Stiletto (2008)
By: Craig Villinger on April 3, 2009  | 
DVD
Paramount (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 95 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Nick Vallelonga
Starring: Tom Berenger, Michael Biehn, Stana Katic, Paul Sloan, William Forsythe
Screenplay: Paul Sloan
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Without even reading the synopsis I knew Stiletto was a movie I had to get acquainted with. Just look at that cover art - a provocatively attired sexpot packing twin handguns; a cast of once prominent actors, all presumably playing sleaze balls just ripe for the killing; and of course the word "Revenge" in capitol letters. Women? Firearms? REVENGE? Sounds like the ingredients for the perfect movie if you ask me. The OFLC's promise of "High Level Violence" that could only be viewed by those over the age of 18 was the final sweetener. I was sold. Get thee to a DVD player, pronto!

A mysterious Russian immigrant (Stana Katic) armed with a massive switchblade knife is carving a path of retributive violence through a big city's criminal underbelly, and the bodies all seem to be linked to crime boss Virgil "The Greek" (Tom Berenger), who she also tries to bump-off in the opening sequence, but fails. Not looking forward to a second taste of her titular weapon Virgil brings in Beck (screenwriter Paul Sloan pulling double duties), a shady detective, to track her down before the more honest cops can get a hold of her. A game of chasey ensues as Beck and some of Virgil's underlings search through the city's nooks and crannies for the minxish assassin, while she continues to slice, dice and julienne various crooked low life's at her leisure.

So why is this woman so pissed off? Well, finding that out is all part of the journey, but I'll say this - Stiletto isn't just another rape/revenge story. Well, actually, in a way I suppose it is, but hey, the vengeful character's primary motivation is shrouded in mystery until the final act, so I'll give away no more than that for now.

The film is capably directed by low budget genre jumper Nick Vallelonga, who previously gave us the unique indie sci-fi/serial killer hybrid Disturbance a few years back, among others. Here he's clearly been given a few more gold coins than usual to play with, and although Stiletto never looks like more than a straight-to-video thriller and is occasionally flawed by a muddled storyline and a lot of lousy dialogue, it is a fairly slick piece of work that utilizes a number of lavish locations when the cast are enjoying the high-life and suitably dingy locations when they are doing their dirtiest work, and also features a healthy smattering of over-the-top violence, occasional injections of chuckle worthy humour, and a collection of mostly reprehensible characters brought to life by a cast of recognizable names. While the two central characters are played by virtual nobodies, a whole bunch of familiar faces can be glimpsed throughout the film, including Tom Berenger (who does get a lot of screen time and sports a Brando-esque puffiness), The Terminator's Michael Biehn (playing a foul mouthed psycho who tortures D.B Sweeney with a belt sander at one point), William Forsythe (speaking in a bad accent), James Russo, Dominique Swain, Diane Venora, Kelly Hu (she'll probably be remembered for her scuffle with Wolverine in X-Men 2, but I prefer to remember her as the slutty, drug taking high school student that was throttled by Jason on the dance floor in Jason Takes Manhattan), and Tom Sizemore (who now seems to be making a living from low rent stuff like this after working with directors like Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Tony and Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann in the past). With a cast of names like that I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Dennis Hopper and Eric Roberts to show up unannounced at some point as well, but sadly neither of them made an appearance.

The cover art, and the "REVENGE Never Looked So Good" tagline are clearly trying to market this as a sexy revenge thriller, but Stiletto has very little in common with the likes of Angel of Vengeance and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, feeling more like a standard urban crime/gangster fillum instead with a multi layered story that frequently ignores its flimsy central revenge premise to focus on the inner workings of Berenger's criminal empire and the varied schemings of his closest underlings. The actual revenge seeker herself doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, with the bad guys hogging much of the frame.

That's not to say revenge doesn't play a part in this movie though – in fact the wronged Russian vixen does pop-up at regular intervals to stick her over sized blade into nefarious criminal types, and when she does we are shown some surprisingly nasty kills that wouldn't look out of place in a slasher movie, although the violence does occasionally veer towards the farcical side and loses some of its impact at times, particularly when one character has a type wrench rammed through his skull. What is she, Supergirl?

Is it engrossing? Hardly, but if you don't mind a scatter-shot story punctuated with moments of squirty violence and the sight of a whole bunch of recognisable actors slumming it in DTV purgatory you should be able to absorb Stiletto's run time comfortably.
Video
Framed at 2.35:1 (an aspect ratio that is becoming increasingly popular among straight to video productions in this widescreen friendly modern era) and enhanced for your 16:9 display, Stiletto looks acceptable at best. Any faults are no doubt due to the HD shooting format rather than DVD authoring issues, but overall Stiletto's image was a little soft, with several darker moments sporting a layer of "shot on video" fuzz. For the better part of the movie however everything was clear and artefact free, if not overwhelmingly sharp and colourful.
Audio
The 5.1 sound mix is reasonably good. Dialogue scenes take up a fair chunk of the film, and the spoken words coming from the front of the sound stage are always clear and easy to understand. When the gunfire and/or car chase action kicks-in though you'll certainly notice a pronounced increase in rear channel activity.
Extra Features
Our options begin and end with a non-anamorphic trailer for Stiletto.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Sure, it's a clichéd and unfocused revenge tale that often gets lost in its own machinations, but as a slickly produced piece of b-grade exploitation that earns it R18+ classification with several gory knife killings that would make Jason and big Mikey proud it just earns a passing mark. A vanilla DVD presentation makes the overall package a renter rather than a keeper though.

It should also be noted that despite the eye catching cover art the central character does not blaze away with twin handguns at any point, so John Woo fetishists may find the DVD slick slightly misleading.

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