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Senseless Blu-ray Review

Senseless (1998) movie poster Senseless

Theatrical Release: February 20, 1998 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Penelope Spheeris / Writers: Greg Erb, Craig Mazin

Cast: Marlon Wayans (Darryl Witherspoon), David Spade (Scott Thorpe), Matthew Lillard (Tim LaFlour), Brad Dourif (Dr. Thomas Wheedon), Tamara Taylor (Janice), Rip Torn (Randall Tyson), Richard McGonagle (Robert Bellweather), Esther Scott (Denise Witherspoon), Ken Lerner (Dean Barlow), Kenya Moore (Lorraine), Ernie Lively (Coach Brandau), Debra Jo Rupp (Fertility Clinic Attendant), Vicellous Shannon (Carter), Michael Weatherred (Kern), Jeff Garlin (Arlo Vickers), Orlando Brown (Brandon Witherspoon), Jenette Goldstein (Nurse Alvarez), Patrick Ewing (Himself), Sherman Hemsley (Smythe/Bates Doorman)

Buy Senseless from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD / Buy Senseless Blu-ray at BestBuy.com

A director of indie films, a documentarian of Los Angeles' punk rock scene, and a Season 2 story editor on "Roseanne", Penelope Spheeris perhaps wasn't an obvious choice to helm Wayne's World, but that hit 1992 "Saturday Night Live" comedy benefitted one of Hollywood's few female filmmakers. Spheeris used her newfound clout to direct other major comedy films of the 1990s:
The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals, and the second Chris Farley/David Spade buddy comedy, Black Sheep. All of those movies turned a profit at the box office, but none of them hit the jackpot, nor for that matter did Wayne's World 2, the hasty sequel on which Spheeris evidently passed.

Spheeris' next narrative film would be the 1998 college comedy Senseless, which stands as her last theatrical credit to date. The film stars Marlon Wayans, the youngest brother in the first generation of the African American family of entertainers. Wayans had followed in his siblings' footsteps on "In Living Color", graduated to the WB sitcom "The Wayans Bros." and alongside that began developing a promising big screen career in movies like the urban drama Above the Rim and the Wayans family spoof Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. By the late '90s, Wayans was taking top billing in comedies written and directed by those outside his flourishing family.

Once the side effects wear off, Darryl Witherspoon (Marlon Wayans) is able to enjoy his heightened senses for all their worth.

Senseless stars Wayans as Darryl Witherspoon, a Stratford University senior who is strapped with his debts and those of his poor Chicago family. A smart and ambitious economics major, Darryl takes extreme measures to make ends meet, donating blood under different identities and all the sperm he can muster. An ad looking for students to participate in trials of an experimental drug catches Darryl's eye. A mix of fatigue and desperation leaves him the only subject in the clinical study of Dr. Thomas Wheedon (Brad Dourif). Wheedon's neon green drug, previously tested on rats, aims to heighten one's senses and pays $3,000, but comes with a litany of potential side effects like rectal irritation.

Once the troubling side effects wear off, Darryl starts benefitting from the butt-injected substance. He uses his enhanced vision and hearing to help land a sixth finalist slot in the competition for a junior analyst position at the prestigious Smythe-Bates financial firm. Darryl joins the school's ice hockey team, pledges for a fraternity in defiance of his silver-spooned classmate (David Spade, who, turning 33 the day after filming wrapped, makes for a long in the tooth undergrad), and naturally impresses a pretty girl (Tamara Taylor).

Alas, as always, there are complications. Darryl tries to heighten his senses even further by giving himself a double dose. That backfires, leaving him only able to use four senses. Which four varies, alternately making him impaired visually, aurally, and tangibly (the film doesn't try to make anosmia or ageusia funny). Wayans is competent and comfortable with physical comedy, wholeheartedly embracing the situations through which his hero stumbles. Though predictable, they are diverting enough, saddling Daryl with a messy unintended infidelity and, for reasons it fully explains, a hideous polyester suit for the big day on which Smythe-Bates chooses its junior analyst.

At 32, David Spade is too old, but sufficiently smarmy as wealthy rich rival Scott Thorpe. His vision impaired, Darryl (Marlon Wayans) doesn't realize he's badmouthing Patrick Ewing to Patrick Ewing himself at the end of the Knicks' bench.

While nothing out of the ordinary, Senseless is harmless as far as campus comedies go. Wayans reveals a Will Smith sensibility to himself, playing a cool and fashionable black guy who can make himself at home among white and wealthy folks in professional settings.
The movie kind of feels like The Fresh Prince Goes to College, but Wayans doesn't quite have the appeal or timing of the '90s crossover star. Still, he handles the unexceptional material dutifully.

Senseless features two notable cameos. Then-starting center of the New York Knicks and now Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing appears as himself, who from the bench at Madison Square Garden is unintentionally subjected to unflattering remarks from a visually impaired Darryl. Then, Sherman Helmsley shows up as a doorman in a final scene that nicely but randomly pays homage to "The Jeffersons." In addition, Jeff Garlin of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Pixar voice work makes one of his earliest film appearances as an easily-entertained associate at the Knicks game.

Senseless is written by Greg Erb and Craig Mazin, a team that had previously penned the 1997 Disney comedy RocketMan. Erb seems to have left the business after this, his only subsequent work being a story credit on The Princess and the Frog. Mazin, on the other hand, was among those who took over the Scary Movie franchise after the Wayanses left, penning the third and fourth installments. Those led to Superhero Movie and, less obviously, The Hangover Part II and its upcoming follow-up. In addition, Mazin alone is credited with the screenplay (and shares a story credit) of the current #1 movie in America, the poorly-reviewed but strongly-performing Identity Thief.

Wayans continues to write and act, probably boasting the most diverse filmography of his family, having performed for the likes of Darren Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers. Spheeris has directed TV movies, specials, and a sitcom episode. She has also made the occasional documentary and taken several years off. Theatrical release has eluded her most recent narrative films, the Tom Arnold vehicle The Kid & I (2005) and the male stripper comedy Balls to the Wall (2011).

Grossing $12.9 million on what Wikipedia claims was a $15 M budget, Senseless performed unremarkably in theaters, where it opened in February of 1998. Late next month, it makes its Blu-ray debut in general retail as part of the Miramax library acquired by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. Apparently, though, you don't have to be a critic to get your hands on this disc now; it is quietly and inexpensively available at Best Buy, who gives an exclusive release date of January 27, 2013.

Senseless Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 26, 2013 (Best Buy Exclusive: January 27, 2013)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($6.99 SRP; October 18, 2011)
Previously released by Buena Vista on DVD (December 7, 1999)
and VHS (February 6, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray presents Senseless in 1.78:1, approximating the aspect ratio of its theatrical exhibition.
The picture is mostly clean, but not spotless. The colors seem a little dull, but fine. You definitely notice the high definition detail offered here. Sound is provided exclusively as 2.0 stereo DTS-HD master audio, which is a tad unfortunate, since the film's original DVD was said to have been presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound quality here is good, staying crisp and nicely distributing the score by Swiss electronic band Yello of "Oh Yeah" (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Secret of My Success) fame.

Probably the most disappointing thing about this Blu-ray is its complete lack of subtitles and closed captioning. If you don't lose your sense of hearing during playback, you won't need them, but I feel bad for those who do. A modern movie like this surely has been transcribed in full for a variety of formats and Echo Bridge has occasionally provided subtitles, so it just feels slightly lazy for them to omit what should be a standard touch.

An extensively pierced Matthew Lillard talks from the set of the film's ice hockey scenes in "Play N Hockey." Like the cover art, the Blu-ray's menu renders the drug's bright green color more a Dodger blue.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Lone bonus feature "Play N Hockey" offers 5 minutes and 5 seconds of standard definition B-roll footage from the filming of ice hockey scenes, with Wayans and Matthew Lillard (who plays Wayans' pierced philosophizing hockey-playing Canadian roommate) separately addressing the camera at times in informal interviews.
Though standard EPK content, it's a pretty surprising inclusion, considering it hasn't been found on either Buena Vista's original 1999 DVD or Echo Bridge's 2011 replacement.

The menu plays the end credits song ("Gotta Be... Movin' On Up") while blowing smoke and stars around the ever so slightly animated cover art image. The Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, but does manage to resume unfinished playback of the film, something that continues to elude some of the major studios. The standard blue keepcase holds no insert, but the disc does boast a fitting full-color label.

Academy Award nominee Brad Dourif plays Dr. Thomas Wheedon, the scientist behind Darryl's experimental drug trial. Darryl (Marlon Wayans) vies for Smythe/Bates' junior analyst position in a ridiculous polyester suit.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

No movie collection will feel incomplete without Senseless on Blu-ray. But this silly college comedy has its moments and resists the kind of stupidity you expect is inevitable. That may be enough to make some people part with the few dollars required to own this. Though Echo Bridge's Blu-ray is ordinary and its lack of subtitles and 5.1 sound regrettable, the disc is an upgrade over DVD and very reasonably priced right now.

Buy Senseless from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Buy the Blu-ray now at BestBuy.com

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Related Reviews:
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Marlon Wayans: Norbit | Written by Craig Mazin: The Hangover Part II | Written by Greg Erb: The Princess and the Frog
David Spade: Grown Ups Rules of Engagement: The Complete Fourth Season The Emperor's New Groove Hotel Transylvania
Rip Torn: Men in Black Men in Black II Balloon Farm | Penelope Spheeris: Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
Brad Dourif: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Road Trip Glory Daze Varsity Blues Back to School Now You See Him, Now You Don't Clueless Trading Places Spider-Man
Teen Wolf Ferris Bueller's Day Off Thunderstruck The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Sixth Season

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Reviewed February 13, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1998 Dimension Films, Mandeville Films, Gold/Miller Productions, and 2013 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, Miramax.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.