Little known fact: according to urbandictionary.com, "the stranger" is the act of sitting on one's own hand until lack of blood makes it "fall asleep" and then...yeah, it's best I stop there.
Other little known fact: that tidbit is far more interesting than the film titled 'The Stranger.' No, we're not talking about the one starring Orson Welles. Nothing starring Orson is boring (at least, not while he's on screen). Steve Austin. Born Steve Anderson, the wrestler made a name for himself right at the beginning of the "Attitude" era, with his beer swilling, bird flipping, and rampant disregard for authority. After a few injuries, and creative differences, the bald superstar left the WWE, and his "career," as it were, has been a shambles, at best, with a few guest appearances here and there, and a few really, really bad films to his credit. Apparently Stone Cold thought he could follow in the footsteps of The Rock.
Damn was he wrong. This latest Steve Austin flick hasn't received much fanfare or attention. It hasn't even garnered five votes on IMDb yet. After an hour and a half, I wished I was still a stranger to 'The Stranger.'
An amnesiac (Austin) is a hunted man. His past is a complete blur. He seems to pop up in random places, doing odd (dangerous) jobs, only to disappear again for months at a time. Both the FBI and the mob want to get their hands on him. An FBI Agent (Adam Beach) and a psychologist (Erica Cerra) are trying to help him recover his memory, and find out why everyone is after him. Only thing is, not everything is as it seems. No one is to be trusted. This amnesiac would be better off disappearing again, but it seems he doesn't realize what curiosity did to the cat. In an attempt to regain his memory, he'll retrace his steps, and face the dangerous foes who also want to find out about his past.
Considering what Austin brings to the table, I'm amazed he isn't living in the cardboard hovel that his character resides in briefly in this film. 'The Condemned' was unintentionally funny, at least. 'The Stranger' doesn't even have that going for it. There is seeminly no point on top of no talent and no production values. There's a reason it has garnered no interest, will win no awards (it won't even win a Razzie, for pete's sake!), and if audiences care about quality, will find its way into no homes. If you buy this title blindly, seeing Stone Cold on the cover with a gun, you should be dubbed 'The Sucker.'
Rob Lieberman ('The Final Days of Planet Earth,' 'D3: The Mighty Ducks') directs this film as ineptly as first time screenwriter Quinn Scott crafted it and Steve Austin acted in it. Shots are boring, the majority of scenes accomplish nothing, the reliance on random flashbacks in the blink of an eye are jarring and pull the viewer right out of the story. In classic amnesiac/missing person fashion, the first person you ask if they've seen someone will have seen them, and will automatically know exactly where they are. Characters lack any proper motivation. Twists are unbelievable.
When you hire a wrestler to act, you should expect good fight scenes. I mean, why else hire them? Look at Kevin Nash in 'The Punisher,' or Triple H in 'Blade Trinity,' you get the guys with the build and capability to perform their own stunts. Here, fight sequences feel like they're in slow motion, and torture scenes (yep, there are a few of them) are exciting only in that you hope they cut too deep. Sure, 'Wrong Side of Town' was equally inept, and it had not one, but two wrestlers in it, but at least it progressed a story.
If one wants to watch a film about an amnesiac who may hold the secret to something or other, who is being pursued by some random people for unknown reasons that are sure to be revealed at about the one hour mark, who cannot trust anyone but chooses to trust and hang with the first female who doesn't feel she'll end up in three different garbage bags by the next day, just go watch 'The Bourne Identity.' You'll be better off for it, for many reasons. If you already own it, you just saved buying a crap film at a new release price. If you actually care about acting, believable heroes and understandable, realistic, and intriguing villains, you'd be money ahead there too. There's more sex appeal for both males and females, and fight sequences are actually pretty cool. There's even tension, too.
'The Stranger' bows on Blu-ray with a VC-1 1080p encode at 1.78:1. It's 90 minutes of mediocre. The day I screened this film, I was doing my best to get over a headache that hampered me the entire day, and instantly, I knew this was the wrong film to be watching. The opening title sequence is so jumpy, blurry, shaky, and outright stupid that it's impossible to follow, and it only amplified the intensity of my cranial discomfort. I should have ended it right there. My life, or the film. But, trooper that I am, I kept on truckin.'
Delineation is beyond horrible, as blacks crush significantly and constantly. The picture goes from sharp to dull, nice vivid reality to flat ugly distortion, and never decides what it wants to be for any period of time. It's uneven, much like the transfer for 'Lies and Illusions,' only it doesn't have that whole blurriness problem. Just dullness. Scenes are excessively dark, lacking any real brightness, even in daytime shots, for the majority of the film. It makes no sense. Was this film so low budgeted that they couldn't even afford the sun?! Contrast is uneven, as it can run hot, then cold, if there were such a term. It's a mess. Some natural aesthetics lead to unsightly noise, while grain levels are somewhat solid, with a few hefty spikes. Aliasing is present on a few occasions, while banding and artifacting are also present, if even slightly. Edges are natural (notice I didn't say clean), which may be one of the few real positives.
And since 'The Stranger' wants to kick you when you're down, get ready for an entire shot going extra-blocky, from the 1.11.23 mark through the 1.11.29 mark, as the picture can't decide if it wants to look like a giant artifact mill or a rotoscoped effect. It's impossible to miss. It's a massive error. It's a possible sign that there was no quality control done for 'The Stranger,' both the disc and the film.
'The Stranger' defaults to a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but a Linear PCM (uncompressed) 5.1 track is available through the menu. Why it isn't the disc default is beyond me.
The audio may be the best part of this release, and even it is pretty uninspired. From the very beginning, we see FBI agents firing automatic weapons, but they sound soft, lacking any real pop or punch, and they don't even move through speakers. As the film goes on, gunfire finds itself localizing in rears, and occasionally making impact twangs against metal, but bullets still don't rip through the room, even lightly. It's pretty chintzy. There is some light bass rumble, in fight impacts out of the blue, along with a few spots with movement (again, not bullets), that are honestly a tad clunky, not too intricate. Dialogue doesn't have any problems replicating, but it sounds so very monotone. Score and soundtrack elements find their way to the rears, but it's somewhat light. The rock soundtrack can get a little loud for the scenes it is in, and the mixture of it and noise generated from action sequences creates a bit of white noise.
There is one neat bit, and that's the Spanish subtitles that don't reside anywhere in particular, popping up at random positions on the screen. But beware: Austin speaks Spanish, and his pronunciation is not convincing. Not convincing at all.
When navigating the menu for 'The Stranger,' you will be greeted by gun noises every time you do anything, from moving the cursor, to making any selection. This was innovative back in 1996. There are a few extras to be found on this release, for all you massochists out there.
I need to take a shower right about now. Maybe two in a row. I want to get this feeling off of me. This feeling that I may never again see a good film. I may sound melodramatic to you, but imagine if you just had a near-death experience. That's how my cinematic tastebuds feel right about now. 'The Stranger' is so very, very bad, in so many, many ways. This disc is packed with trailers for equally awful films, video that fails, and audio that is pretty damn ho-hum. In a week that will see the release of numerous Clint Eastwood films, the newest Depp/Burton collaboration, a Cruise/Spielberg movie, and Will Smith in a Michael Bay explosion film, anyone caught buying this film needs to have their wallets confiscated. Avoid. This. Blu-ray.