Have you ever heard of the movie Tenderness before reading this review? Before the DVD showed up on my doorstep, I never knew it existed, and considering who is in it, that’s a little weird.
5 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating
Russell Crowe is a pretty big movie star. He has an Academy Award, and his movies usually have eight-figure openings. He once threw a phone at a guy’s head! Remember that? Only a big star can do crap like that. His presence in a thriller about a serial killer and his admirer should have made a blip on someone’s radar, but it didn’t. Tenderness came and went in theaters (I assume, although it could be direct-to-DVD) without being noticed by me, you, or anyone else. Crowe does, actually, give a nice little performance that fans may enjoy. The movie itself is just so-so.

Eric (Jon Foster) killed his parents as a teen and was sent to youth camp, to be released at age 18. The reasoning seems to be that his parents were religious fanatics, and who doesn’t want to kill people like that, right? Seriously, he was also about 15 and he might have been on some mood medicine. Either way, he’s 18 and about to get out, and Lori (Sophie Traub) can’t wait. She’s 16 and lives with her kinda-slutty mom and her mom’s kinda-molesty boyfriend. That’s how she ends up thinking a killer is sorta cute and maybe she should hide in the back of his car when he drives through upper New York to see a girl he met in the youth camp.

How does Russell Crowe fit into all this? He’s a cop named Cristofuoro who suspects, but can’t prove, that Eric is a psycho. He strangled and had sex with (in that order) at least two teenage girls. The murder of his parents was to keep them quiet when they realized that their son was a nut job. Since Cristofuoro is semi-retired to care for his comatose wife, he spends time tracking Eric on his little jaunt and trying to keep him from killing anyone and getting him into real jail for life.

The movie was adapted from a book by Robert Cormier (The Chocolate War) and tries to show the motivations of each main character, rather than just the cop’s point of view. Although Crowe narrates, in a perfect weary-cop accent, the battle in Eric’s mind is also given an understanding, if not sympathetic, telling. Lori, the most complex character, suffers from the performance by Traub, who doesn’t seem up to the challenge. This may just be a movie that is difficult to adapt, as there are deep, complex emotions and motivations coming out and they often don’t get across very well.

Director John Polson, who is now more heavily involved in television, has crafted an indie movie with a non-indie look. It has the same visual quality as any Sandra Bullock thriller (remember when she did those?) and there is a sense of tension at points, but it doesn’t pull through to the end. During the climactic scene, most people aren’t going to care much about what happens to these characters.

You missed this movie in the theater and you are unlikely to buy it at your local big-box store, Russell Crowe or not. It really comes down to: should you rent it? I would think Crowe’s performance and the unique focus on the serial killer might make it worth a rental if expectations are kept very low.
4 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating
It seems to be a recent trend that all the DVDs I’m reviewing have just one extra. I think this is the third or fourth in a row. Of course, you don’t care about my whining, you just want to see if there is anything worth seeing on this disc, besides the so-so movie.

There is a six-minute making-of featurette that should be subtitled “How to Get Russell Crowe to Be in Your Movie.” Although it also covers the adaptation of the book and the cinematography, Mr. Crowe is the subject of most of the discussion. He doesn’t actually speak himself, but John Polson gives the outline of how the little movie got Crowe. Apparently, Polson, an Aussie, is a friend of Crowe’s and sent him the script. Crowe turned it down, so they bulked up the cop’s part, originally much smaller, and Crowe agreed. So, the first thing you need to do is make friends with Russell Crowe, and then he’ll be in your movie, too!

That’s all you get in terms of extras. Surprising that they didn’t do some on-set interviews with Crowe, but maybe you have to pay extra for that. Either way, it doesn’t add much.

The audio and video quality is good, but Lori and Eric often speak in very low, mumbly voices, and I had turn the volume way up to understand some of the dialogue. Overall, the movie isn’t worth buying and is barely worth renting.

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