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Portrait of Murder

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 88 mins . M15+ . PAL


Unfortunately for Shannen Doherty, the defining moment of her onscreen career came in one of only two halfway decent films she’s so far appeared in, Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (the other being Heathers), when she was at one point referred to by her Beverly Hills 90210 character name, Brenda. Yep, no matter what sort of a Charmed life she has managed to lead since starring in that Aaron Spelling wonder-soap, to some of us she’ll always simply conjure up visions of her brother Brandon, that dorky DJ guy, her horse-faced friend Tori and Luke Perry’s remarkably crinkly forehead.

Which, you must admit, is a shame for her, even if she hasn’t exactly involved herself in anything of great note to pluck her from the pull of perma-Brenda since departing that all-pervasive postcode. Unfortunately, Portrait of Murder (or The Rendering as it was also known, and is referred to in the incredibly sloppy end credits; just check out those acknowledgements such as “Younger – COPJASON CAVALIER”, “Female – REPORTERLORI GRAHAM” and “Second Assistant – DIRECTORBETHAN MOWAI”) sees her landing on her head yet again, in what is a remarkably formulaic thriller-by-numbers which plunders pretty much every cliché from the genre and regurgitates them in ever-so-predictable ways.

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Behind you! Behind you!

Basically, Brenda plays Sarah Reynolds, an aspiring artist who upon leaving art school one night has a run-in with a freaky fan of her art moonlighting as a lunatic, knife-wielding killer. Luckily for the film she survives this first five minutes, and ends up helping the cops apprehend her stabber by sketching a very lifelike rendering of him. Theodore Gray is his name, and he’s not exactly the happiest little bearded camper about being sent away for some 15 to 25 years in the state prison.

Jumping forward ten years, Sarah is a successful Bostonian businesswoman, complete with Beemer and a loving hubby named Michael - but she still bears those mental and physical scars of her attack (insert dramatic strings here). She’s also continued helping the constabulary in the sketch department, but when there’s a new psycho in town and one victim’s description sees her ending up staring at what is basically a portrait of her other half, Sarah seriously questions his innocence – and then the evidence conveniently shows up in their closet. While he’s dragged off to the slammer, she starts some amateur sleuthing, and soon comes it dawns on her that it was all a frame. Desperate to save the old ball and chain from the old ball and chain, things get decidedly more complex when the realisation that Gray is involved flickers on like a cheap light bulb above her head. Essentially blackmailing her into testifying to his reformation in order to protect Michael, Gray is soon released, still obsessed with our spunky heroine, and it’s quite the case of “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?”

Now, what do we learn from all this? Well, if the story is to be believed the first and foremost lesson to be gleaned is that the Boston police are dumber than doggy do-do. We also learn that the word “originality” obviously bypassed the writers of this here little piccie – even the old “ooh, it’s all wrapped up in a nice little package, but BAM!” ending is present and accounted for. Then there are the formulaic “Behind you! Behind you!” shots, and the score which is the thriller equivalent of muzak and...


What’s there to say? A made for television affair, all is in a ratio of 1.33:1, and the transfer we’re afforded does a serviceable enough job. Shadow detail isn’t as spiffy as some may want, however it’s never dreadful. Colour is fine, after all there’s nothing particularly spectacularly rainbow-like brought to screen here, and general detail is OK, with a modicum of grain at times and the odd speckle scattered higgledy piggledy throughout the flick’s running time. Aliasing is but a rare visitor, and being a single-layered disc a layer change is simply not an issue.


There’s simply a Dolby Digital stereo mix here, which makes reasonable use of what’s on offer and fares quite well when pumped through a Prologic receiver, in which case some rear action is there for the surrounding. Synch is never an issue, dialogue is always clear and, as alluded to up above, the score from one James Gelfand is a decidedly derivative, typical thriller type affair involving lots of tinkly pianos and creeping strings.


Well, at least a little effort was made on the animated menu, however otherwise there’s simply a trailer for the film in question (1:06), which basically screams its lack of cinema credentials like a banshee, plus advertisements for Jagged Edge (1:41), The Bone Collector (2:13) and Single White Female (1:56), all in various ratios and varying stages of decay.


Just kind of there in the technical department – neither great nor dreadful - in all Portrait of Murder is vaguely entertaining if you’re in a decidedly undemanding mood, however it tends to be more than a little sloppy at times, and is more predictable than an after game interview with a footballer.

Perhaps one day poor Brenda will land on her feet?

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      And I quote...
    "Brenda lands on her head yet again..."
    - Amy Flower
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