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Aisle Seat Mid-August Edition

Reviews of New DVDs including Friedkin's THE HUNTED
Plus: Family Finds, SEABISCUIT Limps into Theaters

By Andy Dursin

The triumph of underdog race horse SEABISCUIT is one of the great sports stories in American history. The basis for Laura Hillenbrand's wonderful, bestselling novel, the story has sadly now become a good-looking though disappointing, overly anecdotal film in the hands of writer-director Gary Ross.

Hillenbrand's beautifully written book about the race horse who became a beloved figure for a nation mired in the Great Depression had all the makings of a great movie. It's a classic underdog tale that turned a loser of a horse into a legend, salvaged the broken dreams of its owner, trainer, and jockey, and captured the imagination of an entire country in the process.

Unfortunately, Ross' decision to make the movie (**1/2 of four) from the point of view of all three of its lead characters -- jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), and trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) -- is a misguided approach right from the outset. The movie is overly fragmented when it should be focused; more concerned with over-explaining and over-analyzing the horse's cultural significance, for example, than spending time actually showing the horse itself.

All one needs to know about Ross' film can be best exemplified by the scene in which the wry, understated trainer Smith (Cooper) sees Seabiscuit in an early morning, misty fog for the first time. The scene ought to be magical, mysterious, and moving, with Cooper expressing to us his character's emotions at that moment -- not unlike the scenes in the infinitely superior "Black Stallion," where the young boy and horse forged a bond without the use of dialogue. Here, though, Ross uses historian David McCollouch's incessant narration to TELL us what Cooper is feeling, hitting us over the head with it and thereby ruining the scene altogether.

Those kinds of moments, alas, happen throughout SEABISCUIT. The film's first hour is a disaster, trying to cram in too many events in the backstory for its own good -- a little more time spent on any one of the individual scenes would have worked far better. Ross, though, also seems to have trouble understanding which points are more important than others -- when Seabiscuit finally begins to win and turn into a hero, it's treated as a throwaway in a montage lasting little more than a few seconds.

The use of McColloch's narration also becomes a problem; it's all fine and good to establish time and place, but Ross doesn't know when to quit. He keeps bringing McCollouch back to tell us how broken the country was, how Pollard, Smith and Howard were all broken men, how Seabiscuit shone through the times -- messages we should have been able to gather for ourselves from the collection of individual scenes and the power of the performances.

It's a shame the film is so cold and fragmented, because it looks great -- shot in widescreen by John Schwartzman -- and boasts a superb cast that does its best under the circumstances. Bridges, Cooper, and particularly Elizabeth Banks (as Howard's second wife) come through admirably in the few moments when Ross enables the actors to breathe and display their craft. Maguire is OK as Pollard, but the best scene in the movie actually belongs to real-life jockey Gary Stevens, who puts in a surprisingly fine performance as George Wolfe, the rider who handled Seabiscuit during Pollard's injury. Stevens has the film's best line during the movie's most effective scene -- the match race with reigning champ War Admiral -- which did, admittedly, bring the audience I screened the movie with to burst into applause.

Also worth deeming a large disappointment here is Randy Newman's nondescript soundtrack, which comes across as a watered-down "Natural" without any of that score's memorable themes. With the film's effective ads boasting music from films like "Rudy," it's unfortunate that the picture had to have been saddled with a score that's far removed from Newman's best work. (It's likely something that must have been an issue for the filmmakers, since the finished print includes tracked music from "All the Pretty Horses" among other movies.)

SEABISCUIT has the look of quality and a cast to match it, yet it's one of the most frustrating films I've seen lately because it completely fails to tap into the story's inherent heart and greatness. It's mostly pedestrian storytelling all the way, merely skimming the surface of a tale that deserved better treatment than it received. (PG-13)

New Action-Adventure on DVD

THE HUNTED. 94 mins., 2003, R, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Connie Nielsen. COMPOSER: Brian Tyler. SCRIPT: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli. DIRECTOR: William Friedkin. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; deleted scenes; making of; original trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Gritty, exciting chase movie offers little in the way of plot or character development, but nevertheless manages to entertain due to director William Friedkin's tight, no-nonsense execution.

Benicio Del Toro plays Aaron Hallam, an army special forces assassin who loses his grip on reality after experiencing the horror in Kosovo. After holing up in the woods of Oregon and killing off a pair of hunters in the process, the authorities opt to call in tracker Tommy Lee Jones, who -- in a Colonel Trautman kind of way -- trained Del Toro years before into become a killing machine. Lee Jones knows Del Toro's every move, which includes escaping from the clutches of the army, running amok in the city, and trying to elude the good guys at each turn.

Scripted by David & Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli, THE HUNTED is a basic cat-and-mouse game that's efficiently directed by Friedkin and well performed by Lee Jones and Del Toro. The two have enough chemistry together in their brief scenes to off-set the scant character development in the rest of the piece -- this is a movie about two men and their separate desires (one to escape, the other to capture him), played out on the level of a straight-ahead action movie. Therefore, the movie never gets sidetracked with supporting players or subplots, though Connie Nielsen is solid as a cop working with Lee Jones -- if anything, the film could have benefited from more of her character.

Brian Tyler's score is functional at best (what little there is of it), but, for the most part, the lack of depth in THE HUNTED ends up serving the picture well. This is an unpretentious and vividly shot thriller (major kudos to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel) that may, in time, become something of a cult favorite. The pursuit scenes are exciting, the performances strong, and the script compelling enough to make you fill in the gaps about the movie's backstory. Along the way, Friedkin raises questions about the nature of killing, and the father-son relationship between Del Toro and Lee Jones -- questions that give the film a microcosm of depth through its 94 minutes.

Paramount's DVD of THE HUNTED is a knockout visually. The 1.85 transfer looks terrific, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack -- like much of Friedkin's work -- is elaborately designed with surround effects. Special features include a typically strong commentary by Friedkin; whether you agree with his reading of the film or not, he's always compelling to listen to. A handful of fully completed and scored deleted scenes are included -- they're mostly disposable aside from a noteworthy exchange between Nielsen and her boss. Four Making Of segments (totaling a bit under 30 minutes) examine the filming of the piece, while the original trailer is also included.

Well worth a look for action fans.

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS. 114 mins., 2003, PG-13, Buena Vista. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Donnie Yen, Aiden Gillen. COMPOSER: Randy Edelman. SCRIPT: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar. DIRECTOR: David Dobkin. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; writers' commentary; Deleted Scenes; fight featurette. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Amiable enough sequel sends former sagebrush pals Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) and Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) to London where Wang's sister is engaged in a struggle to find their father's killer.

Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the "Smallville" guys who also wrote "Shanghai Noon," are back to provide more breezy laughs and action in this entertaining if overlong follow-up, which again gets by primarily due to the stars' interplay. Chan and Wilson are a lot easier to take than Chan and Chris Tucker in "Rush Hour," though the movie's somewhat lackadaisical execution ends up robbing the picture of energy. There are the requisite gags involving historical figures (from Jack the Ripper to Charlie Chaplin), a few fun fight sequences (most notably Jackie's homage to Gene Kelly), a couple of amusing lines, and a nice score by Randy Edelman, but despite all of that, it still provides a fairly large "so what?" quotient. There's nothing especially wrong with SHANGHAI KNIGHTS -- I just grew tired of the movie by the time it finally ended with a gag reel some 100 minutes later.

Buena Vista's fine DVD offers a 2.35 widescreen transfer that looks colorful enough, though I did notice some edge-enhancement on display a few times. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is good, with several contemporary rock tracks utilized to spice up the surroundings.

A pair of commentary tracks are included -- one with Gough and Millar, the other with director David Dobkin -- in addition to an amusing "Fight Manual" documentary with Chan and Dobkin. Several deleted scenes are also included, along with a needless "Action Overload" music video-styled presentation of the movie's action scenes.

New From Columbia TriStar

HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT. 96 mins., 2002, PG-13, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Audrey Tautou, Samuel Le Bihan, Isabelle Carre, Sophie Guillemin. COMPOSER: Jerome Coullet. SCRIPT: Caroline Thivel, Laetitia Colombani. DIRECTOR: Laetitia Colombani. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, in French with English subtitles.

"Amelie" star Audrey Tautou takes a sharp turn away from sweetness in Laetitia Colombani's tale of romantic obsession, dishonestly advertised in the U.S. as a sunny romantic thriller.

Tautou plays Angelique, an art student who claims to have a crush on doctor Samuel Le Bihan. The only trouble is that he's married with an expecting wife -- two problems that barely raise the red flag for Tautou's friends, who do suspect that more's going on with Tautou than they know. Le Bihan hardly even acknowledges Tautou's existence, leading to the culmination of the story from her side at the 40-minute mark. After that, the film shifts to Le Bihan's point of view, where we learn that not everything Tautou claims to have happened actually did.

Colombani and Caroline Thivel's script is interestingly shot by the director, though the device of shifting POVs is ultimately just a cover for a predictable story with an unsurprising conclusion. Tautou is effective in a dramatic turn as a girl beset by madness, and Le Bihan is equally fine as a womanizing doctor who nevertheless doesn't deserve the predicament he finds himself in. The sunny cinematography of Pierre Aim creates a glossy sheen that contradicts the movie's increasingly suspicious tone, and Jerome Coullet's score nicely fits the drama. It's the script that's the trouble here -- a bit too obvious and methodical in its unraveling than it should have been.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a perfect 1.85 transfer with 5.1 audio of the original French soundtrack. The yellow English subtitles are well-executed, appearing below the frame, with only bonus trailers included for extras.

CAUGHT. 110 mins., 1996, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Arie Verveen, Steven Schub. COMPOSER: Chris Botti. SCRIPT: Edward Pomerantz, from his novel "Into It." DIRECTOR: Robert M. Young. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.60 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

A drifter (Arie Verveen) works his way into the life of a New York City seafood store owner (Edward James Olmos), whose wife (Maria Conchita Alonso) invites him to stay with the couple at their home. What follows from there in Robert M. Young's film is a downward spiral of sex, lies, and mounting rage, as Verveen falls for Alonso and begins an affair that culminates in tragedy once Olmos and Alonso's son (Steven Schub) moves home after a busted career in show biz.

Edward Pomerantz adapted his novel "Into It" and establishes three well-defined and developed characters that are superbly performed by Olmos, Alonso, and Verveen. More than just a typical film noir thriller, CAUGHT is also a story of failed dreams and what constitutes a family. Young's direction is a bit leisurely and obvious at times, but the film is still worth a look for indie cinema fans, who might have missed the movie during its initial run seven years ago.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a 1.60 widescreen transfer, which likely looks a bit soft due to the source elements. The 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo is also limited but effective for this kind of film, boasting an appropriately mournful jazz score by Chris Botti.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA TRILOGY. 359 mins., 1993, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: *** (cumulative). CAST: Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Max Mok, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao. COMPOSER: James Wong (I), Richard Yuen, Johnny Njo (II), Wu Wai-Lap, Tsui Hark (III). SCRIPT: Tsui Hark, Yeun Kai-Chi, Leung Yiu-Ming, Tang Pik-Yin (I), Hark, Chan Tin-Suen, Cheung Tan (II, III). DIRECTOR: Tsui Hark. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 2.0 Cantonese and Mandarin (I), 5.1 Cantonese and Madarin (II, III).

A new DVD repackaging of Tsui Hark's acclaimed martial arts extravaganzas, which catapulted star Jet Li into international success.

Li played Wong Fei-Hung, 19th century Chinese folk hero, in a series of films that chronicle China's resistance to foreign intervention from both Europe and America. The initial three films in the series, directed and co-written by Hark, are legitimate epics, with widescreen cinematography and solid production values lending an air of quality to the stories, which do, admittedly, take their time getting going. The plots are a bit convoluted, and the comic shenanigans of Wong's friends tough to take in places, but when the movies concentrate on action the results should be enormously satisfying for martial arts fans. The aerial acrobatics (even with the use of wires) are stunning and the various set pieces effective, even if you might be compelled to fast-forward through when the kung fu is out having a smoke. On balance, Part II is the best of the three, with I taking its time starting and III a bit of a disappointment considering its predecessors.

All three are contained in this double-disc DVD set from Columbia (Li returned for a later sequel, not included in this set). The 2.35 transfers are decent but aren't derived from pristine sources. However, since I hadn't seen the movies previously, I can't comment on whether these transfers are superior or identical to earlier releases. The Cantonese and Mandarin dialogue tracks are encoded in stereo and sport the original scores from the movies -- not American re-scored soundtracks like the ones found in many of Dimension/New Line's cut-and-paste jobs of countless Jackie Chan films. Although I thought the movies could have benefited from cutting, Columbia should be commended for here preserving the original, full-length versions of the CHINA films as they were released overseas -- a fact that fans should certainly appreciate.

New Family Oriented DVDs

PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE. 75 mins., 2003, G, Disney. ANDY'S RATING: ***. VOICES OF: John Fiedler, Jim Cummings, Andre Stojka, Peter Cullen, Ken Sansom, Tom Wheatley. COMPOSER: Carl Johnson, Songs by Carly Simon. SCRIPT: Brian Hohlfeld. DIRECTOR: Francis Glebas. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interactive games for kids. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.66 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Cute, charming Winnie the Pooh feature puts Piglet in the spotlight as our beloved A.A. Milne creation disappears -- only to have his friends realize just how important he is once he's gone.

Disney has turned out a handful of lower-budgeted, hand-drawn features lately that have either been sent straight to video ("Pocahontas II") or been issued to theaters ("Jungle Book 2,""Peter Pan: Return to Neverland") if they turned out well enough to warrant a big-screen release. PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE fell into the latter camp, and became a sleeper hit last spring with young audiences.

This is a simple, straightforward tale of Pooh and friends remembering how much Piglet helped them in the past, by retelling many Piglet-centric adventures. The plot isn't used as an excuse, however, to simply recycle the classic old shorts, since the animation in PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE is new and has a style and tone all its own. Carly Simon's songs nicely compliment the easy-going charm of the film, which runs barely over an hour and should keep even the youngest viewer enchanted. Older kids and Pooh fans of all ages should also be satisfied by the film, which is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.

Disney's DVD offers a 1.66 "family friendly" widescreen presentation which looks colorful and spotless. The 5.1 soundtrack sports a pleasant score by Carl Johnson and Simon's songs, with special features aimed squarely at kids (including interactive games).

AGENT CODY BANKS. 102 mins., 2003, PG, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, Angie Harmon, Keith David, Arnold Vosloo, Ian McShane, Cynthia Stevenson. COMPOSER: John Powell. SCRIPT: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski. DIRECTOR: Harald Zwart. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes; outtakes; Making Of segments; interviews; special effects footage; audio commentary. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen and full-screen versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

After a great start, this teenage James Bond runs out of gas -- despite the efforts of a game cast.

Frankie Muniz plays the title character, recruited at age 13 by the CIA for their teen secret agent program. Ian McShane and "Mummy" star Arnold Vosloo are the villains: a pair of bad guys trying to force a noble scientist to work on a dastardly project for their own, nefarious purposes. Cody is quickly called into action by CIA agent Angie Harmon (more convincing in sleek outfits here than she ever was on "Law and Order") to find out more about the scientist -- which Agent Banks does by wooing his cute daughter Hilary Duff (better known as Lizzie McGuire; read below) at a posh prep school.

Co-produced by Madonna and Jason Alexander (how's that for an odd couple?), and co-written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ("Man in the Moon," the "Problem Child" films), AGENT CODY BANKS opens with a dynamite action scene where Cody rescues a child from a car speeding towards an intersection. It's well-crafted and shot by director Harald Zwart, but the energy level of the movie peters out shortly thereafter. The movie's action scenes are standard, the plot strictly routine, and the modest budget obviously an issue -- though Robert Rodriguez was able to make a far more imaginative film under similar circumstances with SPY KIDS. Muniz is fine and Duff is appealing, but there's little for either to do but adhere to the confines of the plot. Best left for "tween" viewers and fans of Muniz, Duff or Harmon.

MGM's Special Edition is chock full of extras: a commentary with Muniz, Harmon, and the director; several deleted scenes culled from a workprint; a Making Of split up into several short featurettes; multi-angle scenes and outtakes; a superb 2.35 transfer (a full-frame version is also available) and 5.1 sound, sporting an amusing score by John Powell.

THE LIZZIE McGUIRE MOVIE. 94 mins., 2003, PG, Disney. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Hilary Duff, Adam Landberg, Robert Carradine, Hallie Todd, Jake Thomas, Alex Borstein. COMPOSER: Cliff Eidelman. SCRIPT: Susan Estelle Jansen, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss. DIRECTOR: Jim Fall. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes; Making Of; music video. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen and Full-screen versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Appealing big-screen spin-off of the highly popular Disney Channel show follows everyone's favorite middle schooler, Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff), as she heads off to Rome following 8th grade graduation. From there, Lizzie is mistaken for an Italian teen pop princess, falls for her singing partner, and tries to avoid her school's tour group as she soaks up the sights and sounds of Italy.

This breezy, cute comedy for kids sports reunites most of the cast from the TV series, including Lizzie's parents, crazy best friends (with the notable omission of her female sidekick), and her animated alter-ego, who pops up a few times with comical asides as she does in the show. The Rome locations, though, give the story a romantic flavor, with Cliff Eidelman's lovely score and Jerzy Zielinski's cinematography making this far more of a cinematic experience than you might have anticipated. At the heart of the movie, as it was with the series, is Duff, who manages to be comical without being grating, and gives a warm, natural performance. Needless to say, Duff could have a long career ahead of her if she stays on the straight and narrow, and THE LIZZIE McGUIRE MOVIE should entertain viewers of all ages who are familiar with the program.

Disney's DVD sports superb 2.35 and full-screen transfers, along with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and plenty of extras. Making Of material highlights the production of the movie, the recording of Duff's new album, and other extras geared towards the "tween" audience (nope, I'm not one of them -- merely doing my job!).

BINGO. 89 mins., 1991, PG, Columbia TriStar, Available August 26. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr., Cindy Williams, David Rasche, Kurt Fuller. COMPOSER: Richard Gibbs. SCRIPT: Jim Strain. DIRECTOR: Matthew Robbins. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.33 full-frame, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

Wacky early '90s dog comedy from director Matthew Robbins is definitely worth a look for older kids.

Bingo is a circus dog who escapes from the clutches of his owner, just in time to meet young Steinmiller. They bond, but his Denver Broncos-playing dad (David Rasche of "Sledge Hammer" fame) has been traded to the Green Bay Packers, leaving poor Bingo behind. Of course, what's 1,000 miles to a dog in a crazy Hollywood movie? Bingo puts his paws to the grindstone and sets out on a journey to find his fam filled with wild, crazy characters and situations that push the PG rating a little bit (the profanity might be a cause for concern for parents of young kids), but help distinguish BINGO from its brethren. More often than not BINGO comes across as both a spoof of the genre and a traditional family comedy, and while not all of Jim Strain's script is funny, enough of it is to warrant a look.

Columbia TriStar's full-screen DVD looks colorful and crisp, and doesn't seem to have been cropped on any side of the frame. The 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack is functional enough, sporting an energetic, hummable score by Richard Gibbs.


DEEP SPACE NINE: The Complete Fourth Season. Seven disc DVD box set (25 episodes), Paramount, 1995-96. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurette on the making of the fourth season, including interviews with Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Avery Brooks, Terry Farrell, and Susanna Thompson; New interview with Michael Dorn; Featurette on Michael Westmore's make-up; John Eaves' sketchbook. TECHNICAL SPECS: Full-frame, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

As soon as you hear the newly re-orchestrated strains of Dennis McCarthy's theme song, you know you're in for something a little bit different with DS9's fourth season.

Action, adventure, and intrigue are played up in this heady mix of episodes, which run the gamut from introspective, character-driven shows geared towards Avery Brooks' Captain Sisko, to Klingon-dominated yarns, and even more comical shows spotlighting the Ferengi. Needless to say, the most obvious new element of the program was brought about by the addition of Worf (Michael Dorn) to the cast -- an enhancement that gave a bit of added juice to the cast. Clearly, the show's producers sought to increase the amount of action in the program during its fourth season (it boasts some of Trek's most violent moments), though the characterizations of the leads and their interaction with one another remain DS9's strongest component.

Paramount's DVD box-set offers seven discs including all 25 fourth season episodes. Included among them are "The Visitor" -- a moving program with Sisko meeting his son Jake as an elderly adult (played wonderfully by "Candyman"'s Tony Todd) -- plus "The Way of the Warrior," "Hippocratic Oath," "Indiscretion," "Rejoined," "Little Green Men" (the Ferengi are transported back in time to Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947), "Starship Down," "The Sword of Kahless," "Our Man Bashir," "Homefront," "Paradise Lost," "Crossfire," "Return to Grace," "The Sons of Mogh," "Bar Association," "Accession," "Rules of Engagement," "Hard Time," "Shattered Mirror," "The Muse," "For the Cause," "To the Death," "The Quickening," "Body Parts," and the season finale, "Broken Link."

Paramount's DVD set offers solid full-frame transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks on the level of their previous DS9 efforts. Special features are again plentiful, sporting a basic overview of the fourth season, including interviews with executive producer Ira Steven Behr and writer Ronald D. Moore, cast members Brooks and Terry Farrell among others. A separate featurette looks at Michael Dorn's addition to the cast, while other segments spotlight Michael Westmore's make-up contributions, John Eaves' sketchbook, and a photo gallery. There are also nearly a dozen "hidden files" included with additional interviews that are easy to find if you look around a bit.

FELICITY: The Complete Second Season. Six disc DVD box set (23 episodes), Buena Vista, 1999-2000. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Selected audio commentaries; Keri Russell screen test; unaired Pilot episode. TECHNICAL SPECS: Full-frame, 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound.

After a successful freshman year, J.J. Abrams' college soap opera took a turn towards the melodramatic in a sophomore season more uneven and less satisfying than its predecessor.

Season two takes its core characters -- Felicity (Keri Russell), her romantic suitors Noel (Scott Foley) and Ben (Scott Speedman), pal Julie (Amy Jo Johnson), and crazy rommate Megan -- and expands the relationships between them. Unfortunately -- and unlike the first season -- the plots are redundant and far more soap-operaish than necessary, with the revelation that Noel has fathered a child with a girl named Ruby (Amy Smart), Ben beginning a relationship with an older woman (Teri Polo), and Felicity opting to cut off all of her long brown locks after feeling depressed and isolated.

Yes, it's THAT season of FELICITY, which as anyone who watched the show regularly would tell you, pretty much signaled a downward trend for the program. While the cast is still amiable and the dialogue often more intelligent than most shows you'll find in this genre, it's nevertheless a soap opera, and a depressing one at that. The comical moments the show boasted during its first season were here replaced with more narcissistic storylines, not the least of which involved Felicity turning into a "chia head." Whenever the show's creators tried to break out of the rut they found themselves in, they put together a one-joke episode like "Help For the Lovelorn" -- a black-and-white homage to "The Twilight Zone" that was neither clever nor amusing.

Buena Vista's six-disc DVD box set is actually superior to their first season DVD of FELICITY. Selected audio commentaries by Abrams and the actors are included, along with the show's Emmy parody, Russell's cast audition, and other goodies that should keep the program's die-hard fans happily occupied -- most notably the original pilot, which offers different footage and scenes than the one that actually aired. The 4:3 transfers look just fine (a little soft at times but perfectly acceptable overall), and the Dolby Stereo soundtracks are likewise competent given the material.

NEXT TIME: FREDDY VS. JASON, the Mailbag returns, plus Andy's End of Summer soundtrack wrap up and more. Email me at and we'll catch you then!

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