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The Independent Critic

Fisher Stevens, Rebecca Mader, Nestor Serrano, Michael Buscemi
Lee Bonner
Lee Bonner, Sean Murphy
Rated NR
83 Mins.
Vanguard Cinema
 "21 Eyes" Review 
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"Replay," now available on DVD under the name "21 Eyes," is, at first glance, your typical jewelry heist flick on a low-budget.

After a few minutes, however, it becomes clear that screenwriters Sean Murphy and Lee Bonner (Bonner also directs the film) have taken this old, familiar idea and dressed it up with new twists, new turns and a novel approach to film-making that is reminiscent of television's "C.S.I" programs.

The film centers upon Seth Collison (Nester Serrano), a wealthy jeweler whose well-protected jewelry store is robbed at gunpoint of the famed "Sophia" Diamond. By the end of the robbery, bodies are strewn throughout the store and, it seems, the diamond has been returned to the safe.

Case closed.

Of course, we would have only a short film were this to be the actual end of the film. It's not. In fact, the entire film is seen through the eyes of two detectives, Blu (Fisher Stevens) and Scotty (Michael Buscemi) as they watch the tapes from Collison's 21 surveillance cameras. The film-makers, literally, invite the audience along as the detectives watching the tapes begin to question whether or not it is really as "open and shut" as the original investigator believed. Tape after tape reveals more scenes, more clues, more facts, a few more twists and, in the end, the DVD gives the audience the opportunity to explore their own conclusions along with those of Blue and Scotty.

This unusual concept, which allowed for no "live" action, works both for and against the film. Even Blu and Scotty are never actually seen on-screen...they are heard only by voice-over. Fortunately, in the hands of Buscemi and Stevens, this works out nicely. Both actors bring a lightly comic and authentic touch to their characters that feels like a cross between your average DVD "Commentary" section and a night watching Mystery Science Theatre.

It did take a few moments to adjust to hearing Buscemi.
He sounds quite similar to his brother, Steve, and without seeing him it was initially difficult to shake the image of his brother.

Bonner and Murphy's dialogue is often stellar, and the film's relaxed, almost laid back approach to the actual crime reminded me of Gus Van Sant's approach in the Columbine-themed "Elephant." This dialogue also worked nicely with the casual, only occasionally professional chemistry between Blu and Scotty.

Nester Serrano, who has appeared in "C.S.I.", "24," and multiple other television shows and films, is the strongest player here as an obsessed, seemingly paranoid man who seems to value his diamonds more than the humans who work for him. In a film that, at times, seems lacking in urgency and energy Serrano's performance is controlled yet appropriately intense. Chance Kelly also does a nice job as the jewelry store's ill-fated security guard, and the other supporting players offer functional, if not particularly outstanding, performances.

Australian Rebecca Mader (most recently seen in a supporting role in "The Devil Wears Prada") combines a simmering sexiness as Belinda, Collison's partner and business confidante. While her performance during the actual heist felt a tad histrionic, Mader added a desperately needed spark to the film's energy.

Bonner's direction is hindered only by a lack of variation in the film's pacing. While using the "video" approach is novel and interesting, even the switching back from "fast forward" to "reverse" to "slow motion" seems to come at almost the same pace. The film, with an ever so slight score, never gains an emotional footing...and because the two major characters are never seen the audience ultimately never has the chance to become emotionally invested in the outcome. The ending, as presented on the DVD, also feels anti-climactic and disappointing in its resolution.

Ultimately, in a day when it seems like Hollywood is churning out the same old garbage day after day, it's refreshing to see a film-maker interested in finding a different way to do things. While "21 Eyes" may not be a top-of-the-line heist flick, "21 Eyes" is a unique, entertaining and visionary flick featuring strong dialogue, solid performances and an awesome opportunity for the audience to become part of the film-making process by helping to solve the crime! For its uniqueness and vision, "21 Eyes" is a film for those who love independent films and the opportunity to discover something new!

"21 Eyes" is available on DVD through Blockbuster Online. Check your local video store...this film's worth the effort to find it!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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