(director/writer: Lee Bonner; screenwriter: Sean Paul Murphy; cinematographer: Peter Barrow; editor: Sean Paul Murphy; music: Wall Matthews; cast: Fisher Stevens (Blu, voice), Michael Buscemi (Scotty, voice), Shae D’Lyn (Ellie, voice), Mary Birdsong (Nicola, voice), Richard Puller (Berger, voice), Rebecca Mader (Belinda Brown), Nestor Serrano (Seth Collison), Chance Kelly (Chester Robb), Richard Pelzman (Quinn), John Lumia (Harley), Douglas Crosby (Smink), Mark Joy (Talbert), Richard DeAngelis (Morty), Tim Caggiano (Cal), Jeff Perryson (Dunbar); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David H. Butler; Vanguard Cinema/Eastern Show; 2005)

“A gimmick-gone-right thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gimmick-gone-right crime thriller smartly directed by Lee Bonner and co-written by Mr. Bonner and Sean Paul Murphy. It reminds me of the somewhat successful experiment Robert Montgomery pulled off in his 1946 film noir Lady in the Lake, that is shot entirely with a subjective camera to allow the viewer to see the world through private eye Marlowe’s eyes.

“21 Eyes” is the title taken when released on DVD, it was called Replay when released to film festivals in 2003. The “21 Eyes” represent 21 security cameras that catch a jewelry heist and murder spree in progress in the plush secluded home of paranoid and obsessive gem dealer Seth Collison (Nestor Serrano). Since the Sophia diamond valued at $10 million was recovered and the three robbers were killed in the shootout (as well as several of Collison’s employees), the detective in charge of the investigation, Berger, closes the case without looking at the videotapes. But hardworking grumpy junior detectives Scotty and Blu (voices of Michael Buscemi and Fisher Stevens) view the tapes and are positive it was an inside job, just as Collison told Berger but was ignored. The second-grade detectives get down to business viewing the tapes and are heard but never seen, which might turn off some viewers that the film is seen exclusively through their eyes and is never filmed “live.” I had no trouble with the gimmick, though I really don’t see any advantage gained.

The entire film is a police procedural one that has the viewer see the crime scene just like the detectives. It puts the viewer to work acting like the investigators, as the videotapes are fast-forwarded, rewound, shown in slow-mo and from different angles while repeatedly covering the same events, and are constantly reevaluated. The wiseguy detectives provide the play-by-play of what’s going down, crack cynical cop-like jokes, goof on the subjects viewed, and order pizza. It should please film buffs that one of the robbers lifts a line out of Maltese Falcon when he tells the gem dealer to open the safe or you’ll be “picking iron out of your liver.” The dead robbers are Quinn, Harley and Smink. The employers of Collison are the sexy business confidante in charge of inventory, Belinda Brown (Rebecca Mader), who has been with the firm for 18 months and also doubles as Collison’s girlfriend; the oafish security guard Chester Robb (Chance Kelly), who was bounced from the police force over a bribery issue; Talbert, an aspiring hammy actor who is the salesman; the other workers include the nondescript Morty, Dunbar and front office man Cal.

The low-budget indie sticks to its guns, much to its credit, and keeps it all about the surveillance footage and finding out who’s the inside person. It takes the risk of losing some viewers who might not take to such a detailed procedural film. But the script is clever and humorous, the sharp editing by Murphy keeps the story line coherent and it leaves the viewer who exerted so much effort going over repeated viewings of the tapes anxious to know how it’s resolved.