[box cover]

Best Seller

This may come as a shock to James Woods fans, but the 1987 crime thriller Best Seller is not a good James Woods movie — it's a good Brian Dennehy movie. That's right, Brian Dennehy — that actor who looks like he'd be more comfortable in a cable-knit sweater and Greek fisherman's cap, working as a Rhode Island lighthouse-keeper than a Hollywood actor. One of those unlikely-but-underrated — and completely necessary — actors who's a burly salt of a man, someone we picture weaving colorful stories on a wharf while drinking thick beer, Dennehy always feels real. And in Best Seller he steals the show from the supposed show-stealer, Woods. Woods' scene-chewing, malevolent-yet-sympathetic and supposedly "cool" performance should be one of those quintessential Woods' achievements (and many critics and fans think it is), and yet he plays oddly dorky. Its not just an '80s thing either, but with his Ray-Bans, gray suits and creepy, high-falutin' attitude, he's really trying to convince us he's something special. Unfortunately, the performance seems forced. Alec Baldwin might have turned it into gold, but he most likely was not in mind when director John Flynn put this picture together. The story of Best Seller is actually a good one, but it suffers from clunky lines and unimpressive action sequences that look like something from "Magnum P.I." The movie starts in 1972, during which four men wearing Nixon masks rob a police-evidence depository in L.A. They kill two cops and wound another named Dennis Meechum (Dennehy), who later writes a best-selling book about the ordeal. Though a writer, Meechum stays on the force, and the film flash-forwards to 1987, where Meechum is chasing some bad guy who almost kills him. A mysterious figure in sunglasses saves his life. And, of course, that turns out to be Woods, who plays Cliff, a hit-man who used to work for a corporate sleazebag. Bitter over his dismissal, Cliff assures Meechum he's got the dirty goods for another best seller — if Meechum would just bend him an ear and watch him kill people. The film both pits against and joins together intelligent cop-writer and intelligent corporate-hit man, wherein the two build a gruff bond that reveals surprising things about Cliff (chiefly that he hails from a really nice farming family in Oregon). If not for Dennehy, Best Seller would be merely laughable. But the sturdy actor injects the film with charm, and he is restrained where Woods is over the top. It's as if Dennehy knows Woods is overdoing it and has grown annoyed — just like us. MGM's DVD release of Best Seller presents a nice transfer in both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame (1.33:1). Audio comes in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 in English, French, and Spanish (watching the film in French is a curious pleasure). The theatrical trailer makes the film look pretty decent, but that's what trailers are for. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan



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