House of the Rising Sun is a film with an identity crisis. In some instances it wants to be a modern noir. In others, it wants to be a police procedural. It has all the ingredients of a good movie, but it ends up being a genre mash-up without a story.
The film stars Dave Bautista (who wrestles for Vince McMahon’s WWE as Batista) as Ray, a crooked ex-cop turned ex-con who runs security for the House of the Rising Sun, a nightclub that doubles as an underground casino and brothel.
When armed robbers take the club for $300,000 and kill the owner’s son, Ray is framed and winds up on the run, both from the mobsters who run the House and from his former colleagues in the police department.
As Ray digs his way closer to the truth, he finds the evidence against him piling up and his allies turning against him. Faced with heading back to prison for life, Ray fights his way to the top of the conspiracy in an effort to clear his name with no one on his side except his ex-girlfriend, Jenny (Amy Smart).
The film, directed and co-written by Brian A. Miller, is shot well for a low-budget production, and the pacing feels just right. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough story to go around.
House of the Rising Sun runs about 90 minutes, but there’s only about 70 minutes’ worth of story, evidenced by a seemingly-endless series of shots of Bautista wandering through parking lots and waiting in his car for potential informants to arrive.
None of this is to say that the film doesn’t have the makings of good drama. As stated earlier, the ingredients are all there, but something in the recipe got mixed up.
The film’s final act is extremely good and would be a fitting climax in a more well-balanced movie. Where House of the Rising Sun fails most is in execution. The payoffs at the end aren’t satisfying since, for the most part, none of them were set up.
In addition to its structural woes, the writing also suffers with some dialogue issues. Characters routinely state the obvious, as though Miller and co-writer Chuck Hustmyre (who authored the novel upon which the film is based) stuff as much dialogue as possible into the characters’ mouths in effort to fool the audience into being engaged.
As an example, at one point Bautista says to his former partner, “I went to prison for five years! Do you know how long that is?”
On the upside, Bautista’s delivery of the dialogue is pretty good. It’s flat and occasionally-monotone, but that generally works given the movie’s noir-ish overtones. But his body language is uncomfortable at best, undermining the aspects of the performance that do work.
Also, while Smart’s character isn’t the most complex in the world, the actress does a fairly good job of bringing Jenny to life, compensating for the shortcomings of the script.
Dominic Purcell, who plays Tony – the gangster behind setting Ray up – might be the living embodiment of where this movie goes wrong. In some scenes, his sneering arrogance lends excitement to what is, on the whole, a rather dull movie. In others, Purcell goes too far over the top, blowing whatever air of believability he had earlier established.
There are a couple appearances from Danny Trejo as one of the mob bosses, and Trejo, as he often does, finds some interesting ways to make a murderous criminal likable.
House of the Rising Sun is a roller coaster of a movie, and not in a good way. It has its share of twists and turns, but they’re rarely fun.
It’s a movie that might know where it’s going, but it can’t accomplish its job well enough to at any point make you believe the filmmakers weren’t making it up as they went along.
Lionsgate’s release of House of the Rising Sun looks pretty good in high definition inasmuch as the 1080p format never shines a light on the low budget (the flick was made for about $1.5 million). All of the images are sharp and clear, but this isn’t exactly the best showcase for the Blu-ray format. Again, the movie is overly convinced that it’s a noir picture; as such, just about every scene is littered with browns which, after 90 minutes, aren’t that much fun to look at.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound is clear, but even that department isn’t without its faults. Whenever a generic rock song comes up in the soundtrack (there’s at least one per scene) the mix tends to favor the songs over any other sound which tends to get rather annoying.
Beyond the Feature
House of the Rising Sun only comes with a handful of special features, none of which are particularly special.
Audio Commentary – Miller and Bautista sit down for the commentary track which tends to be an unpleasant mix of Miller telling uninteresting stories from behind the scenes and Bautista mumbling unintelligibly (about the only things you can understand from the former world champ as “Mmmm hmm” and “Yeah, it was cold.”)
The Making of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ – A brief documentary about making the film, featuring interviews with Bautista, Miller, Smart, and a handful of producers and other behind-the-scenes guys. It’s pretty generic and was clearly included solely for the sake of … well … including it.
Interviews – A few short interviews with Bautista, Miller, Smart, and Purcell. Nothing to write home about. In fact, it’s nothing you couldn’t have learned from the documentary.
Trailer – Also included is a trailer for the film, which is about the same as every other Lionsgate-backed release and/or ex-cops battling the mob. Yawn.
Unless you’re a big fan of wrestlers-turned-actors, I can’t think of any particularly viable reason to add this flick to your Blu-ray collection.
With more of a clear direction, this could have been at the very least a halfway decent film. As it stands, House of the Rising Sun is horribly lost without a road map.
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