[box cover]

The Score

There are two problems with The Score — the script as presented on the screen ends awkwardly, and it is directed by Frank Oz. The screenplay, credited to the too-many-cooks brew of Daniel E. Taylor, Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, and Scott Marshall Smith, concerns Nick Wells (Robert De Niro), a Montreal club owner and part-time burglar seeking to retire with his girlfriend (Angela Bassett). But at the behest of his financial backer Max (Marlon Brando), Wells attempts "one last score," for which he is saddled with the up-and-coming tyro Jackie Teller (Edward Norton). The crooks are attempting to lift a priceless historical French sceptre, not that it really matters what the object of all this blather happens to be. Soon a dull cat-and-mouse game emerges as Nick and Jackie engage in a contest to outwit each other. By the end of the movie, the viewer realizes that the story has no "third act" (to use the current parlance) because — after the heist itself, and a trick or two — the cat-and-mouse game feels as if it should be continuing. Instead, the movie ends abruptly — a disappointing conclusion to an already enervating experience. And in the midst of it, the producers somehow managed to gather together three generations of great actors for this film: Brando, the original mumbling, T-shirted brute; Robert De Niro, the intense creator of dark American characters; and Edward Norton, the rising young actor who has emerged from the same New York theater scene as his elders. So whom do the producers select, of all the directors in America — nay the world — to helm the piece? The rugged Michael Mann? Action-oriented Andrew Davis or John McTiernan? Heist experts Jules Dassin (Rififi), or Guy Ritchie (Snatch), or even pulp maverick Quentin Tarantino? Well, maybe they did ask these people, and were turned down. But the person they ended up with, from among all the action directors, all the psychologically astute filmmakers, all the craftsmen and metteur-en-scenes in the world, was... Frank Oz. Yes, the Oz behind such cinematic masterpieces as What About Bob? and Housesitting. The Frank Oz who had no previous experience with heist films (and still doesn't). Oz's films are a personality-free zone, and there isn't even a little person, much less a wizard, behind his megaphone and screen. There was much-heralded trouble on the set at the time of filming and De Niro is reported to have shot some of the scenes, uncredited. It doesn't matter. The Score is a listless affair. One senses that Paramount has merely gone through the motions with its DVD release, given that the $68-million film barely broke even with a $72 million gross in the U.S. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is marred by occasional black flecks, especially at the film' s beginning, while the servicable audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. True, the disc has the usual panoply of added features. There's the trailer, a routine "making-of" featurette that reveals little about the actual making of the film, and three deleted or alternate scenes (a long improv between De Niro and Brando, a scene between De Niro and Norton, and a scene in the nightclub with a different song in the background). There is also an informative and highly technical audio commentary track by director Oz and director of photography Rob Hahn, in which nothing of the on-set tensions is mentioned, though Oz does allude to the fact that the film was written as they went along. It's an educational track over a uninspiring example. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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