Have you ever wondered what it would be like if a poor man's Jack Bauer suddenly walked into a Lifetime original movie about junkies and abused women? Well, if you have (and that's a big if), then you're in luck, 'Charlie Zone' is here to satiate your curiosity! A low budget Canadian thriller with fairly amateur production values, the movie features an odd mixture of sensibilities and a problematic script. There is certainly potential here, but most of it goes unrealized -- sadly proving that our neighbors to the North are just as capable of pumping out forgettable flicks as Hollywood.
An aging former boxer, Avery (Glen Gould), is hired to track down a runaway junkie, Jan (Amanda Crew), by her worried family. After begrudgingly accepting the case, he successfully retrieves the missing girl, but it soon becomes clear that the situation isn't as simple as it first appeared. Now the target of several dangerous factions all determined to find Jan, Avery must decide whether to forget the reward money and ditch the troublesome young woman, or risk everything to protect her.
Avery is a classic hardened and reluctant anti-hero -- you know the type, the kind of stoic tough guy who just wants to be left alone but finally relents for one last job. While this archetype can be a good jumping off point, here the character is rarely more than a thinly developed cliché. He takes a beating and keeps on ticking like the best of his breed, and even manages to escape from a hairy torture scenario in a very '24'-esque fashion, but there's little about Avery that actually stands out. After a quick introduction (where we find him engaging in a brutal illegal street fight for money), we're immediately thrust head first into the main narrative without getting much of a sense for the man, making it tough to actually care about his struggles. Some attempts to flesh out his backstory are made later, but these sequences feel out of place and tacked on.
Once he meets up with Jan, the two start to develop a tried-and-true antagonistic captor/captive relationship with plenty of verbal sparring as they size each other up. Both Amanda Crew and Glen Gould are decent in their roles, but the performances as a whole (especially from the supporting cast) all feel slightly "off." A lot of the drama comes across as forced and due to the characters' often underdeveloped and bizarrely inconsistent motivations, the acting becomes unnatural. Likewise, there's a general "90s made for TV" vibe to the whole affair with very generic visuals, clumsy action, and dated stylistic flourishes (a cheap slow motion effect used every now and then is particularly distracting).
The third act features a notable twist, illuminating exactly why Jan is so sought after, and this new bit of information ends up taking the runtime in a slightly unexpected direction. Unfortunately, it doesn't prove to be a very interesting direction. While the reveal is effectively unsettling, it's also pretty underwhelming and anticlimactic. Without giving too much away, what started out as a mediocre (and fairly violent) thriller becomes a mediocre melodrama about a woman in trouble that would likely fit right at home on a number of female oriented cable channels.
The script also becomes rather convoluted with plenty of double crosses, and certain characters' motivations ultimately don't make a whole lot of sense. A subplot involving a lovelorn drug dealer and his partner is especially muddled and ends very abruptly. The conclusion also presents a few strange character choices that appear to be completely at odds with earlier established behavior, almost to the point of contradicting the whole impetus for the story. This leads to an ending that feels way too easy and is ultimately hard to swallow. There's simply a disconnect somewhere in the writing and direction, as if there are pieces missing that are keeping the drama from ringing true.
Despite its flaws, 'Charlie Zone' is not unwatchable by any means, but at the same time it hardly warrants much of a look. The filmmakers offer a Canadian spin on several typical American thriller tropes, yet the results remain very familiar and relatively amateur in execution. With iffy performances, broad direction, and troubled scripting, the film never quite rises above the low end of mediocrity. Though Glen Gould's tough-guy anti-hero has momentary flashes of Jack Bauer-like bravado, the character pales in comparison to the genre's other truly memorable protagonists. The film's title apparently refers to an area in one of Canada's toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods, and much like the location itself, I'm afraid I can't recommend that viewers take the time to visit this flick.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay brings 'Charlie Zone' to Blu-ray on a BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. Some skippable trailers play upon start up before transitioning to a standard menu. The release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Though there are some impressive aspects to the image, a few distracting quirks bring down the overall presentation.
The digital source is nice and clean during daylight shots, but nighttime scenes become much more problematic with troublesome spikes in noise that plague darker sequences. Some minor banding also pops up but isn't a major issue. Production value is on the cheap, amateur side, but the image has sharp clarity with pleasing fine details and a solid sense of dimension. The stylized color palette often accentuates the grungy, junkie atmosphere of certain scenes utilizing dull blues, purples, grays, and yellows that, while a tad undersaturated, still feature rich hues. White levels are nicely balanced but blacks can be uneven. A few scenes even feature an odd anomaly where half the screen has inky blacks and the other is lighter and tinged slightly blue.
'Charlie Zone' looks fairly good in several instances, but the transfer's occasional artifacts are a little too noticeable to garner it truly high marks.
The film is presented with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Incredibly basic and generic, this is a decent but unspectacular mix.
Dialogue is clean and clear with no balance issues. The sound design is mostly front loaded, but the side speakers do kick in with occasional ambiance and music cues. Imaging is solid, particularly across the front soundstage where most of the activity stays, offering audio pans when called for (a flying helicopter, for instance). Effects work isn't exactly standout, but various punches, kicks, revving motorcycles, and gunshots add a restrained sense of excitement, and sounds are isolated directionally when appropriate (a door knock off to the side). There are no distortions but dynamic range is a little underwhelming and bass activity is noticeably subdued and anemic considering the action oriented content.
The mix reveals the film's low budget roots, and while it's not especially engaging or immersive, it's certainly respectable.
There are no special features included.
'Charlie Zone' is a middling thriller that features a convoluted plot and inconsistent performances. The script tries to blend action/thriller sensibilities with abuse melodrama, but the results are very forced and the modest production values give the whole affair a very small screen feel. The video is solid in several areas, however there are some noticeable artifacts, and while decent, the audio is very basic. There are absolutely no supplements included, making the package even less enticing. It's not exactly a terrible effort, but this is a release most will be better off skipping.