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Without question, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE ($20) is my favorite Albert Brooks movie. While death is not exactly a ripe topic for comedy, Brooks' humorous take on the hereafter has plenty of appeal. Heck, if people actually went where the main character of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE goes after their deaths, I don't think most folks would mind dying as much as they do. The thought of being able to eat as much of the best tasting food, as I wanted certainly has its appeal- perhaps shuffling off this mortal coil isnít such a high price to pay.

In DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, Brooks portrays Daniel Miller, an insecure, but likable schlep. Just moments into the film, Daniel is killed in a head on collision with a bus, while trying to pick up some CDs from the floor of his brand new car, instead of paying attention to the road. After his death, Daniel arrives in Judgement City, which looks very much like the world he left behind- only nicer. As it turns out, Judgement City is a processing center where people's lives are evaluated to determine if they should move forward to the next level of existence, or go back to Earth and have another crack at living. Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), who is Danielís council that the evaluation process is something like a trial, in which the recently departed must to defend the life they left behind. How the individual dealt with fear is the criteria for the "trial." In essence the judges have to determine if the individual was a victims of their fears, or did they overcome their fears and lived life to its fullest. Unfortunately, defending Daniel's life proves to be something of a challenge, because his numerous insecurities give prosecutor Lena Foster (Lee Grant) plenty of fodder to prove that hasn't overcome any of his fears. Although his "trial" isnít going that well, during his free time Daniel finds unexpected romance with a vivacious woman named Julia (Meryl Streep), who will definitely be moving forward.

Anyone familiar with Albert Brooksí other films will recognize Daniel as the same neurotic character that the writer/director/star has played in every other one of his movies. Of course, Brooks has perfected the character; continually tapping what appears to be a bottomless well of material. Meryl Streep is so wonderfully appealing as Julia that her performance seems completely effortless. In fact, it is Streepís exuberant portrayal of Julia that makes DEFENDING YOUR LIFE float as though the movie itself were lighter than air. The cast of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE also includes Buck Henry, Mary Pat Gleason, George D. Wallace, Lillian Lehman and Shirley MacLaine.

Warner Home Video has made DEFENDING YOUR LIFE available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. There is no visual razzle-dazzle in the movie, so the transfer is as good as the original photography will allow; therefore, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE has a modestly crisp and reasonably well-defined image. Some shots are a little soft, but it is never too bad. The colors have a relatively natural saturation, with normal looking flesh tones. Chromatic distortion is not a problem on this disc. Blacks seem fine and the contrast is fairly good. The film element displays an occasional blemish and there is very little by way of noticeable grain. Digital compression artifacts always remain in check.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack decodes to standard surround and DEFENDING YOUR LIFE features an unremarkable comedy mix. There is a modest amount of channel separation in the forward soundstage, but it is clean and pronounced. The surround channels kicks in on a few occasions to provide some ambient fill and nice environmental sound effects. Since almost all of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE is dialogue driven, itís a good thing that the actors' voices are fully intelligible. Michael Goreís engaging score sounds pleasant at average listening levels. A French surround track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer and cast biographies/filmographies.

As far as movies go, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE is a joy. The DVD looks and sounds just fine, making it a definite acquisition for Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep fans.


Defending Your Life



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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