What is it that makes a Brett Ratner film a Brett Ratner film? Unlike with other directors who've earned dicey critical reputations—Michael Bay, say, or Uwe Boll—the worst that can be said of Ratner is that he makes crassly populist movies, and that in interviews, he can be a bit of a blowhard. But while his work lacks subtlety, it’s hardly devoid of artistry. Ratner’s movies aren’t overly frenetic or gratuitously gross; the man knows his craft, and he’s smart enough to let charismatic performers strut their stuff with minimal interference. But do Ratner’s movies have their own distinctive flavor? Are they packed with indelible images? Not really.
And that’s what’s so frustrating about the Ratner ephemera anthology The Shooter Series Volume One. The DVD collects more than two hours of Ratner-directed music videos, commercials, and student films, and adds Lance Bangs’ half-hour documentary From Hip-Hop To Hollywood, in which actors, directors, and musicians line up to profess their love for the Rat. The documentary makes a convincing case, telling the story of how Ratner hustled his way into the big time by exploiting every connection he had, and how he then impressed the moguls who took a chance on him with his boundless enthusiasm and his ability to reach across cultures unselfconsciously. Ratner seems to be honestly adored by those who know him, and Bangs’ documentary makes their pro-Ratner spirit so infectious that it’s hard to escape wanting to join the party.
But the actual work on display doesn’t support the claims being made for it. Ratner’s videos for stars like D’Angelo, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Public Enemy are undeniably lively, and noteworthy for how they often tell a little story without making too big a deal about it. On the DVD commentary track, Ratner notes what he did that he believes to be different from the then-established norm, like the way he held shots a little longer, and included long dialogue sequences before the music started. But these are hardly groundbreaking or eye-catching techniques; they’re ways a polished professional should serve the material. In the end, what this DVD shows isn’t that Ratner is an underrated artist who deserves more critical respect, but that he’s a solid technician and shrewd businessman whose arrival on the hip-hop scene as rap videos were starting to get more play represents a prime example of a man being in the right place at the right time, then knowing what to do when he got there.
Key features: The aforementioned commentary tracks, plus home movies, a fascinating short film about Mickey Rourke's boxing career, and a Charlie Rose interview.