The reason I signed up to review 'Columbus Circle' had nothing to do with the cast. I can see Jason Lee's million dollar smile elsewhere, Selma Blair does nothing for me, and while I enjoy Giovanni Ribisi and Kevin Pollak in most films, they're complimentary pieces I consider a treat, not the types to make me seek out a film based solely on their presence. There's no writer or director or DP that drew me to the film; if anything, the fact that George Gallo ('Middle Men') is involved is enough to make me steer clear. The real reason is the one word I caught in the synopsis: agoraphobia. It's a nasty little disorder, one that causes its victims to become recluses, confined to their own homes. My grandmother had it, and she had it bad, to the point that she only went to the hospital a day or two before her time on Earth was up, knowing full well it was her time to go. I never, in my entire life, the sixteen years that I knew her, saw her outside her property, even in the front yard. I wanted to see if this film, whose main character suffers the same malady, could portray the disorder in a manner that 'Copycat' couldn't: with dignity, not as some woozy, disorienting bugaboo that can be overcome in, I dunno, five minutes for plot convenience. Like some practical joke or con.
Of course, I went in with low expectations, seeing as Universal never showed much... how shall we say, confidence in the film. There were no theatrical showings of the film, which cost a tidy ten million. None. Even the random ass titles Magnolia acquires have a chance to drum up some word of mouth and a meager pittance. According to some reports, the film was made (shot and finished) in 2009, yet it's only coming to light now. That's never a good sign...just ask Warner Bros about 'Lucky You,' which cost a boatload, got delayed, got delayed, got delayed, then bombed...bad, and for a reason (the film just wasn't all that good, even if I admittedly kinda-sorta like it).
This sordid tale kicks off with the death of the elderly resident living across the hall from Columbus Circle's agoraphobic resident Abigail (Blair), who no resident has even set eyes upon. Despite her angling for years to land the apartment for herself (possibly to keep it empty and remove a tenant), a young couple (Lee and Amy Smart) moves in, and immediately make life hell for the xenophobe across the hall. When their drunken fighting reaches a peak, leaving Smart's none-too-smart character battered in the hallway, Abigail makes a stand, swallows her nerves, and drags her neighbor inside, an invasion of her own privacy she's none too comfortable with. A friendship buds, but there's more going on in this apartment building than it seems. Who is Abigail really, and, for that matter, who are her new neighbors? What twisted role does the concierge (Pollak) have in the abundant deception?
'Columbus Circle' is a film based on a twist...which is based on another twist, and another again, and needless to say, if you twist something too much, it can get too tangled, and that's what happens here. Early on, we realize that Abigail has a secret, an identity she's been hiding from, and that isn't so much a twist as it is a mystery, as to why she chose to disappear...and it's one that's never quite explained. Her new neighbors have their little secret as well, and a lifetime friend/doctor to Abigail (played by Beau Bridges) only overly complicates matters. It's as if, after watching enough films from a certain twist loving director, some filmmakers got the wrong idea as to what makes those films work (and the reason many of them fail abysmally), and decided that they should craft a film in his honor, trying to out-twist that M. Night-ly fiend. They succeed...by obliterating the effectiveness of their own movie.
On top of the overly convoluted plot, 'Columbus Circle' has shortcomings visible from a mile away. The number one offender is this little thing called acting. Blair oversells, and is not quite believable in her role at any moment. Smart couldn't sell water to a man set ablaze, let alone a single line reading. Lee has his exaggerated mannerisms in line with a zany comedy, not a dramatic thriller, and it's distracting as can be. The only person who feels proper in his or her role is Pollak, an underappreciated actor who is perhaps underappreciated due to his involvement with poor affairs such as this one.
This is an example of cinema simplicity screwed up. You have no need for an abundance of sets, nor characters. There's an easy to build natural progression between the female leads, the opening of one's doors, quite literally, to build upon. Yet, nothing works. The excuses made for domestic violence are shameful (even if they're made in an attempt to deceive), the lack of any actor truly selling a line even more so. There's just too much crammed into too short a film, and it makes the rapid-fire change of pace too much to handle or swallow believably. It doesn't take long to watch this film and start to wonder why it ever got made, as you never get truly enveloped in the characters or plot. Suddenly, that shelving at the hands of Universal makes sense. They realized they had no way to sell this film. Hopefully, dear readers, you'll realize there's no reason you should see it.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Danger! Danger! This BD50 disc from Universal is quite the odd one. After a few pre-menu Blu-ray trailers (some for discs not even announced yet, like 'Cat Run'), there's a screen informing viewers they can press the top menu button at any time. Shortly thereafter, the film begins. Yep, an auto-starting disc from Universal, their newest fad. The menu system in the pop-up works the same as any of their other discs, and was perhaps skimped out due to the fact that this is a bare-bones, nothing special release. Funnily enough, the packaging design (on the slipcover and regular art) is actually visually appealing, especially on the back with the synopsis and tech breakdown.
'Columbus Circle' hits Blu-ray with a 1080p VC-1 encode in the 2.40:1 window. There are some issues spread throughout the film, but also some shining moments. Depth can be quite splendid in non-apartment shots, while skin detail and texture can be just short of splendid in the better shots. The constant darkness creates some crush issues, and even in a better lit moment, Selma Blair's black hair and regularly black attire makes for a detail vacuum. There are a few blown out shots, but the bigger issue is the random odd noise that strikes early, in walls and in particular suits, that make light colored objects look like they're almost a whole new color. It starts out a little bumpy, but gets better as the film goes along, though crush issues are fairly consistently aggravating.
Presented with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, 'Columbus Circle' sounds like a winner on Blu-ray. From the opening moments, we're in for a bumpy ride, and not in the bad way, as bass levels regularly pulse or throb underfoot. Rears get light activity in crowded scenes, nothing all to major or consistent, and localization and directionality aren't all that bad. Room dynamics are top notch, and dialogue is always perfectly discernible. There are plenty of discs with more active tracks, but for a film of this sort, not a complaint will be registered in this household. Those adjoining, however, may want to have a word with me from the rattling.
'Columbus Circle' got shelved for a few years, and for a good reason: it's a mess. It twist-ties itself shut, and fails to get the viewer involved or emotionally invested in any of the characters, as they try to figure out what, exactly, the plot is going to be about. There's no character development, and some pretty out-of-character actions that make it obvious that the script was written, or the film edited, purely for plot conveniences. This Blu-ray disc isn't bad, as it has passable video and very good audio qualities, but there's not a single extra to be found. This is a standard bargain bin release...only it will take a little while for the studio to admit that and price it accordingly. Until it can be had for around ten bucks, I'd say this is one to skip. Too many releases out there that are much more deserving of your high def dollar.