Dead Cert(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 10.4.2005)
Adapted by horseracing commentator John Oaksey from the bestselling novel by jockey Dick Francis, 1974's Dead Cert is thrilling when it's on the track, with frequent point-of-view shots plopping the audience into the saddle. Regrettably, the inert mystery framing those sequences deflates their momentum as we hurdle toward a convenient conclusion that's a hodgepodge of both sports movie and whodunit cliches.
Dead Cert opens with horse owner and amateur jockey Bill Davidson's fatal fall after he cryptically fills in for his professional rider moments before a steeplechase race. Convinced that the death was orchestrated, his amateur jockey pal Alan York conducts a perilous investigation fueled in part by remorse from the fact that he was snogging Davidson's wife. York soon becomes entangled in the web of horseracing's seedy underbelly of telegraphed MacGuffins as he juggles the long odds of solving Davidson's murder and winning the Grand National race.
Director Tony Richardson's (Tom Jones) stilted direction and editor John Glen's (On Her Majesty`s Secret Service) seemingly random cuts and transitions thwart the film from ever hitting its stride. Plot points are introduced only to be carelessly dropped, but at least the film nicely incorporates the jockeys' recurring efforts to lose weight. Any intrigue that the film mounts, though, is aborted in the film's nadir: a suspenseless chase sequence in which York evades car-driving goons on his horse as John Addison's (Sleuth) jaunty score undercuts any sense of danger. After escaping, York gives the finger to his pursuers, but it might as well be directed toward the audience.
As York, Scott Antony (Savage Messiah) takes a page from the Jonathon Rhys-Meyers book of acting where petulance equals emoting as the film collapses on his narrow shoulders. Some have called this Judi Dench's (Shakespeare in Love) worst role and her sleepwalking performance as Davidson's widow is only partially excused by the fact that her one dimensional character is stuck in a static state of sorrow throughout the film. Only Dench's real-life husband, Michael Williams (Tea With Mussolini), makes any lasting impact as a ruthless rival jockey oozing thuggery.
The featureless disc is presented in a faded 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby Digital mono sound. -- Colin Miller