BR: Pound of Flesh (2010)
Label: Odyssey Moving Images/ Region: All / Released: November 15, 2011
Synopsis: The sudden death of a student endangers a university professor’s standing and his ongoing escort service for colleagues.
Special Features: Making-of featurette (10:51) / Deleted Scene Gallery with director intro (7:37) / Interview with Malcolm McDowell (8:58) / 2 trailers.
Loosely based on a case where a ‘well-intentioned’ professor was sentenced to 10 years in jail for running an escort service at a U.S. university, Pound of Flesh has the elements for a strong black comedy with sidelines of dead seriousness, but writer / director Tamar Simon Hoffs sticks to a terribly clichéd structure, and with rare exceptions, her hastily written script lies somewhere between banal direct-to-video and TV movie fodder, augmented only slightly with risqué full frontal nudity.
Story one begins with burnt-out gang detective Kelly (Angus Macfadyen) arriving in town for a last-chance gig with the local police department, and his wobbly professional / personal relationship with Sgt. Ferraro (Elizabeth Rodriguez) as they attempt to link a recent shotgun murder to a secret escort ring at the town’s university.
Story two involves happy-go-lucky English professor Melville (Malcolm McDowell) going through his normal motions of teaching his yearly class of model-perfect students, and helping those with unique financial requirements by hooking them up with colleagues and town officials. Melville, married to a former student and father to a young child, takes no cash – just token gifts from his special girls, and basks in their genuine affection.
When the two storylines eventually collide, the film picks up a little bit, and McDowell has two solid scenes where Melville realizes his idyllic life and special relationships with students, clients, and the law is coming to a crashing end, but with the exception of the twist finale, Hoffs never lets those scenes blossom because her dialogue is so perfunctory.
Scenes are edited and structured clumsily, and the gradual revelation of Melville’s side-business is weirdly staggered. It’s actually pretty easy to tell Hoffs’ script was poorly developed because several scenes in the finished film just don’t resonate and deliver the information in an effective manner.
The police investigation is dull, and lacks tension and dramatic lighting; and the relationship between Kelly and Rodriguez is confusing because in an early edit, the two characters had an affair (evidenced by a short clip in a trailer, and a second scene in the deleted footage gallery).
Hoffs also chopped up a lengthy poolside scene with the liberal-minded girls, spreading it around to create a semblance of balance, but rather than giving us earnest insight of how they feel about their roles as part-time prostitutes, it further demeans their characters, since their moronic chatter hovers around penis size instead of moral issues.
Melville is written as a kind of libertine, letting him do what feels good because it’s natural, but there are moments when his philosophy causes harm, and characters who should be affected… aren’t. After what should’ve been an easy gig with a professor, Dyonesia (Taryn Southern) returns to her mentor / pimp, emotionally & physically scarred, but she’s easily brought back to a libertine & Reichian stance, and even when Melville meets justice and misses their graduation, the girls are fully grateful for acquiring Melville’s otherwise vaguely disseminated philosophy, and feel wholly empowered.
The finale and twist revelation sort of works, but even the link between the dead girl and a major character is pretty chancy. The actors do sell Hoffs’ scene, however, but the twist echoes the finale of a Miami Vice episode (“One Way Ticket”) in which a character is similarly tracked down by a dogged detective to a tropical hideaway.
Odyssey’s Blu-ray features a crisp HD transfer, and the extras include a making-of featurette which showcases some of the favourite themes and locales Hoffs revisits in Pound of Flesh, and McDowell also appears in a separate Q&A from which a few replies are integrated into the making-of short.
There’s also a deleted scenes gallery with several extensions, improvised quips, the pre-After Effects-treated poolside scene, and a preposterous sex scene between the two detectives at work. Two trailers round out the extras, including the alternately titled Progressive Education with deleted Kelly-Rodriguez romance footage.
McDowell had previously acted in Hoffs’ Red Roses and Petrol (2003), and the director is perhaps best-known for writing / directing a series of films with daughter and Bangles member Susannah Hoffs: Stoney Island (1978), The Haircut (1982), The Allnighter (1987), and Rock & Read (1989).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review