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Featured Blu-ray Review: Dick Tracy

December 10th, 2012

Dick Tracy - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Dick Tracy came out in 1990 and the buzz surrouding the film was huge. However, well it earned good reviews and topped $100 million domestically, it was still seen as a disappointment by some. (It was released a year after Batman and some thought it would live up to that film.) This week it makes its Blu-ray debut, and while there were many complaints leveled at the film from flat characters to an unengaging story, nearly everyone agreed it was visually stunning. So does it work better more than 20 years after its release without the unfair comparison? And does it thrive on Blu-ray?

The Movie

At the beginning, we hear radio reports of rampant crime in a nameless city. Not only are innocent civilians falling prey to organized crime, but the two main crime families, the Caprices and the Manlins, are going to war. We see Big Boy Caprice's top lieutenant, Flattop gun down a group of Lips Manlins' thugs. Later that night, he has Lips himself kidnapped, under the guise of a police raid. Big Boy has Lips sign over the dead to the Club Ritz, before killing Lips and taking everything Lips had, including Lips' girlfriend, Breathless Mahoney, who sings at The Ritz.

Meanwhile, the gang war means Dick Tracy, the city's best cop, is going to be kept busy, something his understanding girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, understands, although she's not happy about it. The massacre above interrupts their date at the opera and later when they go into a diner, they are interrupted again by a pickpocket. Dick chases down an orphan, named The Kid, who stole a guy's watch and rescues him from his... owner? Dick and Tess discuss what to do with him, when a call comes in over the kidnapping of Lips Manlins.

While at the southside warehouse, Dick Tracy finds a couple clues. The first is an earring and the second are walnut shells. The latter points to Big Boy Caprice and has Flattop, Itchy, and Mumbles brought in for questioning. He gets enough to make an arrest, but not enough to hold, Big Boy. During the arrest, he sees Breathless is wearing only one earring, the same that he found at the warehouse. She's the witness he needs to put Big Boy away for good. However, Breathless isn't interested in being a witness and instead tries to seduce Dick Tracy. Without evidence, Big Boy is released and the D.A., Fletcher, brings in Dick Tracy and tells him to stop harassing Big Boy.

While Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart take care of The Kid, Big Boy continues his plans to consolidate all of the organized crime in the city under his leadership. The second part of the plan is to kidnap Dick Tracy and either bribe him into changing sides, or kill him and make it look like an accident. Dick Tracy goes with Plan B, but The Kid, who was following Big Boy's goons when they kidnapped Dick, rescues him. As a result, Dick Tracy again busts Big Boy at The Ritz, but this time the bust isn't supposed to result in Big Boy's arrest, but it is a diversion to get officer "Bug" Bailey into the night club to listen in on Big Boy's plans so they and bust his operation bit by bit.

This plan works, but it pushes Big Boy into a corner and when cornered, he tries something very rash.

There are films that use Style over Substance to create something great. But there are also films where the style strangled the substance. Sadly, that is the case here. The original comic strip debuted in the 1930s and this film is a slave to the styles of the source material. The set design is a character unto itself. Unfortunately, it is one of the more interesting characters. Dick Tracy is a good guy, an incorruptible cop looking to stop the bad guys from terrorizing the city. That's what you want in a cop, but it is not what you want for a compelling lead. The closest thing you get to internal conflict with this character is him being drawn to Breathless. Madonna isn't very good as an actress in this movie, but I'm surprised she's unable to be convincing as a singer. Lastly, the plot was too weak to hold together all of the elements in the movie. It is a very simple story about a detective going up against a crime boss who is trying to take over his city, while the side plot involves his relationship with Tess, but that's pretty lightweight.

Some of the villains are fun, as they do recreate the comic strip characters well, but most have little or no screen time and almost none of them have anything resembling character. Most are just a name and a characteristic. Itchy, Brow, Littleface, Mumbles, etc. Only Big Boy really displays any life and unfortunately, it is more overacting than compelling character. At least he keeps your attention.

The Extras

We have bad news. There are no extras on the Blu-ray. There's not even a trailer, at least not for this film. (It does come with a digital copy, but that's it.) The film looks good in high definition, for the most part. There are some scenes that have a little too much grain or are a little too soft, but the colors are bright and that's important. Other scenes have a lot of detail, some of which makes the Oscar-winning make-up seem a little more fake than it looks on DVD. The audio is better, solid with good use of the surround sound speakers, including directional effects and a solid base. The dialogue is usually clear, but the effects sometimes overpower everything else. At the moment, the Blu-ray costs $19, which is too much for a featureless disc.

The Verdict

Dick Tracy tries too hard to mimic the style of the original comic strip, which might have been great in the 1930s, but feels outdated today. I like the look of the film, but the characters and the plot are too simple for a feature-length film. The Blu-ray has no extras and costs too much for a catalog title. If you were a fan of the film, give it a rental and hope if the long-delayed sequel ever comes out, there will be a special edition Blu-ray to go along with it.

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Filed under: Video Review, Dick Tracy, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, William Forsythe, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, Madonna, Ed O'Ross, Michael J. Pollard, Dick Van Dyke