After the trifecta of critical and commercial success that was Erin Brockovich (2000), Traffic (2000), and Ocean’s Eleven (2001), prolific (but, let’s be honest, woefully inconsistent) director Steven Soderbergh decided to get experimental. Calling in favors to a variety of famous actors, he put together Full Frontal in 2002. It was shot largely on consumer-grade digital video and hangs together like a sub-Altman shaggy dog story. There’s no discernible plot and, even worse, no discernible point.
Those curious enough (or Soderbergh-obsessed enough) to seek it out can now find it on a budget-priced Blu-ray from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment. Curiously, though not labeled as such on the package, the version presented here is an alternate cut that includes about 11 minutes of extra material. The original theatrical version is consigned to the special features, where it can be viewed only with commentary by Soderbergh and screenwriter Coleman Hough. That’s right, the actual official cut of the film includes non-optional audio commentary. No explanation for this choice is offered.
The vignettes that tie these characters together are not entirely without interest. Some are less well integrated than others. Right at the beginning, we’re introduced to the main players via still photos, including Julia Roberts as a star actress, Mary McCormack as a flighty masseuse, Catherine Keener and David Hyde Pierce as a troubled married couple, and Blair Underwood as a television star transitioning into film. They’ve been invited to a birthday party held by an egotistical filmmaker, Gus (David Duchovny). That’s a lot of famous names and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being suckered into watching it based on that alone. The problem is no one is given anything interesting to do. We simply see them going about their daily activities, occasionally interacting with one another.
Full Frontal benefits far less from the Blu-ray format than the average catalog title. Since much of the film was shot on standard definition video, the transfer is largely soft and noisy. The actor characters played by Roberts and Underwood are filming a movie (within the movie) and those segments were shot on 35mm. That footage looks good, but 1080p simply doesn’t do any favors to the consumer-grade video stuff. Audio is offered in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and it is fine, if far from impressive. No reason to fault Echo Bridge, the film itself is intentionally lo-fi.
In addition to the theatrical cut (listed as an “alternate edit,” for some reason) with commentary, the main feature is nearly an hour of in-character cast interviews conducted by Soderbergh. There are also two deleted scenes montages, some “spy cam” behind-the-scenes footage, and an interview with Soderbergh in which he waxes pretentious about this disastrous film.
There are a few interesting ideas dropped into Full Frontal. Mary McCormack’s masseuse, Linda, compromises her ethics when a high profile client asks for a happy ending. David Hyde Pierce, as writer Carl, admits that his deep-rooted insecurities surfaced after his wife brought an unusually large sex toy into the bedroom. In one of the film’s more conventionally comedic plot threads, Carl shares that intimate info with a vet who’s making a house call because his dog ate a bunch of hash brownies. In one of the more random tangents, Nicky Katt plays an actor who’s playing Hitler in an experimental play. But none of it adds up to anything of value. Full Frontal is what happens when a successful director gathers together a bunch of famous friends, only to indulge in pseudo-artistic expression.