Well, there’s a subtle truth to filmmaking that never quite gets reported on. Regular folks like you and me? We might speak it behind-the-scenes or while we’re shuffling through the video store looking for the latest, greatest release to take home and give a spin. That truth is this: the longer it takes for any release to find it’s way into wide release, usually the less quality one can expect. For the record, it looks like JESSE was shot in 2011. Now – in 2014 – it’s finding a spot on the shelves.
What do you make of that?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Jesse (Stephanie Finochio) is a troubled cop who copes with her unlucky past by drinking too much. When her brother gets involved with some Mafia lowlifes and disappears, Jesse investigates and finds herself drawn into a world of crime, corruption, and violence. An understanding bartender (Eric Roberts), Internal Affairs detective (Armand Assante), and all-powerful Godfather (William Forsythe) are pulling her in different direction …)
There’s more, but methinks you get the gist of this. JESSE is a ‘good cop, bad cop’ direct-to-DVD crime thriller (never a good thing), but in this case the good cop just happens also to be the bad cop … and by bad cop I mean the type of officer who’s always doing the wrong things for the right reasons. The story by Fred Carpenter (who also directs and produces), Paul Regina, and Joanne Tamburro pulls every possible cliché from the screenwriter’s trashcan and layers it thick with more F-bombs one might expect from a Lindsay Lohan birthday party. And because it’s all delivered with the usual post-Sopranos streetwise charm it feels more like edited B-roll from that HBO highwater mark.
Essentially, what you have here is a bloated vanity project – one which looks like to have been masterminded by Carpenter – which somehow got off the ground and managed to bring in some recognizable talent (Roberts, Assante, and Forsythe) in order to establish street cred for Stephanie Finochio’s breakthrough performance. The trouble is that Finochio’s work really isn’t ‘breakthrough’ caliber. It’s fine for what it was, but it’s entirely forgettable once the credits roll. And – for the record – Assante’s only in this for a single scene! (I think Forsythe had three or four, and Roberts may’ve had two … but he did get to ‘dance’ with the star.)
Disappointingly, the film’s last scene shows what writer/director/producer Carpenter missed throughout the entire shoot: there was a palpable spark between Forsythe and Finochio! Granted, the camera is set up so that most of the time Forsythe’s knowing smile is all that you see, but the two shared an obvious chemistry in those moments. Furthermore, had that reality honestly been exploited by a good script then (and only then) might JESSE have had a chance to break through. Are you kidding me? A crazy hot bad@ss chick sharing the screen with the Godfather of all modern knock-off Godfathers? There could’ve been a contender!
JESSE (2011) is produced by Jesse Film Company. DVD distribution is being handled by Arc Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Well, the film is fairly well shot from start-to-finish; it certainly didn’t have the best sound work, but I’ll admit I’ve heard far worse mixes on DVD. As for the cinematography? Director Fred Carpenter sadly captures it all with a made-for-TV appeal. If you’re looking for special features, then I’ll give you bad news: there are none.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. JESSE feels little more like a production of the Goombah Community Players. If you like crime thrillers, then you might find some sublime charm in it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arc Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of JESSE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more