(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because it's one of those forgotten well-done genre thrillers that simply never caught on, that deserves a re-appraisal and new cult status here on its 15th anniversary. Because it's one of the first big high-profile projects by genre master David Koepp, penner of other "almost cult" stories as The Trigger Effect, Stir of Echoes, Brian DePalma's Snake Eyes and the old television series Hack (and wow, talk about forgotten gems), as well as such legitimate blockbusters as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and War of the Worlds (and we won't hold Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull against him). Because it's one of a growing amount of old genre cult films now available through Netflix's streaming "instant movie" service, perfect for falling asleep to at night or playing in the background on a Sunday afternoon.
The reality: Wow, do I love this movie! And I'm certainly not the only one, it turns out; just mentioning it over at Facebook last week inspired several comments there sympathetic to my own "forgotten classic" thoughts. Because make no mistake, like with much of Koepp's work, this is almost more appropriate as an academic exercise in constructing the perfect three-act story, to be taught in college classes in southern California; but I'm one of many who feels that when a highly well-done genre script is brought together with above-average direction, acting and cinematography, the result is rightly what we should consider a "classic" that can be watched over and over again. That's what I was thinking, anyway, while catching the streaming version last weekend as I was doing computer chores at the same time; that despite having seen this something like 40 or 50 times now, it's still a surprisingly fun thing to watch yet again, mostly because of the pitch-perfect tone the film achieves as far as combining a sincere genre serial with a knowing wink to the audience. And this is no fluke, of course; this is what Koepp has precisely gone on to be known for, for churning out well-done genre scripts that take themselves not too seriously but just exactly seriously enough. It's important that you watch the film with this mindset, the same one you had for, say, another of Koepp's screenplays, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man; and I just guess audiences in 1994 weren't ready to, although I suspect that a lot more people now are.
If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've thought it was going to be the start of the next great "Indiana Jones" style franchise...which apparently the producers did as well, infamously planning an entire series of sequels and spinoff products before the film had even come out, all of which were quickly canceled after the original brutally tanked at the box office.
Strangest piece of trivia: The actual "Shadow" character has had almost no sense of story continuance over the years, as the details of its universe have been changed by each medium that has taken it on, from pulps to comics to radio to television, movies and more; Koepp attempted here to weld all the details of these clashing universes together for the very first time in a series of complicated ways, and nearly every building number and street name you see in the '94 movie has a historical connection to one of the earlier Shadow serials.
Worth your time? If you're a fan of very well-done genre movies, nearly perfect three-act storylines, and Depression-Era Art Deco, by all means.