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Doctor Detroit (Blu-ray Review)

Shout! Factory, under their Shout Select banner, is bringing the Dan Aykroyd starring comedy Doctor Detroit to Blu-ray for the very first time. Michael Pressman’s film, that also starred Fran Drescher, was a high profile film for the summer of 1983 that ended up falling quite short of expectations. However, it caught on with some people and has become a cult classic over the years since its release. Shout! Factory is bringing the film to Blu-ray with some new bonus features that include an interview and commentary with director Michael Pressman. You’ll find it coming out on April 24th to the format. Amazon pre-orders are available now, so feel free to use the link after the review to secure yourself a copy of this cult classic comedy when it releases.

Film 

When fast-talking pimp Smooth Walker finds himself in hot water with Chicago crime boss Mom, he claims that there’s a new player in the game: Doctor Detroit, a cat who’s badder than bad … and completely fictitious. In need of a patsy until the heat dies down, Smooth hits paydirt with mild-mannered professor Clifford Skridlow — and promptly skips town, leaving his bevy of sexy “employees” in Clifford’s hapless hands. Charmed by the ladies and spurred by his dedication to chivalry, Clifford agrees to become their protector and ally, transforming himself from a power-walking professor to a heroic hustler … and throwing down the gauntlet to save his college from financial ruin and the four damsels from the wrath of Mom!

Doctor Detroit has a kinda wild concept that could be a lot of fun, but it never really materializes. The film’s strengths come from a lot of zany character work and moments that feel like sketches stitched into a movie. However, they don’t come quick enough and feel too far separated from one another. It takes a bit long to get to the Doctor Detroit stuff that kicks this all off. Ultimately, the film seems a little too concerned with plot scenes that are kinda dull and boring with no characters that we really want to dramatically invest in.

This film really feels like it was crafted as some sort of outlandish character crafting opportunity for Dan Aykroyd. Through this role, he’s not only channeling the Doctor Detroit, but a few other cooky figures show up throughout the runtime. Aykroyd really excels and seems to be having quite a bit of fun with these moments. Unfortunately, we get too much of his straight man Clifford Skridlow and not enough Doctor Detroit and others. While this isn’t the only time a film like this would come from Aykroyd, it also feels like a Saturday Night Live inspired type of film.

Ayrkroyd does get some fun support here in this film that flesh things out. Howard Hesseman is a nice presence, but he’s gone by the time the first act is over. I was excited to see him here, and he’s good while he’s around, but I selfishly wanted more. A young Fran Drescher plays one of the prostitutes in the film and she’s absolutely adorable and super cute in the film. Had I been a casting director following this film, I would have put her in everything for 1984. And don’t miss out on a cameo later in the film from the legendary James Brown.

Michael Pressman’s Doctor Detroit isn’t really a good movie, but its a fascinating one that merits checking out. When it works out, it really has some good fun. The problem is, its strung together with too many straight faced A to B plot driven scenes that you’ll tune out. Ayrkroyd is great when they let him dress up and do a funny accent, which is really why you want to check this out in the first place.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Doctor Detroit arrives on Blu-ray for the first time with a really clean looking transfer. The image is crisp and sharp enough while retaining a filmic quality to it. There’s a little darkness inherent in how its shot that adds a richness to the image. Textures and details are pretty strong here on clothing down to the woodgrain on doors and desks. The Shout Select line is proving to routinely have some very pleasurable and impressive transfers and this falls in line.

Depth:  The image feature some good spacing and free feeling movements between a distanced background and foreground. Movements are cinematic and smooth.

Black Levels: Blacks are rich and pretty well saturated while maintaining plenty of details at every turn and having no crushing issues to speak of.

Color Reproduction: Colors prove pretty strong in nightlife scenes and on the clothing worn by the women and Doctor Detroit. The yellows, blues and reds really pop, while other colors have a full, natural feel. I will say the lights on top of the tow truck during the junkyard escape really glowed nicely and looked pretty.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial details are stronger in close ups and pretty good in medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: There is a nice, healthy and complimentary layer of grain present along with some specs here and there.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Doctor Detroit’s mono track displays a solid balance in its mix. Everything feels nicely layered. There are moments and such that carry a little bit of a muffled analog sounds, but its not distracting or awful, its just the source.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are plenty audible and clear with a little bit of muffling in some certain scenes that are likely part of the source.

Extras 

Doctor Detroit comes with reversible cover art featuring an alternate poster design.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Michael Pressman and Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball

Interview With Director Michael Pressman (HD, 24:35) – The director relishes in it being 35 years since the film released and how old he is now. He talks about the origins of the movie coming from a novella and goes through the production of the film and working with all the members of the cast. While Pressman thinks some of the aspects of the film are dated, he feels a lot of it has a fantasy aspect that feels timeless and it achieves something comedy doesn’t do often in aging well.

Radio Free Detroit: Inside The Doctor Detroit Audio Press Kit (HD, 24:29) – This press kit was crafted featuring pre-done interviews with cast and crew as well as clips from the film for radio stations. It was presented in such a way they could craft a segment package that played standalone or separate clips that could be sculpted to sound like an exclusive interview with whatever station put it together. Interviews are with Dan Aykroyd, Howard Hesseman, Donna Dixon as well as people like Steven Spielberg praising Ayrkroyd’s work and Devo discussing the soundtrack.

Theatrical Trailers (SD, 3:49)

TV Spots (SD, 1:01)

Radio Spots (HD, 4:14)

Photo Gallery (HD, 8:18)

Summary 

Doctor Detroit is a pretty silly and fun sketch-character based comedy to allow Aykroyd to showcase his comedic chops. Shout Select debuts it on Blu-ray with a really nice video transfer to go with a solid audio track. The new extras are good (I was particularly fascinated with the vintage radio press kit), making this a another solid, worthwhile release of a cult film.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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