Columbus Circle opens with a tantalizingly spooky sequence. An old woman wakes with a start in the middle of the night, sensing a presence in her dark bedroom. Shadows dart around, possibly caused by movement outside the window, but more likely from someone inside the room. Fumbling around to turn on a light, the lamp cord is mysteriously unplugged. Next, a gloved hand snatches the woman’s glasses from the nightstand. Just as she manages to turn on a flashlight, we see her attacker as he closes in on her.
The scene is well staged, playing on the common fear of home invasion. That the defenseless woman lives in a luxury high rise apartment with a supposedly secure, guarded entry only makes the scene scarier. The woman is found dead, inspiring mixed feelings in Abigail (Selma Blair) who lives across the hall. A filthy rich heiress, Abigail is an agoraphobic shut-in. While she’s somewhat dismayed by the woman’s passing, she’s even more interested in buying the now-vacant apartment in order to prevent any new neighbors from moving in. To be fair, the police initially believe the death was accidental – simply an ill elderly woman who took a nasty fall. But Abigail becomes a person of interest herself after being questioned by a detective.
Columbus Circle gets off to a surprisingly good start. Director George Gallo, blessed with a solid cast that includes Beau Bridges, Jason Lee, Amy Smart, Giovanni Ribisi, and Kevin Pollack (who co-wrote the script with Gallo), establishes a moody, Hitchcockian tone. Brian Tyler’s sinister score goes a long ways toward reinforcing this atmosphere. Unfortunately, things quickly fall apart as the plot unfolds. It’s nearly impossible to discuss further plot details without getting into spoilers, but the problem is the filmmakers manage to spoil the film’s biggest surprises by telegraphing them well in advance. What could have been clever twists are explained in such a bluntly obvious manner, all potential suspense is effectively removed.
Suffice it to say, Abigail does not get her way as a strange couple moves into the deceased woman’s apartment. Charles (Lee) is an unpredictable, and sometimes abusive, alcoholic. When Abigail witnesses his brutal treatment of wife Lillian (Smart), she is moved to finally venture out of her apartment for the first time in years to offer assistance. Abigail’s long-suffering psychiatrist (he’s on-call 24/7) is relieved to hear of this apparent progress. But the more involved Abigail becomes, the more entangled she becomes in a convoluted web of deceit. The whole affair becomes impossible to believe as coincidences and too-convenient occurrences pile up. The movie is ultimately forgettable nonsense, but at eighty-six minutes it goes by pretty painlessly. Still, it’s a real missed opportunity.
The Blu-ray presentation of Columbus Circle is decent without being flashy in any way. The 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer is framed at 2.40:1. Much of the movie takes place in the dark, shadowy confines of the apartment building. Black levels are solid, though considerable detail is lost during the darkest sequences. The brighter scenes reveal a suitable amount of fine detail as well as natural, though muted, colors. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is similarly workmanlike but more than acceptable for a direct-to-video throwaway. Even the quietest whispered dialogue is crystal clear. The “boo” moments jump out exactly as they should, goosing the viewer from all channels. Brian Tyler’s score effectively fills the stereo spectrum, with pulse-pounding bass driving the more action-oriented scenes.
Universal’s Columbus Circle Blu-ray offers absolutely nothing in the way of supplemental features. A commentary from writer-director George Gallo might have shed some light on why such strange, suspense-killing storytelling was employed. But alas, without the benefit of such a feature we’ll likely never know. Considering this film basically wastes the viewer’s time, maybe that’s for the better.