I do my best to avoid films starring Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. The bullet sponge turned rapper turned actor has less than impressed me in his cinematic performances, and it would be an understatement to say that I'm not a fan of the films he's in, even ignoring his presence. Just take the following into account: 'Streets of Blood.' 'Twelve.' 'Caught in the Crossfire.' 'Gun.' 'Blood Out.' I'll give him 'Righteous Kill,' as he was definitely better than the world class actors who shared the screen with him (by way of not embarrassing himself completely), but that's like saying it's better to be shot or stabbed six times instead of eight. Either way, it's really, really gonna suck.
So, with 'Setup' (one word), perhaps the presence of two stars I'm always happy to see on screen sharing the cover with Jackson were the reason I jumped at the chance to review this disc. Bruce Willis, he isn't exactly known for slumming, and can randomly steal the show no matter how buried he is in a film. Ryan Phillippe, I'll admit, he's a guilty pleasure of mine, both in his younger roles and now finally in his more adult performances. Heck, while he's not on the cover, James Remar also gets his share of screen time. So how could this have gone so wrong, so fast? How can a film with so many...oh, nevermind. Forget I even questioned where things could go so wrong. The director/co-writer of the film, Mike Gunther, was the man behind 'Beatdown.' For those unaware, that means there's about as much talent behind the camera as there is stocking the fridge with vitamin water.
In 'Setup,' a group of three friends (Jackson, Phillippe, and Brett Granstaff) get themselves involved in a daring diamond heist, nabbing a cool five million in ice and making a clean getaway. Naturally, since this is the first time I've mentioned Granstaff in this review, of course his ass gets killed when everyone finally lets their guard down. That's right, there's been a double cross! Now, a man shot and left for dead finds himself on the bad side of a mob boss (Willis) who wants him to make good on his debt by recovering the money that should have been his. There are hit men looking for answers, random muscle beating down anyone associated with the theft, and not much time to fix the situation.
'Setup' never had a chance. See, there's this thing that good movies have. It's called a plot; the more coherent, the better. This is where tension comes from. This "plot" is usually what helps us viewers associate with, and care for, the characters on screen. We learn the complicated relationships, we witness the deceit and greed, we have people to root for and people to root against, and, usually, they have their motives, their reasons behind who they are and what they do. 'Setup' is a film with no plot to speak of. In a funny twist, few scenes seem to interconnect. Instead, it just seems like this film is a compilation of random sequence after random sequence, as it has a hard time balancing even one element, let alone three, at work at the same time. Through it all, though, it's hard to look away.
What's even funnier is that 'Setup' may be the most insanely cliched, underdeveloped, most forgettable film in some time, keeping in mind the entire Curtis Jackson cinematic library. See, Jackson's Sonny character is a good guy who has been done wrong. But he's apparently smarter than everyone, perfectly manipulating every situation to his benefit, never getting caught with his pants down or his back turned, constantly turning bad situations into good ones. The wife of the killed friend doesn't blame him for what happened. Willis's mob boss falls hook line and sinker for every lie he's told. Sonny knows enough people that he can get himself out of any jam with a single phone call (a fact that we witness since we always cut right away to the solution to every problem with not a single minute to build tension). Most importantly, Sonny can't kill anyone. He should. He has a gun, after all, and there are a lot of people who would kill him if he didn't always get the jump on them. But no, he's the master of the pistol whip. It's like his pimp hand, only with a gun in it, and no one ever talks back to the butt end of a generic, nondescript handgun. It's a scientific fact. It's so much more efficient than killing and not allowing the chance of retaliation, it's a miracle that all the gangs in this country don't start settling issues by way of a quick smack. Bullets are expensive, anyways.
There's no reason to care for anything happening in the film. Willis gets too little screen time, and it's too stupid to believe. Seriously, what kind of mob boss with a massive army of goons is incapable of getting answers out of anyone they kidnap and torture before the torturee dies? Why doesn't he question Sonny the minute that his number one goon, Petey (Randy Couture) doesn't come back from his "errand" with the thug with the heart of gold? Has there been a stupider sequence than a hired goon who has probably handled more firearms than a gun store clerk not checking to see if the gun he's twirling around is loaded, ending in his own demise by way of Darwin? What about Phillippe? He's got the tattoos, so we know he's pretty hardcore, but how come he can't do shit right? He messes up so much as soon as he scores all the loot that it's impossible to believe he survived a single day with the bloodthirsty mafia looking to recover their money.
Want more reasons on why 'Setup' is the longest 85 minute film you'll have the displeasure of seeing for the foreseeable future? Have I mentioned Jenna Dewan-Tatum yet? Well, she plays Phillippe's sister, who appears out of nowhere, does nothing, and is written out of the film so haphazardly that not even Phillippe cares she's dead. I'd say this was her worst filmmaking decision in some time, but this is coming from the same woman who hyphenated her name to show pride in marrying the world's worst actor. So...what about the amateur writing and direction? Do you like films where random characters have their names/occupations flash across the screen since they could not be properly introduced in a manner that tells us as much without having to actually tell us, literally? Well, out of the blue, 'Setup' does this on at least four occasions. It could be more, but I got so numb to the entire affair that it may very well be more.
Look, Detroit has a hard enough time as is, what with the unemployment rate, the Lions, and the crime rate. There's no reason that it should further be disgraced by having a film like 'Setup' take place there. That's just kicking someone while they're down. Gunther should be ashamed of his latest work. It's better than 'Beatdown,' which means progress has been made, but it's such a small gap, and with a considerably more talented cast, there's really no excuse. This is how you waste a cast. This is how you waste a viewer's time. The heist in the film is boring, the rest of the film is so thrown together that scene after scene makes no sense, rationally. There's no connection, to reality, to previous sequences, to an ongoing narrative. It's just a jumble of scenes that would be best suited for a deleted scenes extra on some other film. Honestly, the constant jumps in tone and lack of connection actually does make this experience feel like one is watching an outline of a film, random scenes from each sequence, thrown together and considered complete.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Setup' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc from Lionsgate. This disc features nine minutes worth of pre-menu content, but it doesn't look so bad when you are using your status bar, since the content has been split into four sections pre-menu, a trick that slows down the fast-fast-fast forward trick on discs that don't allow top menu skipping.
Insert Setup tab joke here.
'Setup' isn't a stellar looking film. Lionsgate's 1080p transfer at 2.40:1 has its moments. They're not regular, but they're there. It's just enough to call it a marked improvement. Not that that's saying much, but in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man...yeah, he can get away with murder.
I'll admit, I had zero expectations going in. I'll admit, that I was turned off somewhat early in the release, and that after a while of back and forth, back and forth, in terms of picture quality, I wanted to pause the disc, go outside, and make sure my eyes weren't on the fritz in some weird way. It's frustrating. 'Setup' has its moments where hair is cleanly defined, pores are visible, sweat shines and glistens, where the picture can be deep, where detail is quite strong, where contrast levels are normal and not a distraction, where black levels are pitch perfect.
It's just, those moments where everything works are less than half the film. Delineation is a regular problem, aliasing creates odd pulses and random jagged outlines on characters. Noise isn't frequent but it's nasty when present. Skin tones can run a bit peachish, no matter the ethnicity of the characters. Facial features are sharp then flat, sharp then flat, constantly changing, and hair goes from defined to blur, defined to blur. It's as annoying to see as it would be if I wrote "defined to blur" about ten more times in a row. There are some obvious moments of edge enhancement, a few bands, and too damn many moments where contrast is about as blown out as possible without being able to be called aesthetic or director's intent.
There are just too many annoyances, even in the nice shots, tucked away, and then when the bad shots come, there's little to take comfort in. Blah.
The audio for 'Setup,' presented in full lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, could have been better. Could have been worse, mind you, quite readily, but could, and should, have been better. Dialogue has no reproduction issues, and only a small bit of weird dynamics along the way. Most of the problems with dialogue comes from bad deliveries, like Fiddy saying "breff" instead of "breath." Bass in the soundtrack is nice, hardly heavy, but a nice accent, and rears get a good amount of music in them. Not much else, ever, but good soundtrack. Gunfire has a nice, distinct pop to it, but it doesn't localize worth a damn. Very few things do, and damn near nothing hits the rears outside of music. It's a shame. Early on, this disc got the roar of a car engine just right. Then, it forgot it and got lazy.
I saw Ryan Phillippe and Bruce Willis on the cover of 'Setup,' and forgot to check who wrote and directed the film. I was set up. All potential viewers need to know is that 50 Cent gets a ton of screen time, Phillippe gets a mediocre amount, Willis has a few scenes, all of which have him sporting eyes that obviously desire to be doing anything else. Randy Couture is also in this film. That's not good. Mike Gunther co-wrote and directed. So...that's that. This Blu-ray release has frustrating video, audio that could have been more, and quite honestly, I wonder how many people are still reading this far. I'd like to take this time to bring attention to the plight of the people who could be directing films instead of Mike Gunther. I saw some guy with a witty cardboard sign in a street median today. I'm pretty sure he could make a better film than 'Setup,' because he's honest: he just wants some beer.