Emerging from the (deep) dust of 1997’s Sundance Film Festival is Vin Diesel’s Strays, his first directorial and writing effort. The film pre-dates Diesel’s big break into Hollywood and instead takes a bit of a more home-video shot type style of film making and merges it with a whimsical plot about a drug dealer who is tired of the hustler life style and wants to settle down. That’s not me making anything up—that is truly the plot of Strays and judging this one by its cover is something I would seriously advise against.
“Frustrated by the repetitious grind of one-night stands and aimless hustling, drug dealer Rick (Vin Diesel) is looking for meaning and intimacy in his life. Like his testosterone-tweaked buddies, Rick is a ‘stray’ – lacking a traditional family structure and wrestling subconsciously with his father’s absence. Until Heather enters his life…Suddenly rick sees the possibility of a committed relationship and the life he has longed for. However, trying to assimilate into Heather’s world is not easy. Rick takes heat from his perpetually adolescent and unmotivated cohorts. Though the chemistry between n the couple is immediately charged, Rick’s street manner and volatile aggression flare, threatening to extinguish their relationship before it begins.”
Above is what is printed verbatim from the back of the DVD and it quite frankly condenses the entire film into a single paragraph. There’s very little left out of the description that we don’t see in Diesel’s somewhat shallow story. It’s admirable that he was able to even get this film made when his name was non-existent in the business, but there’s really nothing here that’s of any lasting quality. The relationship that he has with Heather (Suzanne Lanza) is rather uninspired and their eventual split is nothing that the viewer didn’t see coming. In fact, Heather seems to give Rick more chances than he really deserves—it’s obvious that while he wants his life to change, he isn’t willing (or able) to change his attitude or ways to accommodate the lifestyle switch.
This isn’t to say Strays is a complete waste of time, but it certainly wasn’t one would expect from the cover (or from Vin Diesel). As I said before, don’t judge this one by the cover—it’s in no way representative of what’s included on the DVD and it’s really just an overly awkward film that seems to go nowhere in its near two hour run time. The film is almost Kevin Smith-ian in the way it’s laid out, with a lot of dialogue sequences taking place to progress the films plot, but in Strays case, the dialogue seems to be mostly the same and repetitive.
It’s an admirable and truly remarkable first attempt from Vin Diesel as a director and I’m sure his fans will certainly find it an entertaining watch to see how far he has come. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film—it has a home video feel to it and the acting is “real” feeling and the humor peppered throughout the film keep it lively, but it just isn’t enough to save the film. The run time is just a bit too much and it’s a wee bit repetitious to be considered something that is really worth your time. For the curious, give this one a Rental.
You may say to yourself “Hey…didn’t you review this film last January?” And I would reply “Why, yes, I did!” So why has First Look Pictures chosen to release Strays again, this time in fancy steelbook packaging? I’ve not a freakin’ clue. There is nothing new here in terms of extras, so it seems like a bit of a superfluous release….but there is one redeeming element. Unlike the previous DVD release of this I reviewed, the transfer is no longer a 16×9 image crammed into a 4×3 frame, but, rather, a fully anamorphic interlaced transfer. Video clarity is a bit foggy and hazy at times, but other than that it’s a step up from the previous transfer simply because we don’t have to deal with letterboxed widescreen.
With the anamorphic transfer comes the dropping of a DTS track from the previous release, but I’m not upset; this film is largely dialogue driven, so a DTS track was really just overkill. The audio is what you’d expect from an affair like this, with it occasionally being a bit on the muddy or foggy sounding side of things, but overall you won’t really be straining to hear pieces of dialogue throughout it.
The included making-of documentary (34:44) is a nice lengthy retrospective with plenty of cast and crew interviews to accompany. Diesel has quite a bit of face time on the extra and while the latter half of it is largely just the cast talking about how awesome Diesel is, it’s still a nice little extra. Considering how much Diesel put into this film, I’m surprised he didn’t record a commentary track, but this little extra is a nice bonus regardless.
Whether you pick this DVD release is really dependant on how much you enjoyed the film or how big of a Vin Diesel fan you are. While the making-of documentary is a nice extra, even the new transfer for the film can’t make up for the overall mediocrity of the whole package. At least First Look took it upon themselves to update the video transfer for this Steelbook release, but when it comes down to it, you have to wonder if adding this to your collection just for the Steelbook is worth it. Skip it.
Strays arrives on Steelbook DVD on January 6th.