Dead on Start

Where do all the female reindeer go when Santa and the male reindeer go away? They head in to town and blow a few bucks - Sydney Fuller

Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid in D.O.A. (1988)

In fairness I have not seen the 1950 version of "D.O.A." so making comparisons is impossible, all I know is that the 1950 version was a film-noir. As to the 1988 remake or reimagination and I say reimagination for a reason, well this is 80s neo-noir, taking a thriller concept and giving it 80s style. That 80s style may have been great back at the end of the 80s but watching the 1988 version of "D.O.A." now is an experience which borders on the painful. To put it simply it feels forced, the intrigue of the story feels forced, the styling feels forced and so do the characters to the point it almost feels like a spoof-noir.

English Professor Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid - Innerspace) finds himself drawn in to a strange mystery when the day after one of his students appears to commit suicide he wakes up thinking he has a hangover but discovers he has been poisoned and has maybe 48 hours to live. With the help of Sydney Fuller (Meg Ryan - Top Gun), another student, he tries to discover who poisoned him as well as why and in doing so uncovers more than he expected and unfortunately finds himself surrounded by more deaths as secrets and lies come out.

Charlotte Rampling as Mrs. Fitzwaring in D.O.A. (1988)

"D.O.A." could have started so well as we have a black & white pallet and a man stumbling into a police station in a bad way where he says he's been killed. It would be a great lead in with a film-noir element of him recalling the past few days as to how he ended up there except we have the 80s electro rock music which makes it feel wrong. That element of confusion and mystery as well as subtlety disappears under a heavy electric drum beat and power chords being pushed out in a cringe worthy way.

Now as you expect this opening then takes us back to about two days earlier and into the life of English Professor Dexter Cornell teaching a class where we have the contrast of it being sweltering hot yet winter and that feels forced as if it is trying too hard to create a sweltering atmosphere and tension brought on through the heat. What follows well lets say it goes all over the place as first a student dies, then the next day Cornell wakes up with what seems a hangover but as he discovers he has been poisoned and has maybe 48 hours to live. Looking to solve the mystery of who poisoned him we follow Cornell as he goes from one suspect to another often ending up with someone dying and the mystery becoming more convoluted as one death connects to another till he learns a shocking revelation or two. Plus he is aided by pretty student Sydney which allows us for a brief steamy scene between Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.

The irony of this is, is that whilst the story ends up a bit of a convoluted construction with a fair few conveniences it does work to lead us on this take of mystery and revelations. And the actual revelations whilst a little bit obvious are just as good because they have a bit of build up, they just need fleshing out some more. But it is all ruined by everything about "D.O.A." being forced. The way Cornell goes from one clue to the next is forced and so is the heavy styling, in fact the heavy styling is a prime reason why "D.O.A." struggles and often feels like a spoof.

That forced styling also affects the characters because as we follow Cornell he becomes more and more like a walking cliche, stumbling, slurring, collapsing and growling with no real believability. It is a shame as Dennis Quaid does deliver all of this well but then for me it is all wrong. It is the same with all the characters and there are a few and every single character feels like a forced caricature, a classic film-noir character over acted with terrible dialogue to boot.

What this all boils down to is that maybe back in the 80s "D.O.A." worked because I am sure the heavy styling and forced neo-noir styling proved entertaining and something different. But watching it now over 20 years later it feels almost spoof like as forced becomes corny and uninteresting.

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