Don't Come Knocking

(2006) * 1/2 R
122 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Wim Wenders. Cast: Fairuza Balk, Eva Marie Saint, Mike Butters, Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange.

European quirk-meister Wim Wenders re-teams with Sam Shepard on Don't Come Knocking, a misfire about being lost and lonely in the American West. Shepard, who wrote the screenplay, plays washed-up Western star Howard Spence, who goes AWOL from his latest picture and hits the road, a bond-company investigator (Tim Roth) on his trail. For the first time in thirty years, the prodigal son visits his mother (Eva Marie Saint). She asks him about his kid, but it's news to Howard, so he heads for Montana to look up old flame Jessica Lange.

In Butte, sad young adults Gabriel Mann and Sarah Polley find themselves similarly unsettled by Howard's arrival; the former is a Chris Isaak-esque singer and the latter carries her mother around in an urn. Eventually, the understandably skeptical Lange works herself up to a minor snit ("You're a coward, Howard! Ha! That rhymes, doesn't it?!") before the plot reaches its foregone conclusions. Wenders tinges the story with pointlessly absurd touches and jokey edits, but if the tone is wrong for the material, it's also the only thing holding interest. In the film's best scene, Roth interrogates Lange about potatoes. Unfortunately such moments are rare. Roth and Sarah Polley are the only actors who register; the rest seem as if they're acting for ESL students.

Beloved executive music producer T Bone Burnett oversees the music, and Franz Lustig's vibrant western photography is certainly appealing, but even the screen reunion of Shepard and Lange fails to touch credible depths (and how is that possible?), while the message goes no deeper than the failure of fame, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling to replace love and family. In the telling, Wenders cumulatively offers little more than a grab bag of appealing actors and imagery painted in pretty colors. Perhaps Wenders, like Howard, has strayed too far from home.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 8/8/2006

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment delivers a special edition of Don't Come Knocking that allows Wim Wenders and others to make a strong case for the picture (although author-star Shepard is all but absent in the bonus features). A stellar hi-def transfer does right by Franz Lustig's beautiful vistas, and the 5.1 audio track soundly presents the dialogue and T-Bone Burnett's song-filled soundtrack.

Wenders provides a world-class screen-specific commentary that hardly ever lets up; with a well-timed stream of patter, the director comments on the locations and actors as they appear. Wenders shares trivia (for insurance reasons, Shepard's son Jesse doubled his dad on any riding faster than a trot); reveals his favorite American locale (Butte), painter (Edward Hopper), and novel (Red Harvest); and tells great stories about Shepard and Lange, Roth, and Saint. The director notes that it's still his "dream to make a real comedy one day" and explains how he and Shepard arrived at the film's title. Wenders refers to a few deleted scenes that, unfortunately, don't appear on the disc as he claims.

"Don't Come Knocking NYC Premiere—DGA Theater: 3-9-06" (18:21) offers the pre-screening paparazzi walk and film intro. by Wenders, followed by a Q&A with Wenders, Mann, and Lange. "Don't Come Knocking: Sundance Film Festival 2006" gives a feel for the film's presence at the fest, including brief talking-head interviews with Polley, Mann, Balk, Shepard, and Wenders and the cast and crew appearance at a screening of the film. "Interview with Wim Wenders & Eva Marie Saint" (4:59) observes the pair enduring crappy questions, apparently from a junketeer. These featurettes are welcome promotional glimpses, but the first is the only one to deliver much substantial behind-the-scenes information.

Rounding out the disc are previews for Quinceañera, Friends with Money, L'Enfant, Art School Confidential, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Caché, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili, Why We Fight, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Lies and Alibis. Though the commentary is arguably more entertaining and insightful than the feature, Wenders fans will surely want to pick up this disc for deeper knowledge of the unique film artist.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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