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DVD Review: The Code (2009)

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“Some people were born to compose music. Others to split the atom. I was born to steal shit.”

Also known as Thick As Thieves, The Code is a low-budget heist thriller that was co-produced by the Germans and partially shot in Bulgaria. It’s the kind of film you would expect Wesley Snipes to star in. Instead, The Code employs the talents of Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas as its leads. Now, I’m well aware that Antonio Banderas’ mainstream career went spiraling into the snoozer movie void (the mid-90s, immediately after Desperado), but when the hell did Morgan Freeman fall off of the A-Movie list? Last I knew, he was still holding his own against some of Hollywood’s best and brightest (well, with the exception of Wanted, of course).

Oh, well — so The Code is a low-budget heist flick. Big whoop, right? Actually — and here’s where I disagree with most of who have given their two-cents worth on the movie — I found it to be an enjoyable low-budget heist flick. So, yeah, I guess that is cause for a big whoop. While it isn’t doesn’t benefit from having the most original (or even seamless) of stories, The Code played through quite well with me, despite my prior expectations that the film was going to be complete and utter crap.

So, how did it wind up being as fun as I found it to be? Well, without a doubt, it’s the cast. Morgan Freeman plays Ripley (believe it or not — sorry), a masterful-but-aging art thief. After teaming up with a “younger” thief named Gabriel Martin (Antonio Banderas — who is pushing 50), the two plot to break into a heavily secured jewelers in New York City (most of the exterior shots are in NYC, so don’t worry: they’re not trying to pass Bulgaria off as the Big Apple like some movies do). The goal of the heist is for Ripley and Martin to get their hands on two missing Faberge Eggs. And, if the job isn’t done, the big bad boss (portrayed by the big bad Rade Serbedzija) is going to start passing bullets around, beginning with Ripley’s goddaughter Alex (Radha Mitchell). On top of it all, Ripley’s longtime nemesis, police Lt. Weber (the great Robert Forster) is planning to catch the thief red-handed once and for all.

Like I said, it’s the cast that keeps The Code from being another Wesley Snipes kind of film. Morgan Freeman always manages to deliver a believable performance, no matter how unbelievable the material he’s working with (see: Wanted). Antonio Banderas also does a good job — although he does tend to overstep the line a bit here and there. And, while, Radha Mitchell doesn’t do a thing for me one way of the other, it’s always nice to see Robert Forster and Rade Serbedzija phoning in a couple of performances.

The Code also benefits from some more-than-half-way decent direction by Mimi Leder, who also brought us Deep Impact, Pay It Forward, and The Peacemaker. She also worked on (Spawn Of The) Slithis and A*P*E in the '70s, giving her some much-needed brownie points with we retro B-Horror film buffs.

The Code makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. courtesy First Look Studios in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation with anamorphic enhancement. The image comes through quite well, with not a whole lot of grain present and a well-balanced color system. Audio-wise, the DVD carries a more-than-adequate English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and a 2-Channel English track (which isn’t listed on the box). Some very large and obtrusive optional English SDH subtitles are included, as are some (less-distracting) Spanish ones.

Apart from a few trailers for other First Look releases, the only bonus item here is a god-awful preview for The Code. The trailer — in which the music drowns out the dialogue — is very poorly constructed and will undoubtedly put off just about any potential viewer. Apparently, the editors of the preview couldn’t decide what the hell the movie was called (some cheapo video credits display The Code, while the final still (although the writing is very tiny) reveals the name to be Thick As Thieves — make up your mind already!).

Frankly, I’m uncertain whether they were trying to win or lose money with this release: the artwork is very generic-looking; the film was hyped with a confusing TellX enhancement (available only on the Best Buy release of the film); and there was that god-awful preview to boot. I‘m sorry, even a low-budget film like this deserves better than that — especially with stars of this caliber (has-been or otherwise). And, I didn’t think it was that bad of a film, either.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.