Jon Amiel's 'Copycat' is the kind of film that teases you with interesting set pieces, some fun ideas, and a generally unique premise in order to get you to let your guard down, but then mercilessly clubs you over the head with poor decisions, silly effects, horrible score elements, and ridiculous leaps in logic. An uneven police thriller, this 1995 flick from the director of 'Entrapment' tries to outdo the "knowns" of the genre, the fan favorite films that age so well, and can at times seem like a borderline comedy due to the excessive dramatization and "out of nowhere" moments that made me wonder if there was ever anything more than a single draft of the script. Any competent director would push his writer towards not only building a believable, interesting killer, but also characters that a viewer can relate to; said director would also tell the two screenwriters that it's anticlimactic to have a main character get killed off for no reason, whatsoever, by a non-character, a random inhabitant of a scene that doesn't fit the main narrative. Unfortunately, I think said director or any studio head within arm's reach was quite possibly giggling so hard at the script in their laps that they decided to leave the nonsensical bits in, just for sake of schadenfreude; apparently, they must hold some serious contempt for the money paying, movie-going public.
Get ready for the ultimate two prong attack! Sigourney Weaver stars as Dr. Helen Hudson, a criminal psychologist whose run-ins with a serial killer (played by Harry Connick Jr.) after a lecture on the very subject at a university leave her emotionally crippled, her pursuer put away for good. A year later, detective M.J. Monahan (Holly Hunter) and her partner Reuben Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) are working on another serial killer case in the same San Francisco area, one where there's a very bizarre pattern at play that the coppers can't quite figure out. They head to Hudson for advice, and the now-agoraphobic criminal expert notices the killings follow the pattern of a number of infamous serial killers to the letter, with the body dumpings matching those from the historic crime scene photographs. After a number of stranglings, the killer moves on to pay homage to the car shootings of the Son of Sam, the sex crime/murders of Peter Kurten, and other perturbed acts of violence. While those investigating know the basic profile of a serial killer, they can't quite figure out the pattern of someone falling into the exact same mold, in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that will get very personal for all involved.
'Copycat' wants to be a haunting statement on the psychology of those who are wired differently, whose propensities for killing make them interesting case subjects. It wants to be a daunting thriller, where no one is safe, and a general sense of unease will make viewers feel claustrophobic, afraid of what might happen next. It manipulates viewers so heavy handedly that its intentions are shockingly clear, and it's impossible to take the film seriously as a result. It's amazingly ironic that a film called 'Copycat,' which features a killer copying the crimes of others, seems so heavily dedicated to capturing the unease of films like 'Silence of the Lambs.' Atmosphere is not something that can be copy-pasted into a film, and what this flick does is give us uninteresting characters, then throw them to the wolves, hoping the terror they encounter will keep an audience entertained.
Agoraphobia is no laughing matter. I've seen it first hand with a family member, and it's amazingly depressing to witness. I suppose one can be afraid of the outside world due to the fear of being attacked. I can understand that. But what we see with the character of Dr. Hudson is so over the top, it's impossible to relate to. See, she has an amazingly high tech apartment, one worth killing for. She has motorized blinds that can shut out the outside world on a whim, numerous computers running at once, and amazingly modern architectural design to the whole place. To be confined to such a sweet pad is hardly something one can sympathize with. When she steps out into the hallway, she gets all woozy. I suppose she's never been drunk. The manner in which this illness is portrayed here is beyond silly, and since it's such a major plot point, everything thereafter is affected.
I mentioned that someone dies randomly, and I really want to talk more about that. See, in a serial killer movie, it's best to only have, you know, the serial killer killing people. Have him kill a cop's partner, or family member, to make the situation personal. It's a storytelling staple of the genre, giving the cop more reason to pursue it, to the ends of the Earth, rather than just as duty. That would have fit in here. The fact that one of the five main characters gets killed in a freak murder? It does nothing to the plot. So, it's just wasted screen time.
Then, there are the failures in the plot. With the Zodiac killer fresh in the minds of the inhabitants of the area, why is the most infamous uncaught serial killer only mentioned in passing? Heck, one has to even question some of the choices in killers to highlight, as we see Ed Gein mentioned by name and picture, but not for his crimes, which have inspired numerous successful thrillers. What's with the stupid sequence that is supposed to resemble Jeffrey Dahmer? It doesn't even come close to capturing the crimes he's memorable for.
'Copycat' tries to be a suspense film, but 16 years later, it's a borderline comedy. See, I couldn't help but laugh at Holly Hunter shooting her gun sideways all gangsta and shit. I couldn't help but shake my head that the second two people die in San Francisco, everyone is all "serial killer? Serial killer?" as if murders don't otherwise happen there. I also couldn't help pause and replay a sequence or two featuring the "cutting edge" computer graphics in the film. The animation on the computer, meant to intimidate and taunt, is so amazingly awful, it just screams of being written by someone who's never used a computer circa 1995 or any time. I also had a hard time not laughing at the importance of bathrooms in the film.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Copycat' arrives on Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD25 disc from Warner. There is no pre-menu content, though the menu itself is a pretty lazy static image with no audio. The packaging for this release only mentions about half of the actual dub and subtitle tracks.
The 2.40:1 framed 1080p transfer for 'Copycat' is neither poor or fantastic; it's a middle ground transfer for a middle ground film. Mediocrity, hooray!
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Yeah, the film really does say hobgoblin, but this quote is still one I had to throw in here, since consistency is the hobgoblin of this AVC MPEG-4 encoded disc. One minute, green grass is clearly defined, sharp, lifelike, natural; the next it's some weird green blur...and this transition is midshot. Skin detail, same thing, sans the whole green thing; no one's a goblin here. Dirt, scratches, and hairs are also here and there, disappearing for long periods, then back again. Hair, picture depth, textures, they're all fine one minute, poor the other. If this was an aesthetic choice of the filmmakers to disorient viewers, it's effective and really smart...but I highly doubt this was the case. Reds aren't frequently seen in the film, but when they are, they're fuzzy and slightly bleeding. The disc also exhibits some noise, very light banding issues, and a few artifacts along the way.
'Copycat' is assuredly better on Blu-ray than its 1998 snap case release, and is good in terms of the lack of artificial tampering, but it's still not what I'd be impressed by, not even by its era.
'Copycat' on Blu-ray doesn't sound too shabby for its opening act.
While effects seemed rather forced in the early goings, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does its best to include the rear channels and a little bit of bass, to act more modern. Then, a really funny thing happens, and I swear, it's one of the funniest damn things I've heard on Blu-ray so far: the track stopped trying literally mid-film. It threw its arms up and said mea culpa. Rears disappeared, so the random, forceful localized effects (the ones about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the groin) went with them, for the most part. Bass vanished, so much so that the club sequence, with the remix of David Bowie's Fame felt like it was balanced with +10 treble, -10 bass, with no thump whatsoever. That just has to be restated: a club scene, with a remix playing....no bass. Gunfire never has any pop in this track, so that's nothing new. The score had some huevos in the opening, with some actual high ends, but that too went by the wayside. Even in the opening, I had to shake my head at how rooms were never full and natural in atmosphere. I mean, I know, whenever I get applause (it's a daily event), that it only comes from in front of me, never from the sides.
Simply put, this is one hilarious track, for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't get into the film because I was wanting to laugh so hard at how boneheaded this mix is.
'Copycat' may be a bit of an ironic film, copying a few notable, successful films in the thriller genre. The idea is a good one, but the execution is where this one gets gutted. A good cast is in place, but the script is a nonsensical little mess. The Blu-ray release is up, it's down, it's all over the place, and features the same extras as the DVD so olde that it gets an "e" at the end of old. If you're a fan of this film, I see no reason not to pick it up when it hits the desired price point, but newcomers to the film may want to take it slow with a rental first.