Playing God is a hard movie to easily characterize and fits into a number of different genres. Marketed as an action thriller, the movie is much more confidently portrayed as a moral drama set among the seedier side of L.A. The last act does attempt to introduce more typical romance and action into the character piece of the first half, but it does so in such a clumsy manner that it hurts the narrative power of the first two acts. A number of fine acting performances, most notably by David Duchovny in the lead role, salvages the movie from being a completely forgettable experience.

Duchovny plays Dr. Eugene Sands, a disgraced ex-surgeon that lost a patient on the operating table due to his addiction to narcotics and has been suspended as a doctor. Looking for a fix anywhere he can get it, Eugene comes across a psychotic criminal gang boss, Raymond Blossom (Timothy Hutton), and his small crew of counterfeiters. It is here where Eugene meets the beautiful and mysterious Claire (Angelina Jolie before she became a huge star), Raymond’s current girlfriend and business partner.

Through a series of events engineered by Raymond himself, he ensnares Eugene into acting as his medical doctor outside the boundaries of the law. It’s an interesting portrayal as Eugene is not presented as an immoral man at all, but someone whose addictions to power cause him to fall in with the gang. Eugene detests the criminals he has to medically save, but the gratification of being a doctor again trumps his morality and loathing.

What Eugene doesn’t know is that Raymond’s gang is being extensively monitored by the FBI. The story really heats up when the FBI turns Eugene into a snitch on Raymond’s counterfeiting operation. The last act feels much different in tone from the rest of the movie, as it accelerates into an all-out action finale where Eugene turns into an action hero trying to save the girl. The tentative romance between Claire and Eugene is very slow to develop and looks like a last-minute addition to the plot, hurting the overall movie.

It’s all over the map but Playing God is still worth checking out for fans of David Duchovny or Angelina Jolie. Both are superb in their roles and some of the moral dilemmas presented in the first half are worth a rental at the very least. The plot feels somewhat incoherent as the movie reaches its conclusion, but the seedy medical drama and thriller has its share of moments.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Playing God was first released to theaters in 1997. The 94-minute film has received a decent AVC encode on this disc that is free of overt artifacts. It shares a single BD-50 with the other movie on this double-bill, Color Of Night. Mill Creek has scrounged up a solid HD master that looks fairly strong for an unloved catalog title, though there are indications it came from a broadcast master. It goes without saying this disc is a huge improvement in visual quality over the original Buena Vista (Disney) DVD, released back in 1998. The increase in visual clarity is outstanding and makes the DVD’s transfer obsolete.

Originally shot on 35mm film stock, the movie is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 at 1080p. The presence of aliasing and interlacing artifacts in some scenes likely means that Mill Creek used an interlaced broadcast master for the Blu-ray’s source. In encouraging news, the master looks to be a telecine transfer made relatively recently from an interpositive of the film. That includes no major print damage and just the slightest amount of film debris on the print. There has been little to no DNR applied, leaving the movie’s grain and texture intact.

The cinematography is clean and sharp befitting a recent Hollywood production with an A-list cast, once you skip pass the credits. Actual resolution and detail is strong for a transfer sourced from a broadcast master and stands out as one of the stronger images on Blu-ray from Mill Creek. Contrast is spot-on with solid black levels and a neutral color palette, which leaves the flesh-tones looking healthy and pink. Fine object detail is fairly strong in close-ups and the lack of CGI in the drama produces a consistent experience from start to finish.

Note: The disc being reviewed is the Color Of Night / Playing God double-feature, from Mill Creek. At the time of review, there are no solo Blu-rays featuring these films.

Video ★★★★☆

I really wanted to give Playing God four stars for its audio, but completely missing on this BD is the 5.1 surround mix that was found on the movie’s DVD release from Buena Vista (Disney). Instead Mill Creek Entertainment has graced Playing God with a solidly crafted 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. That alone was enough to dock the audio rating by one star. It is suitably aggressive in the action sequences and has excellent fidelity.

There is obviously no surround usage, but the stereo mix is as spacious and pinpoint as two channels will allow. The various Pop songs that play throughout the movie sound nicely balanced with the dialog and one featured Rap song showcases a decent amount of thump to the bass.

A Spanish 2.0 soundtrack in Dolby Digital is the second audio option. English subtitles are included on the disc.

Audio ★★★☆☆

One bonus feature has been included by Mill Creek, the theatrical trailer in SD resolution framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Watching it shows the immense improvement in clarity and definition that the Blu-ray provides over the movie in SD.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

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