What a difference a decade makes. Believe it or not, it wasn't too long ago that Sylvester Stallone was one of the most celebrated stars in the world. Pinned as a dramatic genius in the seventies who dabbled in writing and directing, he lost much of his credibility in that area with STAYING ALIVE and the umpteenth ROCKY sequel. Still, his popularity grew even more, mainly due to the success of the RAMBO movies (actually shockingly anti-political). In 1987, he even became the highest paid actor in history for the horrid arm wrestling melodrama, OVER THE TOP. True, these days Will Smith won't even leave his trailer for $12 million, but it was a controversial milestone at the time.
But that was then, this is now. The box office returns on his films have fallen to almost rock bottom during the nineties and beyond. Likewise, the critics have continued to hold Sly in absolute scorn as he continues along. Now, the inevitable blow. This film, called EYE SEE YOU in the States and D-TOX almost everywhere else, was shelved for over three years before being sold off by Universal to an independent who gave it a hasty straight-to-video release. How the mighty have fallen.
Call me a glutton for punishment, but I've stayed somewhat loyal to Stallone over the years. I enjoy a great many of his films. Some like COPLAND and the forgotten PARADISE ALLEY are actually major achievements. DEMOLITION MAN was a hilarious social satire that gleefully masqueraded as a moving comic book. And others, like JUDGE DREDD and COBRA are just so hokey that they become unintentionally humorous guilty pleasures.
He's also dabbled in some comedies and family dramas over the years, and... well, let's just say he sometimes overextends himself. A lot.
But D-TOX really isn't all that bad. Flawed? Oh yes, and more than a little. But if MASTER OF DISGUISE can secure a wide release, this should have at least been given the benefit of the doubt.
Stallone plays an ex-cop turned FBI agent named Jake Malloy. Malloy stays close to his old buddies on the force and thus has a personal interest in catching a serial cop killer. His friends keep dropping like flies and a lot of innocent blood is shed before he catches up with the killer.
Truthfully, this segment of the film, which makes up the first fifteen to twenty minutes, is nothing short of incredible. Honestly. It's a serial killer chase that turns out to be shockingly graphic and brutal.
What's more, Malloy when faced with his own guilt and remorse, sinks to the absolute rock bottom. It's something that Stallone is able to convey with amazing honesty and pity. When one character informs him not to worry, that monsters don't really exist, Malloy doesn't miss a beat. "Just because you've never met any, don't be naive," he says.
It would be awfully hard for the rest of the film to compete with this amazing first act and unfortunately, it doesn't. Stallone, who by now has turned to alcohol and thoughts of suicide, is brought to an experimental D-Tox center by his friend, Hendricks (Charles S. Dutton - ALIEN 3, MIMIC). The center is located in the frozen wilderness and specializes in treating law enforcement officers whose addiction has cost them plenty.
This is no Hazelton or Betty Ford. This is a no-frills institution with not one ounce of comfort in sight. The building is a fortress, the walls are grey and black and the environment is completely sterile. In fact, one hopes security is tight in a place like this, since the surroundings could only nurture thoughts of suicide.
Almost immediately after Malloy arrives on the premises, the killings start again, killings very similar to the ones he thought he had finally put a stop to. It soon becomes clear that either someone is copying the dead killer or the killer isn't really dead at all.
In the facility, we're treated to a parade of impressive character actors. The staff and patients include Kris Kristofferson (BLADE1-2, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE), Tom Berenger (PLATOON, SNIPER), Jeffrey Wright (BASQUIAT, SHAFT), Robert Patrick (TERMINATOR 2, THE X-FILES), Polly Walker (8 1/2 WOMEN, PATRIOT GAMES) and Robert Prosky (THIEF, HOFFA). Dina Meyer (STARSHIP TROOPERS, JOHNNY MNEMONIC) also makes an appearance.
D-TOX definitely has a lot going for it, but it also had a lot riding against it over the years. The film has been through the actual production, three years of delay, at least two editors (probably more) and two studios - themselves an endless parade of lawyers and accountants who think they know how to make movies. Therefore, it's hard to know who to blame for the film's failings.
It is not hard to see what those failings are, however and Exhibit A is the absolutely atrocious hatchet job done with the film's editing. We have a dramatic set-up and lots of talented people but we don't have any continuity linking them together. The film omits sections of action sequences, causing people to immediately jump from location to location without any explanation.
And forget about character development. Few of these people are even introduced. The story is moving along and the people will be incorporated without the viewer having any knowledge of who they are and why we should care about them. Of the questions that have pestered me over the last few months, the one edging towards the top of the list is, "Where the hell did Tom Berenger come from?"
Incidentally, the Region 1 DVD contains some deleted scenes but there is obviously much more left on the cutting room floor.
The killer's identity is also very easy to figure out. Basically, just wipe all the obvious red herrings from the scene, pick the most obvious choice and chances are, you'll be right. This also may not have been as clear cut before the cutting, but who knows?
It really is a shame because the actors do a great job with the scenes they are given. Stallone, Prosky and eventually even Robert Patrick turn in stand-out performances. Unfortunately, only Stallone's character is given sufficient time to grow.
Another casualty of D-TOX's troubles is director Jim Gillespie. It's absolutely astonishing that his career has never taken off. This was the project he tackled immediately after his $100 million blockbuster, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Love IKWYDLS or hate it, Gillespie showed incredible promise in his first feature film. The road seemed wide open for him after that and it would have been really interesting to see what he did. What he did was D-TOX. The problems have been covered, and he hasn't done anything since. It's uncertain whether his career will ever fully recover.
Too bad because Gillespie obviously has built on his promise. The layout of the center is prime material for the creepy castle being transformed into the modern and sterile age. Through the wide camera lens, we get long shots of endless corridors with no sound to sooth the patients but the creaking pipes and rushing wind.
There are quite a few frightening bits to be had here. The style is gritty, the tension is present and the drama on Stallone's part is fantastic. But as I looked into the bags under Stallone's eyes, a sign of his character's struggles and emotional masochism, I couldn't help but catch an unintentional double-meaning. It's also symptomatic of the frustration of being on top of the world, only to see your latest work torn to pieces before the scraps are thrown to the dogs.