Every movie buff at has achieved a significant number of years watching images flicker across the screen will have a list of guilty pleasures that seem to follow them throughout their lives. Rarely are they films of extraordinary merit but we tend to revisit them every so often. Like songs from our younger years they just are able to spark recollections that permit you to overlook the shortcomings. I can’t delineate the rationale behind it but for me one of those flicks if ‘Jennifer 8’.it was released in 1992 when my video tape collection was becoming a serious hobby and my migration to cable was complete. From a technical perspective it is flawed albeit with a few notable moments, it is a fun beer and pizza movie as an enjoyable crime thriller with a top notch cast able to keep it afloat. What brought it back to my notice and on my television was a recent re-release in Blu-ray. This was one of those movies that survive paradigm changes in format. I’ve seen it on cable, owned it on tape and DVD finally moving up to high definition. While the increase in resolution doesn’t make it a better movie but at least is looks and sounds better than ever. This was a movie my late wife and I would watch on a rainy night instilling it with a personal nostalgic quality.
John Berlin (Andy Garcia) is a detective in the Los Angeles police department. His life is circling the drain rapidly. His career has left him a psychological disaster and, on the personal front, his marriage has imploded. Berlin is contacted by an old friend and former co-worker, Freddy Ross (Lance Henriksen), offers him a job in Eureka, a rural community up north. Bringing Berlin in to the department does not sit well with the force, especially detective John Taylor (Graham Beckel) who lost out on a promotion, the spot given to Berlin. So far this is a setup seen repeatedly in every cop drama ever made. It does efficiently lay the foundation for the interpersonal dynamic magnifying the natural distrust with some burn out from the big city with a personalized animosity. Berlin is shown as a man obsessed with the job taking the resolution of a case to compulsive levels and ultimately the basis of his current lamentable state.
Berlin did not get to enjoy any calming effects of leaving LA. His first case was investigating a woman’s severed hand left in a plastic bag. This leads Berlin to reopen a case still unsolved after six months concerning a young woman the police dubbed Jennifer. The investigation of odd scars on the finger tips Berlin finds they were formed by reading Braille, the new victim was blind. Berlin makes a tenuous connection through this piece of evidence professing a certainty the cases are connected, his superiors are not convinced including Taylor and the Chef of Police, Citrine (Kevin Conway). Reaching out to contacts in his old job Berlin discovers that over the last four years six women were murdered, all of them blind. That would make the woman from six months ago the seventh and the hand as belonging to Jennifer #8. In the course of the investigation Berlin meets Helena Robertson (Uma Thurman). She is certain that her missing roommate Amber was the eighth victim. With almost nothing in the way of tangible evidence Berlin’s investigation tipped over to obsession, further alienating him for the others on the force.
In a plot contrivance that all but derails keeping a sense of realism Helena looks amazingly like his estranged ex-wife. Despite all that is going on, the murders, unsettled circumstance in his life and job, he still develops romantic feelings for the blind music teacher. When Helena is attacked Berlin gains a modicum of credibility, at least enough for Ross to accompany him on a stakeout. This is the tipping point for the investigation as the action begins to gather momentum. Unfortunately the plot has already become mired in an overly convoluted mystery. While I like a meaty thriller with plenty of twists the overall feeling of disconnected snippets comes across. It just seems that the clues don’t pull together or lead to a realistic conclusion. There a need for complexity in a thriller, numerous parts working together like a finely crafted time piece. In this film the component parts are there but dropped on the floor in disarray.
The one redeeming factor is the professionalism of the actors making the best of what they had to work with. Andy Garcia has a trademark quiet intensity well suited to bring Berlin’s internal struggle to the audience. The danger with a role like this is for the actor to overplay the character turning a taut drama into a melodrama, Garcia managed to pull back just the right amount to properly focus his talent on creating a believable character. You can overlook many plot holes by concentrating in this performance. This can also be said about his co-star. Uma Thurman. She has remained a daring actress willing to take on any role. This flair for experimentation has given her career a wide range of performances. Even in a movie like this that experience and natural ability comes through with a performance better than the film should have. The director/writer, Bruce Robinson was branching out with this movie. He had been involved in historically oriented film such as Fat Man and Little Boy’ about the Manhattan Project that developed the A-Bomb and the Cambodian genocide with ‘The Killing Fields’.
There is something about high definition that did make a noticeable difference with this viewing of the flick. One element the movie always had in its favor was interesting visuals. The set designs and moody atmosphere work well for a psychological thriller even if the story failed to properly gel. In high definition this is taken to another level adding a bit of interest not noticed before. Once again it is insufficient to turn the film around but it is still a fun watch overall.