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Dead Again

Give credit to Kenneth Branagh — after his successful directorial debut in 1989's Henry V, it was easy to expect that the heir-apparent to Olivier would follow up with another Shakespearean production, and probably a history or tragedy play with plenty of opportunity for more intrigue, gore, and mud. But instead — with Henry V co-star (and then-Mrs. Branagh) Emma Thompson in tow — the twentysomething wunderkind headed straight for Los Angeles to direct and star in scenarist Scott Frank's supernatural thriller Dead Again. Exchanging his broadsword and chainmail for a sportscar and a bad cigarette habit, Branagh plays L.A. private detective Mike Church, who stumbles upon a new case when an unidentified woman (Thompson), stricken with amnesia, turns up at a local convent unable to speak but wracked by horrendous, blood-chilling nightmares. Church takes the job despite the fact that it looks like a dead-end before it's even started, but charming hypnotist (and antique furniture dealer) Franklyn Madison (Derek Jacobi) enters the plot, claiming that he can coax the woman's true identity from her. Madison gets results, but these only complicate matters as it appears she actually is the reincarnation of famous pianist Margaret Strauss, who was murdered by her husband Roman Strauss in 1948. And if everything happens for a reason across space and time, it also stands to reason that Church is the reincarnation of the murderous Roman. Or is he? And for that matter, who the hell is Madison? Taken at face-value, Dead Again is little more than a two-hour pulp thriller, with oddball supporting characters everywhere and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. However, the caliber of the performances, as well as Frank's witty dialogue, elevate it several notches past the norm. And while it's fun today to see the younger Branagh and Thompson jump back and forth between English and American accents, it is the charming Jacobi (a Shakespearean legend in his own right) who practically steals the entire show out from under them. Also starring Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight, and Robin Williams. Solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good source print, new DD 5.1 mix or the original Dolby 2.0 Surround. Two informative commentary tracks, one with Branagh, the other with Frank and producer Lindsay Doran, give this Paramount release some serious bonus points. Trailer, keep-case.

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