First Degree Release Date: 2007 (Spain) Genre: Mystery | Drama Director(s): Stephen Eckelberry Writer(s): Karen Black (Men) & Richmond Riedel Starring: Erika Eleniak, James Russo, C. Thomas Howell, Jack Scalia, Karen Black, James Wilder A group of yuppies get together and things happen. Ever since the term itself came in vogue during the 80s, that […]

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First Degree
Release Date: 2007 (Spain)
Genre: Mystery | Drama
Director(s): Stephen Eckelberry
Writer(s): Karen Black (Men) & Richmond Riedel
Starring: Erika Eleniak, James Russo, C. Thomas Howell, Jack Scalia, Karen Black, James Wilder

A group of yuppies get together and things happen.

Ever since the term itself came in vogue during the 80s, that plot synopsis has no doubt hit the desk of producers all over the world hundreds and thousands of times. It’s a formula that is constantly used in the direct-to-video world, often resulting in disastrous cinema that is nothing more than over-pretentious crap.

First Degree is not that kind of a film.

Starring a who’s who of direct-to-video cinema, First Degree is a surprisingly effective and just plain fun “things happen to yuppies” film that manages to be entertaining despite a series of flaws that would normally cause it to be D.O.A.

Those flaws are ones that many direct-to-video films have, usually resulting from a lack of energy. The film is narrated (which allows for subsequent flashbacks) by Jude (Black), an older woman whose husband was recently murdered. Invited to a barbeque by her younger yuppie friends, her dark narrations lead us through the film’s plot points in a very typical fashion. As the barbeque is starting, we’re introduced to the fantastic James Russo, who earns a paycheck as the insane Max Targenville.

Russo, who never seems to escape his stereotyping as either a law enforcer, mobster, or whacko, plays the later as the nutty next door neighbor who causes much turmoil when the yuppies suspect he is the one who tried to get one of their cars towed (in a very poorly acted and laid out scene). It is when the tow truck driver leaves that we get a gist of just how insane their friend Barry is. Played by Jack Scalia, who never does parts like this, it is Scalia’s completely over-the-top performance that negates the complete lack of effort being put forth by Erika Eleniak and C. Thomas Howell. Scalia is a riot, and I really hope that he gets the chance to showcase his skills again someday as opposed to playing a federal agent for the billionth time.

Let me also give my kudos Kimberly Kates, the only star that isn’t a “name.” While she got the part because of her willingness to take off her clothes, Kates’ acting ability isn’t too shabby either.
Also known as Charades, Fellows, and Felons

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