'Dead on Arrival': Film Review

Has a pulse.

A man desperately tries to find out who fatally poisoned him in Stephen C. Sepher's thriller inspired by the film noir classic 'D.O.A.'

Director-screenwriter Stephen C. Sepher seems to have missed an opportunity with his new thriller inspired by the classic 1949 film noir D.O.A., starring Edmond O'Brien. Rehashing the storyline of a man who's been fatally poisoned desperately trying to uncover the identity of his killer, Dead on Arrival should have pointed the finger at the obvious suspect, Vladimir Putin. It certainly would have made the film timelier.   

This low-budget effort is unlikely to erase anyone's memories of its classic B-movie inspiration, or even the inferior 1988 remake starring Dennis Quaid. But taken on its own terms, it's not bad.

Sepher, who previously wrote and directed the Robert De Niro starrer Heist, provides a Southern spin to the familiar tale. Set in New Orleans, the proceedings drip with a steamy humidity that somehow makes everyone look guilty, which only adds to the fun.

The story revolves around Sam Collins (Billy Flynn, Days of Our Lives), a pharmaceutical sales rep specializing in (irony alert) vaccines, who heads down South for a business meeting with the shady Dr. Alexander (Billy Slaugher, oozing smarminess). Attending the doc's New Year Eve's dinner party, Sam meets a variety of colorful characters and winds up in bed with the beautiful Jessie (Christa B. Allen).

Driving on the highway the next morning, Sam is forced to pull over when he experiences crippling stomach pains. A cop gets him to the hospital, where Sam gets the bad news that is the film's raison d'etre.

"You've been murdered, Mr. Collins," a doctor (Matt Pohlkamp) informs him with all the emotion of a bank clerk handing a customer his receipt. "You have less than 24 hours to live."

Dr. Alexander doesn't fare so well, either. Not long afterwards, he's found dead, having been murdered in more prosaic fashion by being bludgeoned with a tire iron. Meanwhile, Sam desperately attempts to find out who poisoned him. He's aided in his search by Jesse, who, not surprisingly for this sort of R-rated thriller, turns out to be a dancer at a strip club.

Among the malevolent or simply eccentric characters figuring in the mystery are a crooked deputy (Tyson Sullivan), a voodoo priestess (Denise Milfort), a pervy insurance salesman (Chris Mulkey, who we get to see in his tighty whities), a femme-fatale party planner (Scottie Thompson), a mafia figure (Anthony Sinopoli) and a pair of quirky hit men (Anthony Sinopoli, Lillo Brancato), one of whom is fond of making such philosophical observations as "Time is an illusion."

There's also a pair of hard-boiled detectives (D.B. Sweeney, Nazo Bravo) who spend as much time bantering about topics like who's the world's most famous Armenian than cracking the case.

The dialogue is frequently fun and snappy, and the colorful supporting characters help to sustain our interest. Sepher also has a knack for casting, with such veterans as Mulkey, Sweeney and Brancato providing entertaining supporting turns. But the storyline proves more convoluted than necessary, introducing so many characters and subplots that we stop caring about the plight of its protagonist (it doesn't help that Flynn is hopelessly bland in the role).

The film also includes a nice nod to the original (although most audience members won't realize it) with the appearance of Edmund O'Brien's daughter Maria in a cameo as a nosy neighbor.

Production companies: Kingfisher Media, Boatyard Productions
Distributor: Vision Films
Cast: Billy Flynn, Chris Mulkey, Christa B. Allen, Tyson Sullivan, D.B. Sweeney, Stephen C. Sepher, Lillo Brancato, Scottie Thompson, Christopher Rob Bowen, Nazo Bravo, Billy Slaughter
Director-screenwriter: Stephen C. Sepher
Producers: Rory Fradella, Stephen C. Sepher, Kim Barnard
Director of photography: John Garrett
Production designer: Jonathan Cappel
Editor: Michael Kuge
Composers: James Edward Barker, Tim despic
Costume designer: Dusty Wilson

97 minutes