Gabriel Caine has just been released from prison when he sets up a bet with a business man. The business man owns most of a boxing-mad town called Diggstown. The bet is that Gabe can find a boxer that will knock out 10 Diggstown men, in a boxing ring, within 24 hours. "Honey" Roy Palmer is that man - although at 48, many say he is too old. A sub plot is thrown in about Charles Macum Diggs - the heavyweight champion that gave the town its name - and who is now confined to a wheel-chair.
The art of the con has always been tricky to capture on the big screen. Sometimes you'll get great movies like The Sting or 'House of Games', but most of the time you'll get disappointments, like the recently released Focus. Fortunately, 'Diggstown' is smart enough to know that the best hustle to watch is when both sides are trying to out-maneuver the other. That's the premise of Michael Ritchie's comedy/drama, and it's pretty much a blast from beginning to end.
If you're going to do a movie about con men, you need a fast-talking swindler who still can be likeable to the audience. No actor fits that bill better than James Woods, who plays both ex-con (he's released from a local prison early in the movie) and con-man in this title. Woods stars as Gabriel Caine, who is already working on his scheme to 'procure' a ton of money from the small southern town of Diggstown before he gets out of jail. His partner in crime as the movie opens is his pal Fitz (Oliver Platt), whose billiards hustle early in the film is just the beginning of a well planned 'long game' from Caine.
Of course, for 'Diggstown' to work, it needs an adversary just as smart and cunning as Caine, and it gets one in Diggstown's town 'boss' of John Gillon, who is played by Bruce Dern. Caine first runs into Gillon early in the movie in the town's boxing gym, where Gabriel (intentionally) loses a bet as Gillon proves the kind of control he has over the town and its citizens. Meanwhile, across the street, Gillon's son has lost a bet with Fitz, leading to a conversation about Diggstown's historically famous boxer, Charles Macum Diggs (Wilhelm von Homburg), who now is in a wheelchair and a vegetable state, the result of his final fight. Fitz spouts off that a boxer named 'Honey' Roy Palmer was better than Diggs, and in fact could still beat any 10 of Diggstown's men in a given day. By this point, Gillon and Caine have made their way into the room, and Gillon takes the bet, with Caine backing up Fitz (who Gillon doesn't know at this point is already working with Caine).
Now, Caine needs to go track down 'Honey' Roy to get him in on the con as well. Roy is played by Louis Gossett, Jr., who was about 55 when 'Diggstown' was shot, but the film makes his character 48, so the idea of him being a credible boxer is a little more believable. Roy is reluctant at first to get in on the game, but when he finds out how much over his head Caine has already gotten on the bet (with the total increasing just about every time Gabriel crosses paths with Gillon), he can't resist helping out his old friend. And so, as they say, the con is on, with a climax that takes up the final third of the film, as Roy has to duke it out (and beat) 10 different men in the boxing ring. These scenes work really well with viewers, as the audience has no idea who Gillon might be sending out next to fight Roy, with each side having plenty of tricks up their sleeve along the way. The final boxer and the way he's disposed of is such a blindside of fun that you can't help but cheer…first, because it's a rousing ending, and second, because the screenplay has set up that moment so perfectly, and most aren't likely to see it coming.
'Diggstown' isn't a perfect film, however. For whatever reason, it chooses to throw a love interest for Gabriel in the middle of the mix, as Heather Graham plays the sister of a friend Caine had back in prison. Her character is completely unnecessary to the movie, and the relationship between the two characters really goes nowhere, with one left feeling that many of their scenes together may have been left on the cutting room floor. Sadly, Graham serves as little more than 'eye candy' here, and that's a shame.
Overall, though, 'Diggstown' is a real crowd-pleaser and a movie that's really never gotten its due. What it doesn't have in production value it makes up for in sheer star power and energy, and it's well-directed and paced by Michael Ritchie, who honestly has been pretty hit or miss over the years (he helmed the original 'Bad News Bears' and both Fletch films, but also stuff like The Couch Trip and 'The Golden Child'). While 'Diggstown' will appeal most to fans of con movies and sports films, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't have a good time viewing this title. It's worth adding to one's collection.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Diggstown' hustles its way onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the 25GB single-layer disc with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose menu consists of a color version of the box cover photo, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A-locked.
Note: One interesting fact about this Blu-ray release is that the version of the movie on this disc isn't the American theatrical release, but rather the European release, which uses the alternate title of 'Midnight Sting' in the opening credits instead of 'Diggstown'. As far as I know, this title change is the only difference, and I don't believe this version contains any other changes from the original U.S. release. The theatrical trailer on this disc also uses the 'Midnight Sting' title, although the featurette refers to the movie as 'Diggstown'.
Like a lot of Kino Lorber releases I've reviewed, the transfer here provides a very film-like quality to one's viewing, but hasn't been manipulated much by the studio for its Blu-ray release. So, while 'Diggstown' still has some instances of dirt and debris on the print here and there, and while it doesn't really provide the kind of depth and visual 'pop' a proper restoration might have provided, it also hasn't been overly manipulated, sharpened, or heavily DNR'd.
Colors are nicely rendered here, although I do think they're a touch on the under-saturated side and could have been a bit deeper/richer. Grain is heavy and appears in every shot, but it's not too much of a distraction and adds to the film-like look of this release. There are zero problems with aliasing, banding, or the like…at least none that I was able to detect. So while the image here doesn't necessarily 'wow', it’s a decent representation of what the film looked like in theaters and fans of the movie should have no serious complaints.
The only audio track here is a English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that does a pretty good job, considering its limitations. All of the sounds are divided up between the right and left front speakers, but the track does a pretty good job with the mix, including composer James Newton Howard's blusy, harmonica-heavy score. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the audio does a nice job of providing clear, distinct sounds for other parts of the movie, including the 'snaps' and 'pops' of the fighters' gloves during the boxing scenes.
I detected no glitches in the audio, including any problems with hissing, dropouts, or an overall muddiness to the sound. Like the video quality, this is probably a very good rendition of what 'Diggstown' sounded like during its original theatrical run.
Subtitles are available in English.
There's nothing fancy or particularly impressive about the way 'Diggstown' (aka 'Midnight Sting') is filmed, but it does feature some very talented actors having fun with a highly entertaining story. This 1992 effort got knocked out at the box office, but certainly deserves another look on Blu-ray – it's a winner. Recommended.