becomes the eleventh victim of a serial killer who has killed a woman once a month for nearly a year.
The city is understandably panicked, leading Mayor Flynn (Rod Steiger) to order Police Commissioner Frank Starkey (Harvey Keitel) to get Frank's brother Nick (Kevin Kline) on the case. That is not as easy as it sounds because Nick was kicked off the force two years ago as a result of his supposed involvement in a graft scandal. Nick agrees to join the investigation, but only if he can make dinner for his sister-in-law, Frank’s wife, Christine (Susan Sarandon). This seems an odd quirk, but many fictional detectives are given odd quirks so it many not seem to strange, until it is revealed they used to be in a relationship before she married Frank.
Nick is your typical oddball detective whose unusual ways are evidence that he is so much smarter and insightful than every other, by-the-book police detective in New York City. That's why he has his artist friend/neighbor Ed (Alan Rickman) paint birds on his office walls. That's why he is the only officer to realize there's a copycat. And that's why he inexplicably uses a civilian like Bernadette to catch the killer rather than a trained police officer. But regardless of how smart he is, and he is an early adaptor of computers, his solving of the case is convoluted.
Shanley's script is more interested in the characters and their relationships rather than the crime, which is normally a good thing, but here there's so much backstory unrevealed it leaves too many questions that may leave the viewer puzzled. For example, it is hinted that Frank and the mayor were the ones involved with the graft, and Nick took the fall for his brother, but why is not made clear. Nor is it explained when exactly Christine took up with Frank. If it happened before the scandal, why would Nick take Frank's place? If after, how could Frank repay his brother like that. The story would have been better fleshed out in a miniseries.
As a procedural, 'The January Man' comes up short, as does the humor. It wants to be much funnier than it is. However, what makes the movie worth watching are the performances by the talented cast. They do just enough with what little they have to keep the viewer engaged and not feel like sitting through has been a complete waste of time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released 'The January Man' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The colors come through in strong hues, from a red fire engine to a purple dress. Blacks are solid, although it does crush in the scene when Nick, as a fire fighter, saves a little girl from a building. To be fair, the smoke and water also contribute in diminishing the way the black appears in that scene. The white of the ice rink where Nick and Bernadette skate together is very bright, almost blooming.
Film grain is evident and the picture looks clean. The textures reveal fine details in objects like uniforms and buildings. Focus can be soft as a result of the way the source was shot, but much is the foreground comes through with sharp clarity. I didn't notice any digital artifacts hampering the image.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. The film is more dialogue driven than others of its genre and comes off a bit lackluster But on that front, at least it gets the job done as every actor is clearly understandable.
Even when Steiger and Aiello are shouting at the top of their lungs, the track doesn’t distort nor does it with Marvin Hamlisch's score or the effects. All three elements are edited together for a balanced mix. The dynamic range is adequate and the bass is limited. The track sounds free of defect or wear.
For those who like to watch actors act, 'The January Man' might be satisfying. Otherwise, the movie offers little worth seeing. Unfortunately, "little worth seeing" is the same reaction I had to Kino's HD presentation and its meager extra. The whole thing just leaves the viewer wanting something better.