2 Days in the Valley Blu-ray Review: Not Quite Pulp Fiction

It’s hard to overstate the change that Pulp Fiction made on mid-budgeted filmmaking in the early ’90s. It’s not like Quentin Tarantino was the only independent voice in filmmaking. He wasn’t the weirdest, and it’s a matter of argument whether he was the most talented. But Pulp Fiction had a difference: it was entertaining. Not all indie cinema is to a general audience. And it made money. Lots of money.

There were a lot of lessons that could have been taken from its success. But Hollywood being Hollywood, they found the most reductive: people want quirky crime stories. So quirky crime stories became the new indie cinema. Some worked a treat, like The Usual Suspects. Some… were okay. Like 2 Days in the Valley.

2 Day in the Valley, directed and written by John Herzfeld, apes some aspects of Pulp Fiction. It has hitmen. It has a multi-character story. Its narrative is not non-linear, but jumps from character to character, only finding the connections later. Actually, the storytelling feels more like TV than cinema.

Which isn’t a surprise since this was only Herzfeld’s second feature film after more than a decade of directing television. One of his characters is a TV director who, after having fallen flat in making a feature film, is ready to kill himself. Now, thankfully, 2 Days in the Valley isn’t so bad to call for that, but…

The story starts with a pair of hitmen. They’re surveilling a divorced couple. The husband is staying over at the exes’ house and trying to get back together again. At least physically. She (Teri Hatchet) is still furious about his affair with a Nordic Blonde. They fall asleep, and after some elaborate shenanigans, the hitmen come in, drug her and kill him.

And then hitman Lee (James Spader) shoots hitman Dosmo (Danny Aiello) in the stomach, blows up the car, and runs off with that Nordic Blonde. But he didn’t know Dosmo was wearing a bulletproof jacket, and escaped the car to end up at the residence of an art dealer who just passed a kidney stone. Whose half-sister is a nurse, who happens to meet our previously mentioned suicidal director at a cemetery where he tries to give her his dog. This is quirkiness. It continues.

There’s a pair of vice cops. Eric Stolz and Jeff Daniels, playing Wes and Alvin, respectively. Wes thinks vice is small beer compared to homicide and resents shaking down massage parlors for arrests. Alvin is obsessed with keeping the Valley clean. Whores are for downtown and Santa Monica, not where he raises his kids.

Given Pulp Fiction as the template, all these disparate characters are to intersect in unpredictable ways (though they’re pretty predictable given a moment’s thought). The question is the quality of the connections, and the quality of the characters.

The connections are largely coincidental. The characters… are okay. The suicidal director is sad. The older hitman believes in honor. The younger one is a psychopath. The Nordic Blonde is Charlize Theron, 21 years old with a topless sex scene. So that might be worth a recommendation right there.

But what hold 2 Days in the Valley back is the writing. One of Quentin Tarantino’s major influences is Elmore Leonard. Jackie Brown is, of course, an adaptation of Leonard’s Rum Punch. And Leonard’s formula is largely to bring together a confluence of odd characters and violent crime and see how they interact. 2 Days in the Valley takes that formula but introduces an element that confounds it: sentiment. The scenes with the director should be pathetic. They’re poignant. Alvin the vice cop has a touching segment about his estranged children, but it goes nowhere and does nothing.

Some of the best scenes come near the film’s ending, where it develops some edge and nastiness. Here, emotional sentiment can have meaning because it confronts real violence and evil. But for its Tarantino-aping pretense, too much of 2 Days in the Valley feels like a TV-movie version of Pulp Fiction.

But, if you’re already a fan and think I just don’t get it, this is a great release. I believe it is the first time the film has come out on Blu-ray, and the transfer, a 4k scan from the camera negative, looks fantastic.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this movie. There’s not a bad performance. Absurdly, Teri Hatcher got a golden raspberry for her performance. I think she’s fine, and frankly beautiful to look at (as, of course, is young Charlize). James Spader is deliciously creepy, and Danny Aiello has a fun, grounded performance. I wish the dialogue were funnier. I wish the scenario had more edge and bite. The cinematography and direction are all competent, but never transcendent. 2 Days in the Valley is an okay crime film that, to use a weird phrase, ends better than it middles. When the scenario comes to its conclusion, it stops being a quirky demi-comedy and understands that crime and violence are awful and have consequences. I wish it had that focus through the film’s entire runtime.

2 Days in the Valley has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Extras include an audio commentary by the writer director, a Conversation between Sylvester Stallone and John Herzfeld (36 min), where the two discuss the film (though Stallone is not in it.) There’s also a “Q&A at Cinefamily” (31 min) with Charlize Theron, Glenn Headly, and John Herzfeld, an archive featurette “The Making of 2 Days in the Valley” (8 min), B-roll (8 min), Soundbites (18 min) and a trailer.

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Kent Conrad

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