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Buena Vista's March '06 Releases

Den of Lions (March 14/06)

Though it features an expectedly superb performance from Bob Hoskins, Den of Lions is nothing more than disjointed, thoroughly unpleasant piece of work. The film stars Stephen Dorff as Mike Varga, an FBI agent whose latest assignment takes him to Budapest - where he is to infiltrate the gang of a notorious criminal named Darius Paskevic (Hoskins). Director James Bruce - working from a screenplay by Freddy Deane - infuses Den of Lions with a seriously baffling vibe, plunging the viewer into one hard-to-follow sequence after another. One can't help but presume that somewhere along the line, Den of Lions was taken away from Bruce and radically re-edited - though without any thought towards keeping the proceedings even remotely coherent (ie one minute Dorff's character is engaging in an overblown car chase, and the next he's Darius' right-hand man). Such problems are exacerbated by Deane's penchant for soap opera-esque digressions, something that's particularly true of a tedious and hopelessly pointless subplot involving an illegal immigrant that's forced to turn tricks. Hoskins has a few good moments - ie there's a sequence in which he brutally murders an incompetent goon with a pool cue - but generally has little to do except look menacing (which he excels at, admittedly). Den of Lions is an irredeemable mess, and it seems highly unlikely it'd be receiving this kind of a release were it not for the presence of Dorff and Hoskins.

out of

Undertaking Betty (March 15/06)

Undertaking Betty is a charming, low-key romantic comedy revolving around a timid funeral director named Boris Plots (Alfred Molina), who receives a second chance at love after his childhood crush abruptly re-enters his life. And although Betty (Brenda Blethyn) reveals that she feels the same way about Boris, the two are unable to pursue a relationship due to Betty's marriage to a sleazy councilman (Robert Pugh). Boris concocts a plot to fake Betty's death, allowing the couple to run away together guilt-free - though the plan doesn't exactly go off without a hitch. Originally called Plots with a View and delayed for several years (the movie features Naomi Watts, pre-The Ring, as a slutty secretary), Undertaking Betty starts out slow but improves considerably as it progresses - particularly as Boris and Betty's scheme takes the forefront. Christopher Walken, playing a rival mortician who specializes in theme funerals (ie a Star Trek-inspired ceremony), delivers an expectedly engaging and often hilarious performance, while Molina and Blethyn have genuine chemistry with one another. There's nothing especially groundbreaking or even memorable about Undertaking Betty, but the undeniably sweet vibe is ultimately quite difficult to resist.

out of

Zu Warriors (March 16/06)

That Zu Warriors sat on the shelf for almost five years before being unceremoniously dumped onto DVD doesn't come as much of a surprise, given just how irredeemably and thoroughly awful the film quickly reveals itself to be. Based on the 1983 film of the same name, Zu Warriors revolves around a mystical martial arts clan as they attempt to stave off an evil demon bent on world domination. A true synopsis of the film is impossible, as filmmaker Tsui Hark (who also directed the '83 version) is either unable or unwilling to offer up anything even resembling a coherent storyline. The movie lurches from one broad, headache-inducing action sequence to the next, all of which are dominated by wall-to-wall computer-generated effects (even the most over-the-top Jerry Bruckheimer flick doesn't contain this much meaningless eye-candy). Hark's emphasis of style over substance affords Zu Warriors all the depth of a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers episode, complete with mystical, nonsensical dialogue and egregiously flamboyant performances. And as hopelessly confusing as the film is, one can't help but shudder at the thought of watching the edited and dubbed 80-minute version that's also included on the disc.

out of

About the DVDs: Each of these three films arrives on DVD with spotless, anamorphic transfers, and although Den of Lions doesn't come with any bonus features, Undertaking Betty and Zu Warriors both include brief behind-the-scenes featurettes.
© David Nusair