Friday, May 28, 2010

Where's Your Own Time Reversing Dagger When You Need It?

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
116 minutes
Walt Disney Pictures
** ½ out of 5

“Based on a video game.” For better or worse, you probably know at least somewhat what to expect upon walking into a film under this pretense. These films really run the gamut from bad to worse including everything from “House of the Dead,” “Double Dragon,” “Street Fighter,” “Mortal Combat,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “Alone in the Dark,” “Silent Hill,” “Doom,” soon-to-be-four “Resident Evils,” two “Tomb Raider’s,” “Max Payne,” and “Hitman.” There will always be a niche for these films no matter how bad or tolerable they may be, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.

Not even bringing in a director with clout can completely save a film from a terrible script. Director Mike Newell has a very broad spectrum of films under his belt with his most notable starting from 1992 on. From here he’s given us “Enchanted April,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “An Awfully Big Adventure,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Pushing Tin,” “Mona Lisa Smile,” and most recently “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Aside from that last film, I can’t think of any reason why Newell was brought on by Disney to direct their latest venture to fill their “Pirates” void, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.”

In the royal City of Nasaf, we first meet the youngster street rat version of Dastan (William Foster) who saves his brother from peril against the King Sharaman’s (Ronald Pickup) men. After staying one jump ahead of the King’s goons he’s finally captured, but the King sees in young Dastan the chance for something greater. He adopts this diamond in the rough and raises him as his own while young Dastan grows up to be Jake Gyllenhaal with a horrible “British” accent 15 years later.

A spy has been issued into the Holy City of Alamut by the King’s brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) to confirm the suspicion that the city is selling weapons to enemies of Persia. Once confirmed, Dastan is sent along with his “brothers” Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle, or Jeff from the hilarious BBC’s “Coupling”) to infiltrate Alamut and confront the princess Tamina (current go-to hottie Gemma Arterton). Come to find out that the real story is that Tamina is the guardian to a dagger containing the “sands of time,” which can turn back the clock in case anything dangerous happens and one’s gotta get back in time to prevent imminent danger.

After the King is killed with a poisoned robe (yes, a poisoned robe, sigh) and Dastan is framed for the death of the King, Dastan escapes with Tamina and they hit the road to Mount Doom, err… wherever it is if you’re still paying attention by this point in the movie, to return the dagger to its resting place. Nizam has other plans as he wants the dagger for himself to return to a point in time where he once saved his brother's life to let him die so that he can take over the throne he feels is rightfully his.

To say anymore would be to give the script more credit than it’s due. What screenwriters Boaz Yakin (“Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” “From Dusk Till Dawn 2,” the Clint Eastwood/Charlie Sheen “actioner” “The Rookie,” and the 1989 Dolph Lundgren version of “The Punisher”), and writing partners Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (the WWII film “The Great Raid,” the Korean “A Tale of Two Sisters” remake, “The Uninvited,” and the upcoming Nicolas Cage starring “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) have cobbled together is a hodgepodge of weird elements from other films that have nothing to do with each other. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you threw “Aladdin,” “Back to the Future,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “Indiana Jones” into a blender, then look no further, but you’ll be sorry you did.

Not only is the film a complete bore but the final “twist” and wrap-up are such a cop out that it makes the entire runtime feel like a complete waste of time. I’m sure you can guess what happens considering the plot revolves around turning back time and evil people trying to steal the crown. If the film had any sense of fun or adventure, it would not only be forgivable when the denouement arrives but would make one yearn for a sequel as it’s the only feasible way it could even happen.

But alas, the Duh Meter reaches new highs for a Disney action film and, when Nazim tells Dastan, “What a glorious mess we are,” one can help but wonder if he was commenting on the film itself. But as the plot thinks it's thickening and instead just becomes aggressively more convoluted and progressively dumber in the process, you’ll be too busy wishing you had your own time traveling dagger to get you back the two hours you just wasted.

Article first published as Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time on Blogcritics.

Friday, May 21, 2010

80's Action-Comedy Is Back, Welcome To The Big Screen MacGruber!

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, violence, language and some nudity.
88 minutes
Rogue Pictures
**** out of 5

As hit-or-miss as “Saturday Night Live” has been over the years, the list of films based on “SNL” characters is far more miss than hit. Granted, not all of the movies spun from the TV show are solely based on characters. Even the likes of “Mean Girls” and “Hot Rod” have come about thanks to “SNL’s” own Tina Fey and The Lonely Island boys (Andy Samburg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer). This year brings forth a comedic force to be reckoned with in the form of the grandmother-proposing “MacGruber.”

While most of the time we’re treated to stinkers such as “Superstar,” “Black Sheep,” “Wayne’s World 2,” and “It’s Pat,” thankfully there’s those which do work such as “The Blues Brothers,” “¡Three Amigos!,” “Wayne’s World,” and “Tommy Boy.” Also there’s the few that slip in for good measure and become love ‘em or hate ‘em classics like “Coneheads,” “Stuart Saves His Family,” “A Night at the Roxbury,” and “The Ladies Man.” What do all of these films have in common? Lorne Michaels.

Michaels usally really knows what he’s doing and gets behind some great material, as is the case with the “MacGyver” spoof “MacGruber.” First appearing in January 2007, the MacGruber character has popped up time and again over the years finally bringing him the attention he deserves during the 2009 Super Bowl. This obviously catapulted the character to stardom, and MacGruber finally gets his own movie spearheaded by the sketch’s creators - director/co-writer Jorma Taccone, along with John Solomon (who also co-wrote and directed some of the sketches for TV), and playing MacGruber as only he can, Will Forte (who is also one of the sketch’s creator/writer).

In the Siberian desert, Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer returning to his 80’s comedy roots – “Top Secret!” and “Real Genius”) has just stolen a nuclear warhead and wants to turn Washington, D.C., into a pile of ash, and only one man can stop him. That man is MacGruber (Forte), but according to Cunth and the rest of the world, supposedly he died ten years ago on his wedding day at the altar along with his bride-to-be Casey (Maya Rudolph).

Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) and Lt. Piper Dixon (Ryan Phillippe) come calling, and it isn’t until after a flashback of regret to his wedding day that MacGruber realizes that he is the only man who can stop Cunth. Assembling a team of top notch killer killers (made up of “WWE” wrestlers), MacGruber has his team but not before he accidentally blows them all up at once in his van. Now he must assemble a new team which winds up consisting of Lt. Piper and old friend/soon-to-be new flame Vicky St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) who trot out to track down and save the day with the requisite rubber bands, tennis balls, thumb tacks, and throat rips.

The 80’s are alive and well and it couldn’t be more absurd. Action parody is a tough thing to tackle; if you have too much action you can’t take the jokes seriously, or if the film gets too silly none of the action works either. While most of the jabs are thrown at the “Lethal Weapon” series, the film pretty much lays waste to any action movie made during the 80’s. If you ever wondered what it would look like if Frank Drebin was plopped down in the middle of a Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Van Damme flick, then look no further.

“MacGruber” most definitely makes one recall the greatest of the 80’s action-comedy genre, “Beverly Hills Cop,” even if “MacGruber” is far more over the top in its excesses as it should be when paying homage or parodying. The last film to conquer the genre was “Hot Fuzz” and, when a spoof film works, it works beautifully and, of course, the more you know about the genre the harder you’ll laugh.

Thankfully director Taccone knows that the first rule of making a genre spoof is what the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team made prominent: you must make a genre film first. Only then will the jokes land the way they’re supposed to instead of making the audience roll their eyes and wade through the wasteland of scatological humor for the sake of shock. This movie is only out to make you laugh. And laugh you will. What’s that you say? Never ever? Well as MacGruber teaches Lt. Piper, “Never ever say never ever.”

Article first published as Movie Review: MacGruber on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not As Bad As It's Been Accused Of Being Yet Far From Palatable To All Tastes

90 minutes
Not Rated
IFC Films
**** out of 5

A lot of criticism has been aimed at Dutch director Tom Six even with his new film, “The Human Centipede (First Sequence),” winning awards at both the Austin Fantastic Fest and Screamfest. This also includes a much deserved win for star Dieter Laser, who serves up one of the scariest doctors portrayed onscreen since Hannibal Lecter was unleashed upon audiences. Kudos are deserved all around however, after you see what director Six puts the rest of his cast through to a tragic ending rarely seen in horror as of late, yet sorely lacking.

Dr. Heiter (Laser) is in mourning. We meet him on the side of the road, sitting in his car weeping and caressing a picture of what is immediately clear to be three rottweilers that would simply appear to be sniffing each other’s behinds if the premise of the film wasn’t being broadcast around the Internet. Next, we meet Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two ditzy American girls out looking for a good time in Germany. They make a phone call to a friend and we learn that they’ve been invited to a party by some random guy they met while touring.

The two girls get lost on a deserted road in the rain and their tire blows out. While tromping through the woods looking for help they spy a light up ahead, bringing them to the home of Dr. Heiter. Heiter invites them in; at first, the two girls believe Heiter to be helpful but quickly learn, after he drugs their water, that the former conjoined twin separator has a new agenda. Lindsay and Jenny soon wake up in a sterile operating room in Heiter’s basement, quickly joined by a Japanese man, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), after Heiter puts down the first male as he did not fit into Heiter’s equation. One can only wonder if it was because the man was so much larger than the two girls.

Once the three are fully awake Heiter begins a lecture and slide show enlightening the trio that they are his means to an end. You see, Heiter has developed a bad case of the ego and wants more out of his expertise than simply continuing to separate twins. He has decided to join three humans into one, combining their digestive tract into one and conjoining them to form the creature of the film’s title, giving the term “ass-to-mouth” a whole new meaning.

A film of this ilk is quickly reminiscent of such Hollywood fare as Eli Roth’s two “Hostel” films centered around torture porn semantics in a xenophobic setting, but “The Human Centipede” is nowhere near as bad as everyone assumes or makes it sound. So much is left to the imagination and left offscreen that it can’t help but make you wonder more about the people complaining. Not that this film is one someone would openly admit to having enjoyed. However, you know what they say about opinions... oh wait, that just brings us back to the film at hand.

In the sad current state of the horror genre chock full of remakes, reboots, retreads, reimaginings, etc., someone finally gives us something new, albeit maybe more disgusting in concept than execution and everyone immediately revolts. Maybe that should be worthy of praise to director Tom Six in and of itself. The events that happen onscreen are in no way worse than anything we've seen a million times before in our horror movies not to mention with high caliber stars, directors, and writers attached, no less.

While it may not be for everyone, including hardcore genre fans, I think you probably made up your mind before you even considered reading this review whether you want to see it or not. However, I can attest that as a horror film, “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” certainly stands on its own and delivers exactly what it promises. This really makes you wonder how Six could possibly raise the stakes as the sequel, subtitled “Full Sequence,” begins filming this summer.

Article first published as Movie Review: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) on Blogcritics.

Friday, May 14, 2010

See This: "Letters to Juliet," Not That: "Robin Hood," This Weekend

Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking.
105 minutes
Summit Entertainment
*** ½ out of 5

Sometimes when a few weeks have passed since seeing a film you start to wonder how much of it you may have forgotten. Unless it’s a particularly monumental film, it’s more than likely to have been almost everything. But when you have a fully streamlined trailer to watch and a page of notes to read through it can all come back in a matter of minutes.

While the trailer gives away literally every single plot point, “Letters to Juliet” still manages to come out on top. After such a dismal start to year for chick flicks with such atrocities as “The Back-up Plan,” “When in Rome,” “Remember Me,” “Valentine's Day,” “The Last Song,” and “Dear John,” you hope for the best with each new film. Especially when one touts the reunion of Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero for the first time since Camelot in 1967.

Director Gary Winick made a splash at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival with his film “Tadpole” and went on to make the hilarious guilty pleasure for guys rom-com “13 Going on 30” and the cutesy 2006 live-action update of “Charlotte’s Web.” Things seemed to be going well after these three films; then along came his first paycheck film, “Bride Wars,” which instantly became one of the worst films to come out of last year. All hope seemed lost but Winick could be on a comeback trail after this.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) works as a fact-checker in New York City for “The New Yorker.” While she dreams of becoming a staff writer, her boss (a strangely uncredited Oliver Platt) thinks she’s too good at her job already to try something new. Sophie and her fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal) are heading off to Italy on a pre-honeymoon where Victor’s work takes over the proceedings and his priorities begin to shine as he’s more worried about meeting with suppliers than having any fun with his bride-to-be.

Victor catches word about a wine auction in Borno and the pair decides to split up to make the best of their time for both of them. Sophie winds up in Verona where she discovers a wall covered in letters written to Shakespeare’s Juliet asking for love advice. At the end of the day Sophie notices that after all the weepy-eyed women have scattered, a woman begins collecting all of the letters and she follows the woman to a restaurant where an upstairs collection of quirky letter writers have deemed themselves the “secretaries of Juliet.”

Sophie decides to try her hand at writing back after she discovers a 50-year-old letter from Claire (Redgrave) to a left-in-waiting Lorenzo (Nero). Soon the dapper Charlie (Christopher Egan) shows up to find whomever wrote his grandmother Claire, as Claire has dragged him to Italy in search of her abandoned Lorenzo. Sophie sees this as her chance to write a story for “The New Yorker” and prove her skills to her boss and tags alongside Charlie and Claire in their search across Italy for the love of Claire’s life.

Anyone who can’t guess the outcome of this movie has never seen a rom-com before or simply just doesn’t care. But thankfully Winick, along with writers Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan, has come up with an interesting enough plot, characters you don’t hate, an avoidance of pratfalls or overabundance of sloppy slapstick, and a reunion too long in the making. While it may not be one of the best romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood, it’s got such an innocent spirit about it and a cast filled with enough charm to carry things along.

Even the soundtrack is made up of more interesting choices than usual. Instead of cramming whatever’s popular with the tweens these days, it features mostly international versions of songs instantly familiar to American audiences, ultimately making it surprisingly very jarring when Taylor Swift’s love anthem “Love Story” pops up in the end where it feels very out of place and forced.

Had the film swapped the supporting cast (Redgrave and Nero) for the main characters, the filmmakers could have had something even more. Redgrave is fantastic and should have a vehicle of her own to carry after this. Yet there’s still enough here to keep the males in the audience from wanting to either bang their heads on the seat in front of them or make their female counterparts suffer through “A Nightmare on Elm Street” for revenge.

Article first published as Movie Review: Letters to Juliet on Blogcritics.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Legend Finally Gets Too Big (And Boring) For Its Britches

Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.
140 minutes
Universal Pictures
** 1/2 out of 5

There are many definitions of the word “legend.” The first one that comes up on is “1. a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” This word gets thrown around a lot when the name Robin Hood comes up, most heavily when it comes to Hollywood and now even he is granted an origin story of his own with a prequel of sorts to all the other silver screen tales with Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.”

I would think that not knowing all of the details makes some things more fun. At least it is for me. The general movie going audience however, seems to think differently. Everyone is getting backstories in movies lately even when there’s already plenty of lore behind them. Whether it be Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Meyers or even Hannibal Lecter, some things are better left to the imagination if they aren’t already spelled out for us from multiple outings.

Comic book superheroes are another part of the tradition in Hollywood delivering origin stories, the difference being a thing of necessity. In order for sequels to work you do need to know how Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, came to be. When it comes to a historical figure such as Robin Hood, he is such an iconic piece of global lore that is a back story really necessary? Really?

And if it’s necessary why does writer Brian Helgeland need to fill it with so much expository and cliché ridden dialogue. Let alone the fact that the script also contains way too many spit-riddled episodes of longwinded monologues in-between Ridley Scott’s never-ending shots of forests filled with trees or the English countryside. It’s “Robin Hood,” we get it; it’s supposed to be epic. But just because your film runs 140 minutes doesn’t mean it’s as epic as you think it is. What it turns out to be is epically boring.

The story at least remains the same. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is fighting alongside King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) in England at the turn of the 12th century. Also keeping up the good fight is Robin’s soon-to-be band of merry men including Little John (“Lost’s” Kevin Durand). After King Richard is killed and Robin and his men are let loose from the stocks Robin devises a plan to stowaway aboard the king’s ship taking the place of Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) who was killed at the hand of Godfrey (“Sherlock Holmes’” Mark Strong).

Prince John (Oscar Isaac) steps in to fill the king’s shoes with his fresh French wifey Isabella of Angoulême (“Inglourious Basterds’” Léa Seydoux) at his side. What Prince John doesn’t know is that Godfrey may be his right hand man but has ulterior motives and is using the new king’s trust to sneaks troops into France to try to take over England.

Meanwhile, Robin returns Robert’s sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) who wants to restore a sense of order in their fair Nottingham and asks Robin to join him in a ruse to take Robert’s place complete with becoming instant husband to Marion (Cate Blanchett). Marion doesn’t like this but of course the two are going to fall in love and Robin will start stealing from the rich to give to the poor and the Sheriff (Matthew Macfayden) tries to show us how slimy the sheriff is but Macfayden just makes you pine for the great Alan Rickman.

Will Robin save the day and manage to become the outlaw we all know and love? Why does Nottingham get turned into Auschwitz? Why does the film suddenly turn into “Braveheart,” wait, now it’s “Troy”... oh wait, now it’s “Saving Private Ryan?” How thunderous and ominous can the score get before something finally happens? Yes, this seems to be the “Twilight” version of Robin Hood complete with lots of yammering on while absolutely nothing happens feeding us lots of “characterization” that we don’t need because we’ve known it since at least 1938 when Michael Curtiz and William Keighley gave us their much better big screen adaptation.

As for the character of Robin Hood himself, if you are going the route of prequel, why cast someone closing in on 50-years-old? Also, don’t make all your advertising look like it’s “Gladiator 2.” While that movie may have won lots of Oscars back in its day somehow including Best Picture, this still shows just how mediocre Ridley Scott’s direction can be. One piece of new story they use shows us a tablet with an inscription that means “never give up.” I suppose the same advice can be true for Hollywood. Because when the version you just paid money for makes you wish you were home watching “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” you walk out thinking, “Better luck next time.”

Article first published as Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010) on Blogcritics.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Good Luck Beating This One Summer!

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.
124 minutes
Paramount Pictures
***** out of 5

Sometimes when one sits down to write about a particular film, even if you’ve sat on your thoughts for a couple of days, it can be hard to keep yourself from popping open a thesaurus and stringing along as many accolades as possible. Coming up with a whole review and trying not to gush too much can be a tricky thing. But alas, here comes “Iron Man 2” officially kicking the tires and lighting the fires of the summer movie season.

Last summer, mental and cerebral films of grandeur were few and far between. Oh sure, we did get our fair share of greatness or we wouldn’t have seen “Star Trek,” “Up,” “District 9,” and “Inglourious Basterds.” But if that was all that was great over the course of four months, that’s only an average of one per month. I think we’re a little more deserving than that even in the summer months. So thank you, “Iron Man 2.” Thank you for showing the rest of summer what they’re up against.

Beating everyone out of the gates was a very wise choice when J.J. Abrams did the same thing last year with his spectacular “Star Trek” reboot. And lest we forget, the original “Iron Man” did the same thing only one year before that back in 2008. My, how time flies. While it may have been two years ago, we finally get the chance to catch up with our beloved man of iron and his cohorts are back in tow along with some new faces and everyone gets their chance to shine.

In Moscow, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is watching Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) announce to the world that he is Iron Man. Ivan’s father Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev) lies dying in a bed and passes away leaving behind blueprints for the Stark Industries arc reactor which we learn Anton co-created with Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s father. Ivan clearly wants revenge for the shame and humiliation brought on by a falling out between Anton and Howard and Anton’s deportation after being arrested for selling plutonium. Hence, we get the opening credit sequence of Ivan constructing something based on the technology behind Tony’s arc reactor fueling his Iron Man suit.

Six months later, all seems to be better than ever for Tony Stark. The year-long Stark Expo has officially kicked off in New York; however, Senator Stern (a finally hilarious again Garry Shandling) demands Tony to turn over the Iron Man suit as he deems it a “specialized weapon” and the technology could fall into the wrong hands. Tony’s arch-nemesis Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) wants the suit turned over as well so that the U.S. military can use the design to form droids that can be sent into battle even though Tony has already personally privatized world peace.

Just when everyone thinks all is going better than ever, Tony attends a speed race in Monaco with right-hand woman Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and their new assistant, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) “from legal,” in tow. Without anyone knowing, Tony jumps behind the wheel of his own race car and speeds away. Along comes Ivan finally showing up with his own weapon of choice which is a set of electrically-charged whips strong enough to cut a car in two — or three or four. After Happy Hogan (director Jon Favreau) runs down Ivan and Pepper tosses Tony his Iron Man suit-in-a-suitcase, they manage to apprehend Ivan who gets tossed in jail. Hammer assists in faking Ivan’s death to proposition him into helping make the droids all that they can be.

To make a long story “short,” after the Monaco incident, Tony realizes he needs someone more stable to handle Stark Industries and makes Pepper Potts the new CEO. Tony and Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (now played by the far-better-than-Terrence-Howard Don Cheadle) get in a drunken birthday brawl and Rhodey flies off in his own Iron Man suit which gets turned over to the military and sold to Hammer giving him exactly what he needs to one up Tony but Ivan has ulterior motives for what he’s really doing with his droid programming. Oh, and did I mention that Natalie is really Natasha Romanoff, a double spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Nick Fury (returning Samuel L. Jackson) which was co-founded by Howard Stark and is looking to recruit Tony for something called the Avengers Initiative or that the reactor in Tony’s chest is slowly killing him and S.H.I.E.L.D. may have a cure?

Phew, talk about plot… But that’s the awesomeness that is “Iron Man 2.” With as much as there seems to be going on it never once gets bogged down by either too much talking or too much action. This is one of those rare sequels that outdoes the original. It enhances the first film – which, lets face it, was basically just an origin tale, but a damn good one at that – with more back-story while marching along to a new beat giving us bigger stunts, better visuals, funnier jokes, and yes, even more heart. The Tony Stark/Pepper Potts dynamic is a great piece of the glue that’s holding everything together.

Another thing holding everything together is probably the fact that while the original took four screenwriters to tell the tale of how Tony Stark began, this film took only one. Justin Theroux (also one of the co-writers of another 2008 classic, “Tropic Thunder”) has done a terrific job of giving the new characters life while keeping the main characters in focus. He also finds time for squeezing in a chance for Happy Hogan to give a beat down to a security guard in the Hammer foyer while Romanoff takes out a half-dozen herself in a spectacularly choreographed fight sequence.

As I said in the beginning, words cannot describe the level of awesome that we are treated to over the course of two hours. And boy, how those two hours just whiz on by. The film is not simply content with topping the original but proceeds to contend with itself in a game of one-upmanship with itself as it continues to build to the finale. But be sure to stick around for the post-credits sequence, it’s a doozey.

While I don’t know how much more enhanced this could possibly be on an IMAX screen I can tell you that it doesn’t need that kind of grandiosity. It already has all it needs in itself. This is going to be the summer movie to beat and to that I raise a glass of whiskey and wish the rest of summer the best of luck. It’s going to need it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Remake? Reboot? Retread. Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.
95 minutes
New Line Cinema
*** out of 5

After seven of his own films and a title fight against Jason Voorhees, the man of your dreams has returned to his old stomping grounds. While it may not be exactly the same Freddy Krueger (now played by Jackie Earle Haley) you remember from the original line of "Elm Street" films (played deliciously by Robert Englund), he’s still cut from the same cloth. Leave it to Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes to manage to try to reinvent something while only managing to pay homage.

Samuel Bayer may be making his debut film with this reboot of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" but it’s nowhere near as bad as people have been saying. Instead of coming up with something completely new, Bayer and his screenwriters (Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer) decide to spend their time rehashing not just the first film, but almost all of the past "Elm Street" films.

With a pre-credit dream/death sequence that sets the right tone at least, we meet Freddy’s first victim, Dean (Kellan Lutz). While sitting in Springwood Diner drinking cup after cup of black coffee, he still manages to doze off only to wake up with a slice on his hand from Freddy’s razored glove. Kris (Katie Cassidy) sits down to chat with Dean to find out why he hasn’t been sleeping but not before Dean falls asleep again and appears to slice his own throat while repeating, “You’re not real.”

Kris isn’t the only witness to Dean’s dispatching as Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara), inexplicably name-changed from Nancy Thompson, is a waitress at the local diner. But if you thought Nancy was the main character, you have to wait a few more deaths and even then she never once feels like the heroine of this new Nightmare. First we have to slog through Kris having her own dreams about Freddy and things that go bump in her attic. She could have some skeletons in her closet but Freddy manages to kill her before even she learns the truth.

Finally, Nancy begins sharing her truths about her sleeping issues with her new friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner). Quentin has an unrequited love for Nancy who continually asks her to hang out with the group of friends but Nancy feels like she doesn’t fit in. After a few more deaths and some parental confrontations with Quentin’s father (Clancy Brown) and Nancy’s mother (Connie Britton), Nancy and Quentin learn that they all used to attend the same preschool when they were five years old.

You see, at Badham Preschool there was a groundskeeper named Willie… er, Freddy. The children share the news that he has been taking them to a special “cave” where he abuses the preschoolers. Upon learning this, the local townsfolk chase him into an abandoned, highly flammable hideout and proceed to throw a flaming gasoline tank through the window and light Freddy on fire where he rips off his jacket to reveal the red- and green-striped sweater we all know and love come Halloween time. Where the fedora comes from we’ll never know; maybe he killed Indiana Jones in one of his own dreams. Do I smell one of the weirdest spin-offs ever?

At first, Nancy and Quentin assume that maybe Freddy is after them because their parents declared martial law on an innocent man. Very quickly the film stops playing fair as we never know whether the teens are awake or asleep and they suddenly begin taking micro-naps that the audience is supposed to remember them mentioning a half hour ago while having the requisite insomnia research sequence. Soon the two remaining teens learn the truth about Freddy and figure out the only way to put an end to his reign of terror is to bring him into the real world and battle it out.

Here’s a clue: what happens when you kill something that used to be in your dreams? Won’t that just send Freddy right back into the dream world from whence he came? Yes, there is no way to truly “kill” Freddy Krueger, so why bother with a remake when you could have simply just made a new entry? "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is what you call a brand name. There’s no need for an update when you already have something that works, especially when you’re essentially attempting to remake the entire series in a mere 90 minutes.

I began to make a checklist of things from the original Wes Craven classic that are at least alluded to in this new outing which, as the film progresses, turns into more of a checklist of events, visuals, and one-liners from all of the past films ("Freddy vs. Jason" included.) Not that this is a bad thing, but in a way, shouldn’t they have attempted to at least try to come up with their own material? The only thing new this adds is the Freddy back story which just makes him out to be even more of a creep than you ever thought he could be.

Thankfully we are treated to the climb through Nancy’s bedroom window, Freddy rolling one victim around her bedroom ceiling, Freddy’s glove reaching for Nancy in the bathtub, and Nancy seeing Kris in a bloody body bag in a hallway, and Freddy getting called "Fred." However, some of these are totally shortchanged or happen so fast you may not even realize whether it’s a nod to the original or maybe "Part 4" or both at the same time (it happens, trust me.) We also get some repeat one-liners like I mentioned before, such as, “Your mouth says no, but your body’s saying yes" ... "I’m your boyfriend now," and “Why won’t you just fucking die?” And in case you’re wondering, naming one of the characters “Quentin” isn’t the only Tarantino reference.

One could sit and nitpick the ins and outs of the whole production all day but of course what it comes down to is whether it works as a whole. Where Freddy himself works best is when he’s having standoffs with his victims. Not sure what it says when Freddy is more interesting having conversations than when he’s slicing and dicing and spouting a greatest hits compilation of one-liners. Thankfully Haley gets into character enough to get away with repeating these lines and never feels like that friend who loves the series too much and uses them in everyday conversation.

They say this is a way to introduce Freddy to a new generation; but let's face it, if they’re horror fans to begin with they’ve been watching all of these films for years now anyway. So again, you have to ask what the real point is. My fiancée had only seen the original "Elm Street" and she liked it more than I did and is not a horror fan. I guess while you can’t please everybody, you can certainly try to win over new fans as longtime fans will continue to line up no matter how much bitching we do once the credits roll. Forgiveness is a powerful thing and we’ll keep coming back for more whether we like the current version or not.

Article first published as Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) on