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Columbus Day 
Written by: on April 30th, 2009

Theatrical Release Date: USA 2008
Director: Charles Burmeister
Writer: Charles Burmeister
Cast: Val Kilmer, Marg Helgenberger, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Richard Edson, Ashley Johnson

DVD released: April 20th, 2009
Approximate running time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English
Subtitles: N/A
DVD Release: DNC Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99

Synopsis: After an ill-fated diamond heist, career criminal John Cologne separates from his partner and with the merchandise flees to the safety of a public park. Surrounded by people enjoying the weather and preparing for the Columbus Day parade, time is running out for John. While he frantically arranges to fence the goods and leave Los Angeles for a better life, he cannot help but reflect on how his reckless and selfish behaviour over the years has shattered his marriage to Alice and pushed away his daughter Alana. With the police closing in and a vicious crime lord wanting to take revenge on the thief who crossed him, John tries to stay one stop ahead of his enemies while hoping to win back his family.

In essence, COLUMBUS DAY has the potential to be efficient retelling of a well-worn B-movie crime format that could credibly shift between being a taut thriller and a touching character study. Unfortunately, instead of infusing the material with a hard-edged intensity, writer and director Charles Burmeister instead opts for a cringing sentimentality that blunts the darker and desperate aspects of the characters while also muting the possible suspense that the scenario desires. Admittedly, the heist scenes have an effectively brutal quality, but they are presented in overly familiar fragmented flashbacks, recalling countless catchpenny heist-gone-wrong movies that flooded the marketplace since the early nineties in the wake of Quentin Tarantino. In Burmeister’s defense, the film was apparently reshot and re-edited against his wishes by producer Elie Samaha. She wanted to reshape the picture into a more straight-forward action picture, so one has to wonder how COLUMBUS DAY would play if seen in its intended form (as far as I can tell, this DVD represents the producer’s cut and there are no plans to issue the original version to home video).

It is not difficult to understand why a script like COLUMBUS DAY would appeal to Val Kilmer. The central character of John Cologne is a film role any actor would relish since he is a multi-faceted anti-hero that appears in almost every frame of the picture. As Cologne, Kilmer’s wonderful to watch since his appearance is so intriguing: With his ageing features, slicked-back hair and greying beard, the actor resembles ex-convict turned writer and actor Eddie Bunker (STRAIGHT TIME, RESERVOIR DOGS). The trouble is with this physic and capable performance from Kilmer is that it has a two-pronged effect on COLUMBUS DAY: on one hand, it gives the film a credible solid core it sorely needs, but on the other hand is so engaging that it encourages the viewer to contemplate how much better this actor could have been served in a superior vehicle.

However flawed the material might be, COLUMBUS DAY has been furnished with an excellent cast of supporting players. Marg Helgenberger (from television’s CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION) is wonderful as John’s estranged ex-wife, but the role is ultimately underwritten which makes her positive reaction when they finally meet face-to-face strain credibility. Richard Edson, who has paved a career playing low-life but likable losers in films such as STRANGER THAN PARADISE and THE WINNER, is excellent as Cologne’s gullible partner-in-crime Manny, but is given far too-little screen time and is wasted. Wilmer Valderrama is also in fine form as the contact that wheels and deals the fencing of the diamonds, while Ashley Johnson (FAST FOOD NATION) makes an small but effective appearance as the distraught daughter and it is a credit to this young actress that she is able to convey the emotions involved within a limited amount of time.

The DVD:

Distributor DNC Entertainment specializes in releasing American independent feature films, and while COLUMBUS DAY may be a weak follow-up to the company’s last acquisition 100 FEET, it is still a worthwhile title to be released straight-to-DVD in Britain. The 1:85:1 letterboxed transfer is presented anamorphic and is pristine, as expected for film as recent as this. The cinematography by Julio Macat is unspectacular but suitable for the material and represented well on this DVD.

The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, both of these tracks are fine.

As usual with DNC Entertainment, the only extra on the DVD is a trailer that is also anamorphic.

Despite a strong central performance by Val Kilmer, COLUMBUS DAY is overall an underwhelming entry into the heist thriller genre. Perhaps at some stage the director’s cut will emerge which is hopefully a better picture.

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