It's never a good sign when the bizarre marketing and even more incomprehensible re-titling of a film for North American audiences becomes a focal point of discussion, but that happens to be the case with the Terry George film 'A Whole Lotta Sole' – which, for reasons that probably make sense to some marketing guru somewhere, was granted the far blander, more homogenized title of 'Stand Off' for its release in North America.
Additionally, and no less perplexingly, the promotional materials (specifically, the Blu-ray cover art) for 'Stand Off' were given a whole new angle, highlighting the presence of 'Mummy' franchise star Brendan Fraser over presumably less-recognizable faces like Colm Meaney (don't tell that to fans of 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' and 'Hell on Wheels') and David O'Hara (who is more likely known for being "that guy" in films like 'Braveheart' and 'The Departed'). Most impressive, however, is the way film's cover art suggests a tense, police-thriller along the likes of 'The Negotiator' or anything in which Denzel Washington portrays a semi-disgraced operative looking for revenge/redemption.
While the reason to externally reclassify what is essentially a comedy as a hard-edged action film remains unclear, the fact remains that no superficial makeover of the packaging is going to make this drawn-out comedy any more worthwhile.
George, whose previous directorial efforts include the Don Cheadle-led 'Hotel Rwanda' and the 2012 Academy Award-winning short film 'The Shore,' is still likely best known for his scripting duties on the fantastic Jim Sheridan, Daniel Day-Lewis drama 'In the Name of the Father.' However, despite George's rich storytelling history – especially as it pertains to Ireland – and his success behind the camera, there is little evidence of his filmmaking prowess on display in 'Stand Off.'
Much of this can be attributed to the film's overly convoluted storyline involving an American named Joe Maguire (Fraser) who is in Belfast hiding from his mobbed-up wife back in Boston; a young Irishman named Jimbo (Martin McCann of 'Titanic Blood & Steel') who is in debt up to his ears to a vicious gangster named Mad Dog Flynn (O'Hara); and a old-school cop and his kindhearted son played by Colm Meaney and Michael Legge, respectively. While this has all the fixings of an entertaining ensemble comedy, the entire cast of characters winds up being brought together in a sort of fish-out-of-water-by-way-of-'Dog-Day-Afternoon' story that relies too heavily on coincidence and contrivance to deliver much in the way of its intended emotional impact.
After receiving an ultimatum from Mad Dog Flynn to hand over his newborn son as payment for his hefty gambling debts, Jimbo takes it upon himself to rob a local fish market that will supposedly be flush with cash on Friday, but winds up with a mysterious leather satchel of some significance to Mad Dog and his mother, before taking Joe and his nascent love interest Sophie (Yaya Alafia of 'The Kids Are Alright') hostage in an antique shop owned by Joe's absent cousin. Throw in Meaney's Detective Inspector Weller as the lead investigator on the fish market robbery, a family of Irish ne'er-do-wells and a mysterious connection between Jimbo and Joe, and it becomes clear why the film struggles to find any distinct throughline across the contrasting elements.
However slight some of the storylines might seem to be, there are a handful of performances that help to keep the viewer's interest and, for the most part, manage to highlight the unexpectedly bubbly script. Meaney is in fine form as the cranky policeman, while McCann offers a sincere rendition of a young man whose mistakes have him struggling to keep his head above water. Fraser, meanwhile, turns in a somewhat bland performance that is unfortunate, considering, in many ways, his character acts as the catalyst for the entire story.
Although amiable and determined to find an appealing conclusion to a host of interconnected plots, personal angles and surprise developments, its breezy nature and scant 89-minute runtime fail to give 'Stand Off' the kind of support it needs to bring the assorted storylines together in any meaningful way.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Stand Off' comes as a two disc Blu-ray and DVD combo pack in a standard two-disc keepcase from Ketchup Entertainment. This is a straightforward 25GB Blu-ray disc that does not contain any special or supplemental features of any kind, but does auto play the trailer for 'Assassin's Bullet,' 'For Greater Glory,' 'Mafia' and 'Red Dog.'
'Stand Off' has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that delivers a rather remarkable image that is bright, clear and rich with fine detail. The film appears to have been shot in HD, and the image conveys a lifelike detail in the actors' faces, with skin tones that register more on the warm side of things without developing an unfortunate red or orange hue that can sometime mar the image.
Black levels remain consistent and distinguished throughout. Crush is never an issue and there's no evidence of banding present in what is a very clean, noiseless image. As the story moves from day into night, and from outdoor locations to a variety of indoor settings, the image manages to highlight them all with the same level of detail. Elsewhere, as the story shifts into twilight, the transfer is afforded an opportunity to showcase some excellent shadow detail and a high level of contrast.
But the best part of the image may be in its ability to move from one color palate to the next with consistent quality that never jars the viewer. George and his DP, Des Whelan, follow the various characters with subtle changes in the look of the film that range from earthy greens to some more heated reds and yellows that help to convey certain aspects of the characters' storylines. Whelan manages to use Belfast's overcast sky to distinguish those locales from one another and this bright transfer is a big part of his success in doing that.
Despite what you might see on the cover art, 'Stand Off' makes limited use of its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to highlight gunplay or other bombastic elements. There are, however, a few instances where the crackles of gunfire, or other explosive demonstrations ring out from the speakers, and those manage to sound great and offer quite the sonic display.
But for the most part, this is a comedy that relies heavily on dialogue, and while there are several different accents on display that range from readily understood to nearly unintelligible, the audio mix presents them all with the same level of clarity (so if you're not understanding what's being said, it's probably not a problem with the audio transfer).
As the story unfolds in a bustling downtown marketplace, the din of street traffic and pedestrian noise is readily heard through the rear channels and adds to the depth of the listening experience. The mix manages to remain strong and lively, even as the film begins to focus on smaller gatherings and more intimate conversations.
It's not the most robust of audio mixes, but then again, the film isn't really asking too much of the transfer.
'Stand Off' is devoid of any extras aside from the trailer for the film itself.
'Stand Off' does a wonderful job of showing off the lighter side of Terry George. And while this more humorous outing is indeed a welcome departure from the likes of 'In the Name of the Father' and 'Hotel Rwanda,' there's a general inconsistency that keeps this from being a substantial offering from such a notable writer and filmmaker. The easygoing nature of the film will likely appeal to a certain kind of audience, but it may turn off those familiar with George's past work, or the unlucky few that will be duped by its title change and the disc's action-oriented cover art. With no extras to speak of, this release relies entirely on an admittedly great transfer and decent sound. This one is a rental at best.