Code (The) [Blu-Ray]
Blu-ray A - America - First Look Studios
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (6th October 2009).
The Film

The internet has opened up a whole world of celebrity involvement that wasn’t seen before by giving those of us in the United States access to some of the weirder commercials and promotions Hollywood celebrities have been involved in outside the boarders. For these advertisements it makes some sense that celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger would make some ads in Japan, making a little extra money with little risk that their product will get seen in the States. With the same logic I can easily see what would draw Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas to “The Code” (2009), also known as “Thick as Thieves” in England where it was originally released direct-to-disc, this is the sort of movie that could have been easily buried and forgotten. Though not nearly as entertaining as some of the overseas celebrity commercials, “The Code” sports a powerful cast of actors in a mediocre heist movie with limited directing and writing.

On a New York City subway train, veteran art thief Keith Ripley (Morgan Freeman) shadows the unknowing Gabriel Martin (Antonio Banderas) as he steals and escapes from the cops thanks to some acrobatic maneuvering on top of the train. After a clever escape, Ripley approaches Martin to help him finish a heist to repay a dept to the Russian mob who killed his former partner. Martin is unconvinced until he meets Martin’s goddaughter Alexandra (Radha Mitchell) and seems to fall for her. With Martin in on the scheme, Ripley reveals his plan: to steal from a Russian museum that has been smuggling priceless Russian art to pay off the debt to the Russian mob. When scouting the security and layout of the museum, the plan becomes more complicated as Lt. Weber (Robert Forster) lets them know he’s been watching their moves and is waiting for them to make their mistake as he’s been trying to catch Ripley for years.

On the surface it’s your basic heist movie, cops on the tail of the criminals, a long sequence that’s supposed to create tension as they pull off the heist followed by a series of twists that turn back on themselves supplemented by flashbacks to ensure the audience knows how it’s all done. Below the surface, well there’s nothing below the surface. That’s all the movie really is. For this kind of formula movie to work, you need some powerful actors with some good writing and directing to make really entertaining, but unfortunately the film only lives up to half the bargain. The writing and directing are incredibly mediocre, there’s no really cool shots that make you look at the thieving with awe, but rather a lot of expositional planning and generic laser grid avoidance (if Tom Cruise can descend from ceilings in 1996, then by 2009 you should have some more creative entry methods). Mimi Leder’s directing and Ted Humphrey’s screenplay both work on the same mediocre level of just completing the tasks set forth by the film, it could have used more style, but it isn’t offensively bad. Just really, really mediocre.

The cast though is truly something to behold. Freeman and Banderas have been in some of the greatest action movies put on film, and both can be really good actors to boot. Robert Forster is always one of my favorites to show up ever since he was in “Jackie Brown” (1997), a performance that really deserved the Oscar he was nominated for. Plus Radha Mitchell was good in “Silent Hill” (2006). However not all their projects are hits, and “The Code” shows pretty well how acting, writing and directing function in tandem. Even with such a great crew of actors that I really like in other movies, the mediocrity of the visuals and script just create too heavy a load for the actors to pull on their own, keeping the film from becoming really enjoyable and not just passable.

In the end passable is just about the highest praise I can give “The Code.” Not offensively bad, not a great rewatch, but just plain passable. Despite some huge name acting talent, the production side of the film really falters and doesn’t help the film’s case, nor does the rest of the cast who range from plain to just terrible. Nothing is stellar about this film, but it makes more sense as a direct to disc release that could be worth your dollar if you see it in your local redbox and they don’t have what you really want to watch. It would also help if you’re a big fan of Banderas, Freeman, Mitchell or Forster, because I can’t really say I recommend much else about the film.

Video

Presented in an HD 1080p 24/fps 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with AVC MPEG-4 encoding, the transfer is far above what I would have expected about a direct-to-disc release, managing to bring some good colors and contrast out in the high-definition clarity. Unfortunately there are also a few problems with grain and static on the image from the lighting in some scenes. It becomes even worse when it piles on with some of the bad CG thrown into the film, most notably in the subway scene within the first 10 minutes of the movie where Banderas tries to jump around an obviously CG train that muddies up the whole scene.

Audio

Like the video, the audio surprisingly sports an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track mixed at 48kHz/16-bit and is fairly impressive considering the release circumstances, though still isn’t up to the quality of the format it’s on. The sound mixing and the dialogue come through moderately well, though in some scenes the audio feels a bit off, as if it was cleaned up afterwards or re-recorded, while at other times the scoring for the film can override a bit of the effects and dialogue more than is really necessary. Some of these problems come across as a result of a fairly flat sound mix for TrueHD, but it’s still clear and quality despite these flaws.
There is also an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track along with optional English for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

The Blu-ray release includes two featurettes and bonus trailers and… that’s it. Not much to expect for a direct to disc release.

The first featurette is simply “Cast Interviews” which runs for 7 minutes and 54 seconds and looks to be filmed off of a personal mini-DV camera in the trailers or on set with the actors and major crew of the film. No special transitions, cut to black, next part of the interview, resume audio. Sure the actors are talking a bit about the plot and why they got involved in the movie, but the overall production of it I find incredibly depressing considering that they didn’t even bother to throw it through windows movie maker or imovie, whatever came prepackaged with their computer to process the video through and take down the audio a bit, because it does pop, and add some title cards and transitions to the interviews. Maybe they just spent all the money getting Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell and Antonio Banderas on set, who knows, but Mitchell, Banderas and Freeman seem too hopeful about the movie, but probably because they know few people would watch it and even fewer would see these super low budget featurettes.

“Behind-the-Scenes” featurette runs for 16 minutes and 21 seconds. This is nothing but 16 minutes of raw behind the scenes footage, also filmed by probably the same mini-DV camera, but wow, this is low budget. It’s barely edited to fit the 16 minutes, and is kind of cool to see behind-the-scenes, but it’s almost like the producers for the special features on the disc saw the raw material they had to work with and just gave up. What could have inspired such hopelessness to give up on even mixing the interviews in with the raw behind-the-sceness footage to make a longer making-of featurette? That’s the real mystery.

Bonus trailers on the disc are:

- “Direct Contact” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds.
- “Labor Pains” runs for 1 minutes and 25 seconds.
- “Way of War” runs for 1 minute and 10 seconds.
- “The Contract” runs for 2 minutes and 28 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: D Overall: C