D-Tox, also known as Eye See You or The Outpost, is one of those movies that’s nearly there. Watching it one can’t help but feel for the wasted potential – a great cast, a fun if hokey premise, a solid director (of I Know What You Did Last Summer fame) – that it never quite makes it is perhaps reflective of a disordered production, rather than the talents involved. Certainly the film feels like the swingeing cuts of a studio editor have been applied throughout, alongside re-shoots and soundtrack tinkering (the studio delayed release from 1999 for such things after early tests played poorly). Given a limited release it passed mostly unnoticed onto VHS/DVD, and now finds a new home on Netflix perhaps to finally find an audience. Sylvester Stallone plays FBI agent Jake Malloy, opening the film in pursuit of a cop-killer, who turns to alcohol in the wake of a personal trauma. After a suicide attempt he’s taken by his partner (Charles S. Dutton) to an isolated rehab center for cops, just as the snow storms start creeping in, and bodies start piling up.
Perhaps the film’s biggest crime was to come during Stallone’s wilderness years. From James Mangold’s excellent Copland in 1997 to enjoyably nostalgic slugfest Rocky Balboa in 2006 Stallone couldn’t buy a hit (excluding a voice-role in Antz) with mediocre fillers like Driven and the Get Carter remake failing to capitalize on the excellent performance he gave in Mangold’s stripped down cop thriller. Copland felt like a new start for Stallone, or perhaps a return to earlier days when he was compared to Brando (really). But it proved a dead-end, with Stallone unable to cast-off the action hero mantle, or forge into new areas. D-Tox suffers from this – at first Stallone is game at pushing into new territories, as a traumatized alcoholic cop (wife fridged earlier by the cop targeting serial killer), and when he arrives as Kris Kristofferson’s isolated rehab centre, he plays the suicidal Malloy well. But by the end (spoilers!) we’re back to good-old muscle man Sly, finding closure by impaling the killer on a set of spikes in an OTT display of his superior macho-ness.
In between we get to meet an excellent, although mostly wasted, supporting cast. Alongside the aforementioned Kristofferso and Dutton, are Polly Walker, Jeffrey Wright, Tom Beringer, Robert Patrick and Sean Patrick Flanery. Apparently Stephen Lang is also in it, but he was so covered by thick specs and a beanie, plus the low-light levels, that I didn’t notice. This cast should be the film’s strength, but we barely get to know any of them before they start getting bumped off. Poor Flanery barely has a line before he’s found, the victim of ‘suicide’. Of course the killer of Stallone’s wife has followed him to rehab, but it’s difficult to care for most of the victims as we’ve barely met them.
Stuck somewhere between Se7en, The Thing, with a dusting of The Shining, and something more in the vein of a traditional Stallone cop thriller, D-Tox never really takes off. It’s a film of wasted potential, not terrible per se, just not as good as it could have been. The direction and performances are fine, there’s some enjoyably gruesome stuff early on, and the premise is fun (if a little illogical at times). That the film never quite coheres may reflect it’s problematic production, and a studio’s lack of faith in Stallone – the curse of the star image is the box it puts them in. Audiences demand something new from their stars, as long as it doesn’t upset the apple cart too much. Stallone, on his uppers by the late 1990s was clearly trying, but audiences weren’t buying. By 2006 Stallone had worked out that nostalgia was in, so he got back in the gym and gave audiences what they wanted, and by 2015 had an Oscar nom for Creed. With the announcement of Demolition Man 2 he’s dipping back into the well again, despite being 73. Much as I love the potential to discover the secret of the three sea shells, I’m a little saddened that he’s reliving past glories again. There’s a very good actor in Sly, when he lets him out.