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Replay   B-

Vanguard Cinema / Eastern Show

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Lee Bonner
Writers: Lee Bonner, Sean Paul Murphy
Cast: Fisher Stevens, Michael Buscemi, Rebecca Mader, Nestor Serrano, Chance Kelly, Shae D'Lyn, Mary Birdsong.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

The tagline for 1947's Lady in the Lake exclaimed, "You and Robert Montgomery solve a murder mystery together!" Shot from the point-of-view of a detective, the film gave viewers the detective's eyes, urging active participation in trying to unravel the mystery. A similar gimmicky hook distinguishes Replay, a slick low-budget mystery that started making the indie-festival rounds late last year. Replay's two protagonists are police detectives watching footage from surveillance tapes recorded during an attempted heist; we never see the detectives, but we hear their commentary as we watch the tapes along with them, in effect getting our own detective's chair and a chance to solve the case.

The news report that opens the film lays out the basics. Three gunmen broke into the home of gem dealer Seth Collison (Nestor Serrano) to steal a priceless diamond. All three gunmen and Collison's security guard were killed in the shootout that followed. With the bad guys dead and nearly everything captured on 21 hidden cameras, it looks like an open-and-shut case. That is, until detectives Blu (Fisher Stevens) and Scotty (Michael Buscemi) start going through the tapes and come to realize that there must have been an inside man. But who? That's the mystery. We're given six suspects, including Collison's sexy girlfriend (Rebecca Mader), who has a habit of showing up in skimpy negligee when caught by the cameras in Collison's bedroom ("I wish I had her neck," the police-station secretary muses at one point), and even Collison's now-dead security guard (Chance Kelly), who initially seems too dim-witted to be the inside man.

The film plays out in real time as the detectives go through the tapes, pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding, viewing the same events (including the shootout) from different angles. And when they stop to change tapes, we see a blue screen. It almost sounds like a chore, but Replay works largely because Blu and Scotty are fun to listen to. Their witty banter assures that the film is never a drag, and they quickly develop distinct but shallow personalities. And that's one of the film's failings: the two leads never really develop beyond their superficial personality quirks. Of course, that's almost forgivable considering the presentation, but the six suspects we examine on the tapes also never blossom into interesting characters. The security-cam presentation keeps us at an objective distance from the suspects, but Replay might have made them more interesting by playing with possible motivations -- that is, other than greed. Unfortunately, we never really get to know them and only have a peripheral understanding of their relationships.

Sleek, stylish, and cunning, Replay is engaging but ultimately forgettable. To the film's credit, co-writer/editor Sean Paul Murphy and co-writer/director Lee Boner never cheat in regards to the mystery. All the clues are here, and the red herrings that might steer us in the wrong direction can be spotted and discarded by perceptive viewers. It's often the little details that point to the truth, such as the way a character looks at his watch -- is he anxious, or just casually checking the time? PopMatters film critic Marco Lanzagorta called it "an early step toward the inevitable fusion of film and videogames into a single sensorial-cognitive experience," but more apt examples of that trend might be the many strikingly cinematic PlayStation games from the past few years or Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run, with its thrilling race-against-time/fail/game over/restart structure. Replay would be more suitably compared to the experience of playing a certain board game. Early on, one of the detectives jokes, "It's almost like playing Clue."

Review published 07.26.2004.

Editor's Note: Replay was recut and retitled 21 Eyes for its 2006 DVD release from Vanguard Cinema.

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