Movie Review - Dead on Arrival (2018)

This is the fourth version of this story that's been done. It's the third remake. The previous version was 30 years ago with Dennis Quaid in D.O.A. (1988). The version before that was almost 40 years prior with Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A. (1949). Writer-director Stephen C. Sepher takes a crack at the material and certainly distinguishes himself from the other versions. First is in setting. The whole thing takes place in Louisiana and one definitely feels the swampy, backwoods of that state's infamous bayou. Secondly, the supporting cast is filled with a lot of colorful characters that help to establish a sleazy, if not comical landscape for this narrative as it bounces from person to person. Thirdly, the focus on the protagonist is not what one would expect, given the previous versions. The focus is actually less than probably it should be to have us care about him or his fate.

Billy Flynn (Days of Our Lives) makes his feature debut in a lead role with this movie. If you've seen him on NBC's daytime drama for which he received an Emmy nomination, he's not just your run-of-the-mill, soap stud. He obviously has stunning good looks, complemented by his piercing blue eyes, but he also has incredible charm and humor. None of which get an opportunity for display here. He plays Sam Collins, a man on a business trip who learns he's been poisoned with an incurable toxin and only has 24 hours left to live. Unlike in previous versions, the protagonist was given more time. Previous versions also gave him more health to be able to run around for the majority of the film. Here, Sepher has Sam stumbling like a zombie for most of the movie. It's an acting challenge that Flynn rises to meet but at the same time, it makes his character less of an active participant in the plot as one would expect or desire.

One of the dramatic hooks of this movie as the previous ones is the line of dialogue where a doctor tells a man who's still alive that he's been murdered. It's a shocking thing to hear and to process, but the driving force is that the man then has to solve his own murder. In the 1949 version, the protagonist was his own detective, going around investigating the case and chasing leads rather forcefully. Here, Sam is supplanted with two, actual, police detectives who do a good chunk of the heavy lifting that should have been by Sam. Here, Sam is essentially a ghost and not like Patrick Swayze's Sam in the hit film Ghost (1990).

Sam is dragged from place to place in a way that doesn't unfold the plot in a progressive fashion, step-by-step. Instead, Sam is pulled along until the penultimate scene, which features a huge, exposition dump that's more inartfully handled. Sam is simply not as active a character here that we need to care about him. He becomes just another cog in a wheel of criminal machinations and cover-ups that ultimately don't add up to much.

In the 1949 version, the protagonist had a woman whom he loved that was active in the plot. Sam presumably has a wife and children. He even carries a photo of his two children, but neither are active characters in the plot. We don't even learn their names, so it's difficult for us to build empathy for Sam. We do get to see Sam naked, which fans of Billy Flynn will appreciate, but his character has a one-night-stand. Sadly, the movie never lets us know how Sam feels about it. Does he feel guilty or is this just one of several one-night-stands he's had? We never know.

Instead, the movie becomes more about the quirky characters Sam encounters along the way. Those characters bring a lot of the comedy here. The reliance on those characters indicate that Sepher intended this movie to be more humorous or even a spoof or satire of the original 1949 version, almost in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. If that was his intention, the movie would have worked better if he perhaps leaned into that more. Lillo Brancato plays Zanca and Anthony Sinopoli plays Conte. Zanca and Conte are the veritable Rosencrantz and Guildernstern of this movie.

D.B. Sweeney (Chi-Raq and Taken 2) who plays Detective Spiro and Nazo Bravo who plays Detective Naroyan are also their own comedy duo. The dynamic feels similar to many buddy cop movies, but most recently the dynamic in Hell or High Water (2016). Spiro makes fun of Naroyan being Armenian in the same way that Jeff Bridges' character made fun of Gil Birmingham's character for being Native American in that 2016 film, except here it doesn't come off as racist.

Tyson Sullivan plays Deputy Walker who practically steals the movie. He rises as an interesting antagonist that the original version never had. He's not bringing humor. He's bringing menace. He's comparable to the character of Chester from the 1949 movie, but Deputy Walker appears to have a bit more nuance than Chester had.

What's weird though is that by the end of the movie, it's revealed that if Sam had not done anything and not done what the script compels, he would have been fine. The film should have done more to underscore that wrinkle or else it makes the whole narrative feel pointless.

Not Rated but contains violence, sexual situations and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.

Available on DVD and VOD.


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