Friday, February 5, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: MISCONDUCT (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Shintaro Shimosawa. Written by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes. Cast: Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Alice Eve, Malin Akerman, Byung-hun Lee, Julia Stiles, Glen Powell, Christopher Marquette, Marcus Lyle Brown. (R, 105 mins)

A glossy legal thriller that probably would've opened in first place at the box office in 1996 instead of going straight to VOD in 2016, MISCONDUCT actually plays like a lesser, Grisham-inspired outing from that era that's just been thawed after 20 years in ice. In a role that would've been played by Michael Douglas in his hot-button, water-cooler-discussion heyday or perhaps Richard Gere or maybe John Cusack or Brad Pitt, the bland Josh Duhamel is Ben Cahill, an ambitious and morally dubious New Orleans attorney who thinks it's not cheating if the good guys win. He routinely relies on his computer hacker buddy (Christopher Marquette) to work his magic to get intel on the opposition and use that to secure fat settlements for his clients. Things aren't as good at home, with his marriage to nurse Charlie (Alice Eve) in a rough patch following a miscarriage. The setting is perfect for temptation, which arrives in the form of Emily Hynes (Malin Akerman), Ben's college ex who's now the trophy girlfriend to her sugar daddy, billionaire pharmaceutical CEO Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins). Denning is currently under investigation for fixing the clinical trials of a new drug to secure FDA approval even though he and his company know it's unsafe. Emily has the evidence to put Denning away and after attempting to seduce Ben, she manages to get him on her side. Ben takes the information to his boss, superstar lawyer Charles Abrams (Al Pacino), who's been trying to nail the corrupt Denning for years, always losing near the end of the game. What follows are the usual double and triple-crosses, a kidnapping, a body count both intentional and accidental, and the periodic appearances of a mysterious, terminally-ill Korean assassin known as "The Accountant" (Byung-hun Lee).

It's hard to dislike a twisty legal thriller with tawdry elements like Emily being a masochist who likes rough sex and being spanked, but MISCONDUCT doesn't have the drive or the chutzpah to go down the trashy, post-BASIC INSTINCT road. It doesn't really seem interested in being much of a thriller, either, with debuting director Shintaro Shimosawa (a former writer on CRIMINAL MINDS: SUSPECT BEHAVIOR and THE FOLLOWING, and the screenwriter of the career-worst Forest Whitaker vehicle REPENTANCE) more focused on show-offy camera movements that serve little purpose, like having a profile shot of one actor talking to another and slowly gliding the camera over to the other actor for their response. What Shimosawa probably thought was stylish just comes across like a badly-timed instance of panning-and-scanning that you'd see on a poorly-framed VHS edition of a widescreen film. It wouldn't be so distracting if it wasn't the only move in his repertoire, but luckily, he's got a contrived script by B horror vets Adam Mason and Simon Boyes (BROKEN, NOT SAFE FOR WORK) to absorb some of the blowback. It's all formula and cliches, with actors forced to say lines like "You're playing with fire!" and "I hope you know what you're doing...tread lightly," and "You sure you wanna play this game?" At one point, Ben and Charlie are both on the ground with their hands tied behind their back, about to be killed by The Accountant--the dumbest and least-intimidating assassin name since Pierce Brosnan played "The Watchmaker" in SURVIVOR--when Ben barks "When they find you, you're looking at three counts of murder!" as if that'll sway him or put Ben in an advantageous position. And when that doesn't work, he just goes to an old standby: "I'll fuckin' kill you!" MISCONDUCT never catches fire and never makes a whole lot of sense, with the filmmakers pretty liberally borrowing from a bunch of other similar thrillers from yesteryear, even giving Duhamel a chance to do his own "Tom Cruise running" shot when The Accountant is chasing him on a motorcycle. By the end, they also decide to start ripping off GONE GIRL because what the hell, why not?

Duhamel, Eve, Akerman, and Julia Stiles (as a hard-nosed Denning security chief) don't really register but they aren't bad, either. They're just there. The real story here is the presence of a pair of old warhorses like Hopkins and Pacino, both coasting through for a quick buck. Hopkins, whose work here will make you appreciate how much he busted his ass in FREEJACK, does his usual icy, cooing Hannibal Lecter delivery as the asshole one-percenter who thinks he can buy everything, while Pacino dials down the bombast but cranks the local color up to 11 as Abrams, breaking out a ludicrously broad N'awlins accent that would make Steven Seagal cringe. Doing everything short of throwing beads, dipping a Po-Boy in some jambalaya, and fanning himself with that day's edition of the Times-Picayune to let you know his character's from New Orleans, Pacino turns in a cartoon of a performance but neither he nor Hopkins are in this enough to make it the kind of trashy fun it should be. In fact, it's a little depressing. As ridiculous as Pacino's performance is, it's somehow not ridiculous enough. And therein lies the biggest problem with MISCONDUCT: it puts forth zero effort. None of the actors seem like they want to be there. They're punching a clock and doing only what they need to do to get by, and what scant slices of ham Hopkins and Pacino dole out are done more to keep themselves awake than to keep the audience entertained. Remember when RUNAWAY JURY came out in 2003? The promise of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman squaring off as opposing lawyers in what press hype at the time called "The Scene" was enough to get people in the seats and make the movie a hit. And "The Scene" didn't disappoint. Now, in 2016, 78-year-old Hopkins and 75-year-old Pacino, two monuments of cinema appearing in the same movie for the first time on the cusp of their emeritus years, have one scene together and judging from the way that scene is blocked and cut, the slumming legends couldn't even arrange their schedules so they could be on the set together at the same time. They don't give a shit. Why should you?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: MARTYRS (2016); HOME INVASION (2016); and TURBO KID (2015)

(France/US - 2016)

With its unbearably intense torture scenes supplanted by lofty spiritual and philosophical ambitions, Pascal Laugier's often-brilliant MARTYRS (2008) took France's "extreme horror" movement of the mid-2000s as far as it could go. It seemed inevitable that it would get a pointless, watered-down US remake, and eight years later, here it is, thanks in part to Blumhouse, the company behind PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS. Directed by the sibling team of Kevin and Michael Goetz (sons of veteran character actor Peter Michael Goetz) and written by Mark L. Smith (VACANCY, THE REVENANT), the English-language MARTYRS shares the same essential foundation--for a while at, least--while offering flashbacks and more backstory as far as the friendship of its two principal characters are concerned. As a child, Lucie (Troian Bellisario of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) was kidnapped and forced to endure extreme torture at the hands of her captors. She managed to escape, though other than the scarring, no perpetrators or other evidence were ever found to support her story. Left at an orphanage, she reluctantly befriended the kind-hearted Anna and the film jumps forward ten years. Lucie shows up at the front door of a house in the middle of nowhere and shotguns a family of four to death, determined to show Anna (played as an adult by Bailey Noble) that the seemingly normal mom and dad were the people who tortured her ten years ago. Anna is incredulous but goes along with her friend by helping her bury the bodies, but they aren't able to get away once a group of mysterious people raid the house, determined to finish what they started with Lucie.

You'd probably have to go back to Rod Lurie's underrated STRAW DOGS for a remake that was met with such venomous rage before it even began shooting. Serious horror fans were ready to pounce on the new MARTYRS the moment it was announced, and while it's not an overall success and has little if any reason to exist, it's by no means terrible. Bellisario and Noble turn in a pair of surprisingly strong performances, and the childhood flashbacks with sympathetic Anna reaching out to the anguished and withdrawn Lucie are very nicely handled by the actresses (Elyse Cole and Ever Prishkulnik) who play the younger versions of Noble and Bellisario. But the changes that Smith and the Goetz brothers make undermine the effectiveness of what made Laugier's original film so powerful. MARTYRS '16 loses the sense of hopelessness and despair felt by Anna once she's utterly alone after Lucie is unexpectedly taken out of MARTYRS '08, along with another girl they find being held captive in the house. In MARTYRS '16, Lucie doesn't commit suicide midway through, the girl they find (now a child played by Caitlin Carmichael) isn't killed by the mysterious people who arrive at the house, and instead of becoming the "martyr" for the group's twisted plan, Anna becomes a badass, shotgun-toting angel of vengeance, presumed dead but coming back to rescue Lucie and the girl while blowing everyone away. The last thing any version of MARTYRS needs is a misguided willingness to be a crowd-pleaser, and while it doesn't end in an exactly uplifting fashion, it just completely lacks the devastating impact of Laugier's film. MARTYRS '16 has some positive aspects and is marginally better than it has any business being, but it can't overcome its primary stumbling block: it's completely unnecessary and even its positives don't improve on anything in the original in any way. That is, unless you thought MARTYRS '08 really could've used some of those patented Blumhouse jump scares. (Unrated, 86 mins)

(Canada - 2016)

A listless DTV thriller as generically self-explanatory as its title, HOME INVASION occasionally rises to the level of laughable and stupid but is mostly just boring, headed by a pair of slumming actors whose careers were in much better shape 20 years ago. A trio of killers in EYES WIDE SHUT orgy masks led by Heflin (B-movie action fixture Scott Adkins) commandeer the isolated peninsula mansion of wealthy Chloe (Natasha Henstridge of SPECIES) and her sullen teenage stepson Jake (Liam Dickinson) while his father, her estranged husband, is out of the country on business. They're looking for a safe that's hidden somewhere in the house, and while the local cops are unable to get to the house thanks to a deliberate bridge malfunction caused by a fourth member of Heflin's gang, Chloe and Jake are on the line with their alarm company contact Mike (Jason Patric), who uses the many surveillance cameras--hidden and otherwise--throughout the home to guide them around and let them know when the killers are in close proximity. A lot of screen time is spent with nothing happening but Chloe and Jake tiptoeing around the house and Heflin seething as he paces around the kitchen. The house is huge but there aren't that many places to hide, and it's ridiculous that there's no way the cops can get around the bridge, either by boat or chopper. The idiotic script by Peter Sullivan (ABSOLUTE DECEPTION) relies on clumsy exposition, leaves plot strands dangling, and tosses in one contrivance after another (you'll already be laughing at the stupidity of one character less than a minute into the movie) and manages to be a ripoff of both PANIC ROOM and THE CALL, minus Halle Berry's wig. The end result is a tame PG-13 thriller that could've easily been given a PG, almost like it went straight-to-DVD but had the ultimate goal of being a Saturday night Lifetime movie. Henstridge--who's done some made-for-TV movies and TV guest spots recently, but I haven't seen her in anything she's done in years--does what she can with a stock "woman in peril" role, while Patric looks bored out of his mind, with almost all of his screen time spent seated at a row of monitors watching what's going on in Chloe's house. The one positive of HOME INVASION is a solid performance by Adkins, playing a straight bad guy role without going into his action repertoire. An engaging cult actor who should be the world's biggest action star, Adkins gives it all he's got near the finale--almost like he thought this would be playing on 3000 screens and would be the #1 movie at the box office over its opening weekend--but he gets nothing in return. That also goes for any viewer who opts to spend a long hour and a half watching HOME INVASION, a film recommended only for the most fanatical Adkins completists or rubberneckers morbidly curious about the ongoing autopsy of Patric's career. Co-produced by veteran Canadian schlock king Damian Lee and directed by David Tennant...not that David Tennant. (PG-13, 88 mins)

(Canada/New Zealand - 2015)

The perfect film for cult-movie nerds who can own up to experiencing a certain degree of arousal at the sight and sound of the old-school Vestron Video logo, TURBO KID is a sincere and affectionate example of homage done right. Set in the post-nuke apocalyptic future of 1997, the film finds lone warrior The Kid (Canadian DEGRASSI heartthrob Munro Chambers) barely getting by scavenging for scraps when he meets up with a perky robot named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) and has to fight off the mostly incompetent minions of the eye-patched Zeus (Michael Ironside), the despotic overlord of the desert wasteland. Like most post-nukes, this deals with water being the prime commodity, and Zeus has designed a machine that can harvest the water from ground-up human bodies. The Kid periodically crosses paths with a cigarillo-chomping, Indiana Jones-like cowboy named Frederic (Aaron Jeffrey) and eventually, the heroes join forces to take on Zeus and his army. The story is pretty standard issue, but the writing and directing team of Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell have fashioned TURBO KID as an infectiously fun throwback, complete with a constant, catchy synth score by Le Matos, and an impeccable eye for period genre detail. While a cursory glance at the advertising may make this seem like a kids movie, it's definitely not--there's a plethora of profanity and the splatter and carnage are non-stop, almost on an early Peter Jackson level of gonzo, which is mostly hilarious but it does seem at times like the one concession the film makes to the snarky hipster crowd. Other than that, TURBO KID gets everything right--it's no wonder there's been such a developing buzz about this from cult scenesters. From the opening scenes, you'll go through the movie with a big, goofy smile on your face at every amusing detail and wry one-liner. The filmmakers avoid the pitfalls into which most films of this type plunge--it doesn't have a condescending, mocking tone toward its subject. It's obviously a labor of love by fans, for fans, right down to the smallest detail. Chambers and Jeffrey are likable heroes, and Ironside has never had more fun onscreen than he does here as Zeus, but the show-stealer is the extremely appealing Leboeuf, in what should be a breakout performance if anyone in Hollywood sees this. Jason Eisener has an executive producer credit--his HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN being a case study of the kind of pre-assembled cult movie that makes every mistake TURBO KID almost completely manages to avoid. (Unrated, 93 mins, no US Blu-ray/DVD date announced but currently streaming on Netflix Instant)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Cannon Files: BOLERO (1984)

(US - 1984)

Written and directed by John Derek. Cast: Bo Derek, George Kennedy, Andrea Occhipinti, Ana Obregon, Olivia d'Abo, Greg Bensen, Ian Cochrane, Mirta Miller, Mickey Knox. (Unrated, 105 mins)

One of Cannon's most controversial releases, BOLERO opened on Labor Day weekend 1984 riding a wave of publicity due to its troubled production and explicit sexual content involving iconic star Bo Derek. The actress had been offscreen since 1981's TARZAN THE APE MAN, a film that began a decade-long stretch where she was starring exclusively in films directed by her husband John Derek. John, born in 1926 and 30 years his wife's senior, was a former actor who once held his own with Humphrey Bogart in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949) and an Oscar-winning Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING'S MEN (also 1949) and had prominent roles in epic blockbusters like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) and EXODUS (1960). John was married to original Bond girl Ursula Andress when he quit acting in 1966 to focus on filmmaking and photography. After he and Andress divorced, John was married to Linda Evans until their divorce in 1974. The divorce came after John met 16-year-old Kathleen Collins a year earlier and whisked her away to Europe. Upon returning to the US after Kathleen turned 18, the pair married and he rechristened her "Bo Derek," managing every aspect of her career and even handling the photography for her numerous Playboy pictorials. She landed a supporting role in the 1977 JAWS ripoff ORCA and in 1979, skyrocketed to international stardom as the object of a midlife crisis-stricken Dudley Moore's obsession in Blake Edwards' zeitgeist-capturing megahit 10.

Bo followed 10 with a very similar role in 1980's A CHANGE OF SEASONS, which had Anthony Hopkins in the Dudley Moore midlife crisis part. By this point, the Dereks, with their age difference and John's Svengali-like management of her career--he resented the "Svengali" implications but trolled his detractors by naming his company "Svengali Productions"-- became a lightning rod for tabloid controversy. They had such a ubiquitous media presence and Bo-mania was such a pop culture phenomenon that Fleer even released a set of "Here's Bo" trading cards. 1981 saw the release of the incestuous love story FANTASIES, a film the Dereks shot in Greece in 1973 during their sojourn to Europe where John wouldn't be inconvenienced by California's 18-as-the-age-of-consent statutory rape laws (when they returned to the States and while Bo was shooting 10, John also found time to direct the 1979 hardcore porno LOVE YOU! with Annette Haven). But the Dereks made their biggest splash of 1981 with their sexed-up remake of TARZAN THE APE MAN, a film that veered so far from the source story that the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to sue. Highly publicized thanks to Bo's barely-there Jane outfit and her numerous nude scenes, TARZAN saw Bo not using her 10 fame to further her own acting career but rather, the couple using her fame to get big-studio budgets for John's crummy movies. A director with an eye for beauty but no idea how to tell a story, John Derek's films during his marriage to Bo accomplish little aside from John Derek showing the world how hot his young wife is. TARZAN THE APE MAN generated enough interest--and enough people still wanted to see Bo naked--that it became a hit, but nobody liked it and it was immediately and rightly ridiculed by critics and audiences, earning multiple Razzie nominations and making John a major-studio pariah.

A set photo from early in BOLERO's shoot, as
evidenced by the presence of the soon-to-be-fired
Fabio Testi on the far left (thanks to
William Wilson for supplying this pic)
Undaunted--and still winning since, as he was quick to point out, his wife was incredibly hot--John set up a deal with Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus at Cannon for the couple's next film, BOLERO, its title a reference to the Ravel piece that was prominently featured in 10. Golan and Globus were in the middle of a lucrative distribution deal with MGM/UA, and that allowed them to supply John with an even bigger budget than he had with TARZAN, and to further stroke his ego as if that was even necessary, they also gave him final cut. Shooting began in the summer of 1983 and almost immediately ran into problems when Bo became alarmed over a cold sore on the lip of the male lead, Italian actor Fabio Testi. The two stars already weren't getting along, and there was a lot of chatter in the press that Testi had herpes and was forced to exit the movie. The official diagnosis was "atypical facial dermatitis," and an already-under-contract Testi was yanked off of BOLERO and sent by Golan to another Cannon production, J. Lee Thompson's THE AMBASSADOR. Testi was replaced by another Italian actor, the much-younger Andrea Occhipinti (Lamberto Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK, Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER), but John wasn't satisfied with his physical appearance and, according to a February 1984 article in People, tried to talk him into bulking up with steroids. Following the advice of his doctor, Occhipinti refused, but agreed to physically train with Scottish co-star Ian Cochrane, who had some bodybuilding experience. Shooting mostly in Spain, John's directing style alienated much of the local crew, but the real clashes came later when Golan screened the finished film for MGM/UA personnel, including studio head Frank Yablans, who was put in charge of the company in early 1983.

Yablans was already pissed off about the quality of product Cannon was bringing him with low-budget films like TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS and HERCULES and big-budget money-losers like the expensive Brooke Shields adventure SAHARA and the raunchy Faye Dunaway period piece THE WICKED LADY, both of which bombed. REVENGE OF THE NINJA and BREAKIN' were two of the very few hits under the MGM/UA-Cannon deal, and when Yablans attended the disastrous private screening of BOLERO, during which numerous MGM/UA brass started laughing out loud in all the wrong places, he'd reached his breaking point. Golan was just as upset about John Derek's finished cut as Yablans, but he got an even bigger surprise when an irate Yablans drew the line and flat-out refused to distribute BOLERO. The topic was brought up in Mark Hartley's 2015 Cannon documentary ELECTRIC BOOGALOO and Yablans, who was out at MGM/UA by 1985 and who died in 2014, appears on camera still stewing about Cannon, and over BOLERO in particular. After the teen comedy MAKING THE GRADE flopped later in the summer of 1984, Yablans had seen enough and pulled the plug on MGM/UA's relationship with Cannon. As a result of the falling out with Yablans, Golan and Globus were on their own and began self-distributing most of their films, starting with BOLERO (1985's LIFEFORCE, produced by Cannon and released by Tri-Star, was an exception, and several 1986-87 Cannon productions would be released by Warner Bros). While BOLERO barely made back its budget thanks to, once again, people wanting to see Bo Derek nude (it opened in third place that Labor Day holiday weekend, behind TIGHTROPE in its third week and GHOSTBUSTERS in its 13th, then plummeted to 8th place in its second weekend), the resulting film was so terrible that it did irreparable damage to what remained of the Dereks' credibility in Hollywood.

Make no mistake--BOLERO is an awful film. The only positive thing one can say about it is that the budget is up there on the screen. With lavish sets and location shooting in Spain, Morocco, and the UK, the only thing John gets right--other than Bo's gratuitous nude scenes--is a certain sense of spectacle. Set in the 1920s, the threadbare plot has 28-year-old Bo as Ayre "Mac" MacGillvary, a wealthy orphan just out of boarding school, armed with her inheritance and ready to search the world for the perfect man to whom she can gift her virginity. Accompanied by her best friend Catalina (Ana Obregon) and her chauffeur/guardian Cotton (a bewildered-looking George Kennedy), Mac travels to Morocco where she meets a London-educated, narcoleptic sheik (Greg Bensen, in his simultaneous acting debut and swan song) who seduces her and covers her in milk and honey but falls asleep before he can deflower her. Then it's on to Spain where she meets bullfighter Angel (Occhipinti). The two fall in love and Mac loses her virginity in an over-the-top sex scene that has John employing a wind machine as Mac reaches orgasm, in addition to zooming in as close to the actors' grinding and thrusting as he can to vividly show the friction of their pubic hair (in a later climactic sex scene, Derek gives us a clear shot of Occhipinti's nutbag). The couple's passion is threatened when Angel is gored by a bull (in a scene where John shows shocked onlookers, including a reaction shot from a barking dog) and is unable to perform sexually. Never fear, though--Mac gives him a thumbs up and promises "That thing is going to work! I guarantee you this!"

"Yep...the picture was called COOL HAND LUKE," sighs
 George Kennedy, adding "They gave me an Oscar for it!" 
From then on, Mac focuses on helping Angel heal in order for them to continue breaking barriers in sexual ecstasy (or "extasy," as she spells it). All the while, Mac is given strong support and encouragement by Cotton, Catalina, and 13-year-old local gypsy girl Paloma (debuting future WONDER YEARS co-star Olivia d'Abo who, in a move that would only happen in a John Derek film, was 14 at the time of filming and somehow does full frontal nudity), as well as Angel's housemaid, who has a brief fling with Cotton (yes, even George Kennedy gets laid in this movie). Never have so many people had to devote so much time and energy to an impossibly gorgeous woman getting some dick. While the numerous sex scenes are vigorous and explicit (give John Derek some credit--he knew how to shoot a fuck scene), and, in the case of Angel's triumphant return to potency, hilarious thanks to John breaking out some lightning effects and an '80s metal fog machine, they're spaced out enough that the rest of the film is a dead-on-arrival bore. John manages to create the illusion of class with the majestic locations (he also served as his own cinematographer), brief and quickly abandoned attempts at paying homage to silent cinema (the film opens with a photo of Rudolph Valentino and the sheik's seduction of Mac plays out with silent movie intertitles in place of dialogue) and the sex scenes scored in overwrought fashion by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, but BOLERO is just bad. Bo's performance is terrible (she won a Razzie for it), and you can barely understand anything Obregon and Occhipinti are saying (around 48 minutes in, Occhipinti audibly flubs a line and John just left it in). The sex scenes were graphic enough that the Dereks knew BOLERO would get an X rating, and since the couple was promised complete artistic control and final cut, the film went out unrated, though stories differ over whether Golan wanted it to be even more explicit. The Dereks said at the time that Golan was pushing for more graphic content, while Golan claimed he asked John to make some cuts. Over 30 years later, it's hard to ascertain the truth, and at this point, no one cares.

A willing participant in the implosion of her once-promising career, Bo Derek was offscreen for six years after BOLERO. When she made another film, it was of course directed by her husband. 1990's GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT, produced by former Trans-World Entertainment partners Eduard Sarlui and Moshe Diamant, is John Derek's worst film by a wide margin, a self-indulgent travelogue/home movie that found Bo as a widowed wife trying to find a younger body to host the spirit of her robust, much-older, and recently deceased husband (Anthony Quinn). Also featuring veteran actors Don Murray and Julie Newmar, the alleged comedy GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT is obviously about an aging John Derek facing his own mortality but is so vapid and empty that it's somehow worse than either TARZAN THE APE MAN or BOLERO, with its only notoriety these days stemming from the presence of none other than Donald Trump in a small role as an asshole corporate raider (in other words, "Donald Trump") trying to take control of Quinn's business. BOLERO and GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT were recently released as a double feature Blu-ray by the fine folks at Shout! Factory, and the very fact that this product exists in the year 2016 should completely debunk once and for all the myth that physical media is dead.

John and Bo Derek at the height
of the early 1980s Bo-mania. 
Not long after GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT predictably bombed in theaters, John's health began to decline and Bo had to branch out and act in other movies. She found herself in several straight-to-video titles like 1992's HOT CHOCOLATE and a pair of 1994 post-BASIC INSTINCT erotic thrillers, SHATTERED IMAGE and WOMAN OF DESIRE. GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT proved to be John's final feature but he directed a pair of music videos for Shania Twain in 1995, the same year Bo had her most significant role in years as Chris Farley's scheming stepmother in TOMMY BOY. This led to some steady work on TV for Bo, which continued after John's death following emergency heart surgery in 1998 at the age of 71. In a relationship with SEX AND THE CITY and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING co-star John Corbett since 2002, Bo hasn't appeared in a major theatrical feature since 2003's MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, though she's remained busy with a couple of Lifetime movies and guest spots on TV shows like CHUCK and CSI: MIAMI, as well as playing Tara Reid's mother in 2015's SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO! Bo Derek will turn 60 this year, and though she hasn't headlined a box office hit in over 30 years, she remains one of the world's most recognizable sex symbols, due mostly to one film: 10. No matter how peculiar or creepy the public perceived their relationship to be, there's no doubt she and John loved one another dearly, but after 10, she probably could've accomplished more than becoming a four-time Razzie winner in every movie she made with her husband--one for each film and then a special award for Worst Actress of the 1980s.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Theaters: THE BOY (2016)

(US/China - 2016)

Directed by William Brent Bell. Written by Stacey Menear. Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, James Russell, Ben Robson, Matthew Walker. (PG-13, 97 mins)

I'm a sucker for a good creepy doll movie, and after the unwatchable ANNABELLE, THE BOY appeared to be a welcome throwback that relied more on atmosphere and mood than jump scares and subpar CGI. Hope was deflated significantly upon learning THE BOY was directed by William Brent Bell, whose previous films include the idiotic gamers-killed-by-video-game dud STAY ALIVE (2006), featuring a legitimate contender for the most annoying snarky movie line ever ("Sweet Sebastian Bach, I wanna play!"), and the rock-bottom, found-footage EXORCIST knockoff THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012). STAY ALIVE was merely stupid, but THE DEVIL INSIDE was the cinematic equivalent of a Nigerian prince e-mail, a loathsome scam of a film whose boundless contempt for its audience was so off-the-charts that it just stopped abruptly with no ending, with a middle finger of an end crawl sending moviegoers to a web site "for more on the ongoing investigation." Despite toxic word-of-mouth, THE DEVIL INSIDE somehow managed to sucker audiences out of $53 million despite a 76% freefall in its second weekend. Still, both STAY ALIVE and THE DEVIL INSIDE probably scored well enough on the horror fanboy's overly generous "Everything is Awesome!" curve that Bell likely got himself a lifetime "Master of Horror" pass. Against all odds and any rational logic, William Brent Bell is still considered employable, and though I love a creepy doll movie as much as anyone, the biggest concern going in was "How badly is Bell going to fuck this up?"

To his credit, he does an alright job, as THE BOY is a pretty good horror movie until it turns into a pretty dumb horror movie. It's his most accomplished film yet as a director, though it would be hard to make something worse then THE DEVIL INSIDE. It's worth noting that Bell also wrote that film and STAY ALIVE but had nothing to do with THE BOY's script, which is a career path I advise him to keep following. Set in the kind of stately British manor that would've fit perfectly in a 1970s Hammer or Amicus film, THE BOY (actually shot in Canada) stars THE WALKING DEAD's Lauren Cohan as Greta, an American running from a requisite dark past, all the way to rural England, where she takes a job as a nanny at a large estate in the middle of nowhere. She's hired by the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle) to watch over their eight-year-old son, Brahms. Brahms is revealed to be toddler-sized porcelain doll. The Heelshires are going on holiday and Greta has specific instructions to follow Brahms' itinerary to the letter, including poetry and music lessons, a bedtime story, a kiss goodnight, and to be with him at all times. Of course, Greta blows off her duties, but is essentially housebound with nothing much to do, no internet and no cell reception. Local bloke Malcolm (Rupert Evans) drops off groceries and dispenses the Heelshires' generous pay to Greta each week, and rightly senses that Greta is running away from something that she reveals to be a violent ex who's trying to track her down, and she fled overseas from Montana to get as far away from him as she could. Malcolm informs Greta that Brahms was the Heelshires' eight-year-old son, and he died 20 years earlier in a fire. They've never been able to cope with the loss, so they treat the doll as if it's the child Brahms. Greta starts taking her duties seriously when she begins witnessing strange occurrences that indicate "Brahms" is alive, or at the very least a spirit of some kind exists inside the doll.

THE BOY works fine for about 2/3 of the way, with Cohan an engaging, believable heroine, and she has a good rapport with Evans, who's very likable as Malcolm. Brahms, with the ever-so-slight changes in his facial expressions, is an eerie figure and the premise is bizarre enough that it keeps you intrigued over where it's going. Then it gets to where it's going and it stumbles to its unsatisfying conclusion. From the moment Greta's ex improbably shows up, the film never regains its footing before abandoning the "creepy doll" angle and turning into...well, it's hard to say what it turns into without spoiling it, but it's a 2014 import that got a lot of buzz in cult horror circles. THE BOY isn't a bad movie, but it's another example of the need for a bait-and-switch plot twist negating much of what took place before, with the focus going from telling the story to laying the foundation for a sequel. I wouldn't be surprised if what turns out to be "Brahms" becomes a DTV franchise, which I guess some producers find more important than making one good, strong, solid-from-front-to-back horror film.

Monday, January 25, 2016

In Theaters: ROOM (2015)

(Ireland/Canada - 2015)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Written by Emma Donoghue. Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar, Randal Edwards. (R, 118 mins)

Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her best-selling 2010 novel, ROOM is a harrowing, grueling, yet ultimately uplifting drama that's one of 2015's finest films. Cementing her place as one of the top actresses of today, Oscar-nominated Bree Larson is Joy, a 24-year-old woman who was abducted seven years earlier from her suburban Ohio neighborhood by a man she dubs "Old Nick" (Sean Bridgers, who had a somewhat similar abductor role in the Lucky McKee horror film THE WOMAN). Locked in a fortified backyard shed with only a skylight to show any trace of the outside world, Joy has a five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), fathered by Old Nick, who still regularly forces her to submit to his sexual demands while Jack hides in a closet. "Room," as Joy and Jack call it, is their only world, as Jack has never been past the door and has no concept of people or society. Joy and Jack have a loving relationship, spending every waking moment together, and she's fiercely protective of him, standing her ground and refusing to let Old Nick near him. Joy learns Old Nick has been unemployed for six months, which explains why he's been increasingly frugal with the supplies he provides, and coupled with Jack's fifth birthday, she realizes it's time to start planning an escape.

That's only part of the film, which splits its story into roughly equal halves of one hour each. Once a series of circumstances results in Jack getting out and Old Nick being arrested, Joy must not only reintegrate herself into society after being locked in a shed for seven years, but Jack must quickly adjust to the existence of world he never had the ability to contemplate. Shell-shocked and terrified to leave his mother's side, Jack very slowly warms to life with Joy's mother Nancy (Joan Allen, terrific as always). Nancy and Joy's father Robert (William H. Macy) have divorced in the seven years since her abduction, with Nancy's significant other now Leo (Tom McCamus), who Joy remembers as being an old family friend. It takes time for Joy and Jack to adjust to the freedom, with Jack periodically missing the security he felt in "Room," the only place he's ever known.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (FRANK) takes a methodical and unflinching approach to both the day-to-day confinement and the ultimate liberation of Joy and Jack. He conveys the sense of claustrophobic dread and terror but admirably never goes for the exploitative in his depiction of Old Nick's repeated violations of Joy, only showing a cowering Jack in the closet and trusting the audience to understand what's happening. He also pulls no punches in the natural, human flaws of the characters, unafraid to show Joy as impatient and angry or Jack as occasionally unappreciative and bratty. Even once they're safe with Nancy and Leo, tensions flare but there's always a sense of love and perserverance. It's ultimately a feel-good story, but it earns it by never feeling forced or manipulative. No one is really sure how to react to anything, particularly Robert, whose cold reaction and refusal to even look at Jack doesn't necessarily make him a bad person, but certainly one who has no place in their lives now. The focus is the love between Joy and Jack but the bond that Jack separately develops with Nancy and especially with Leo, who steps up to be the father and grandfather Robert can't and won't be, is very touching (McCamus' warm and sympathetic performance may be ROOM's stealthiest secret weapon). Larson, a gifted young actress who should've been nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for her indie breakthrough turn in SHORT TERM 12, is unforgettable as Joy, and she's matched in every way by nine-year-old Tremblay, who turns in one of cinema's most remarkable performances by a child actor. With maybe the most perfect closing scene in any film of 2015, ROOM is a gut-wrenching, devastating ordeal about tragedies overcome and lives moving on. Don't miss it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Theaters: DIRTY GRANDPA (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Dan Mazer. Written by John Phillips. Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Dermot Mulroney, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Julianne Hough, Jason Mantzoukas, Danny Glover, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Adam Pally, Brandon Mychal Smith, Jake Picking, Michael Hudson, Mo Collins, Henry Zebrowski. (R, 102 mins)

The worst thing to happen to Robert De Niro since prostate cancer, DIRTY GRANDPA is about as unwatchable as modern comedy can get, existing almost on the same plane of laziness, incompetence, and flat-out contempt as any atrocious Friedberg/Seltzer spoof. The film imagines itself some kind of edgy, "did they just go there?" envelope-pusher, but there's nothing here beyond the shock value of a living legend like De Niro working blue and saying some of the filthiest things ever heard in a mainstream movie. But "shock" doesn't mean "funny." Raunch humor can kill--in-their-prime Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow and AMERICAN PIE have shown that. And the great BAD SANTA (2003) expertly mixed raunchy shock with smart writing and funny performances. DIRTY GRANDPA skips the humor component, demonstrating absolutely no restraint as it guns it straight for the raunch and nothing but. As decreed in the Burgess Meredith Amendment set forth upon the release of 1993's GRUMPY OLD MEN, Hollywood seems to think there's nothing funnier than old people saying really nasty shit. After 102 minutes of watching De Niro--arguably the greatest actor of all time--jerk off; talk about donkey-punches, creampies, chugging horsecock, and Queen Latifah taking a shit in his mouth; call his grandson "Jack Dicklaus" and "Michelle Wies-in-my-mouth" while golfing; call his grandson's fiancee's pink car "a giant labia" and "a giant tampon"; stick his cock and balls in his grandson's face; make racist and homophobic cracks to a gay black man; harangue the same grandson for cockblocking him and calling him "Cocky McBlockerson"; and bellow ad nauseum that he wants to "fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck till my dick falls off!" while dropping more F-bombs than in all of his Scorsese films combined, you'll long for the tact and grace of Meredith cackling about "taking the skin boat to Tuna Town!" in GRUMPY OLD MEN. De Niro isn't so much a dirty grandpa as he is a geriatric 2 Live Crew.

Dick (De Niro) convinces his grandson to take him
 to Daytona Beach by making him an offer he can't
 refuse in DIRTY GRANDPA
It has a plot that's similar to the not-quite-as-godawful-but-close Robert Duvall vehicle A NIGHT IN OLD MEXICO. The day after the funeral of his wife of 40 years, who succumbed to a long battle with cancer, grieving Dick Kelly (De Niro) convinces his uptight, straight-arrow lawyer grandson Jason (Zak Efron) to take him from Atlanta to his vacation home in Boca Raton where he and his wife spent their summers. When Jason picks Dick up and catches him jerking off to porn ("You caught me takin' a #3!"), it's a harbinger of things to come. After 40 years of being a faithful husband and 15 years of celibacy due to his wife's lengthy illness, Dick needs to blow off some steam. Jason really wants no part of it, as he's got a big case at his dad's (Dermot Mulroney) law firm and he's getting married to Jewish bridezilla Meredith (Julianne Hough) in a week, but Dick nevertheless cajoles his square grandson into taking him to Daytona for spring break. Dick keeps getting on Jason about why he abandoned his passion for photography to join his dad's law firm, and why he's marrying a control-freak shrew like Meredith, but his real focus is getting laid, and after they run into a trio of spring breakers, Dick sees the perfect opportunity to achieve his dream of unprotected sex with a college girl. Pretending to be a professor, Dick catches the attention of hard-partying Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), who has a fantasy about screwing an elderly prof, wooing Dick with come-ons like "How about you knock your balls in my vagina?" and "I want you to tsunami all over my face!" and "I want you to eat me out and blow your last breath in my pussy." Simply by default of nothing else in the film being even remotely amusing, Plaza is the sole source of anything resembling actual comedy in DIRTY GRANDPA, but her only funny lines (like "I want you to tell me you watch Fox News!") are probably ad-libbed and, perhaps most tellingly, are the ones that aren't X-rated.

Dick (De Niro) asks "You talkin' to me?"
after Lenore tells him to tsunami on her face and
 blow his last breath in her pussy in DIRTY GRANDPA
Elsewhere, DIRTY GRANDPA is absolute misery. In the right hands, Jason accidentally smoking crack and being busted for pedophilia and threatened with prison rape and putting on semen-encrusted pants and Facetiming his Jewish fiancee and her Rabbi while unknowingly sporting a swastika of penises drawn on his forehead and having De Niro's stunt junk resting on his face might've been funny. The same goes for De Niro doing rap poses doing a karaoke version of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day." But in the hands of first-time screenwriter John Phillips (his next project is BAD SANTA 2, so scratch any hope for that one) and director Dan Mazer, a past Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator who helped write DA ALI G SHOW, BORAT, and BRUNO (after DIRTY GRANDPA, it's obvious who was carrying who in that partnership), nothing works and the entire purpose of the project seems to be how far down to the bottom De Niro will let them take him. Mazer's direction is an amateur-night abomination, lacking even a basic understanding of blocking and cutting, starting early on when Dick and Jason leave for their road trip and Dick cracks "Let's get in the giant labia you pulled up in." Mind you, Dick hasn't seen the car because he was too busy "taking a #3" in his man-cave when Jason walked in on him. And how does it make any sense that Jason, several years out of law school, would've been a photo lab partner of Lenore's friend Shadia (Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson and a potentially charming actress if she can find the right movie) in college? And Shadia, Lenore, and their gay black friend Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) are graduating from college in a week, but they're on spring break now?  Does Phillips know the concept of semesters? His script tries to get all maudlin and sappy at various points, with a completely out-of-nowhere about-face by Dick, who spends the first half of the film derisively mocking the stereotypically flamboyant Bradley only to turn into a beacon of progressive acceptance later on. The filmmakers also awkwardly mix the sentimental and the tasteless, as in a heartfelt speech Dick has about how much his wife meant to him, while tossing in as an aside "We tried anal once every five years." There's no consistency and a lot of points are sloppily thrown in--Jason dreamed of being a photographer for Time, which isn't really known for its photos (was Phillips thinking of Life, perhaps? Did De Niro care enough to clarify? Does Efron know what a magazine is?), and Dick was secretly a Special Forces badass who spent his career fighting terrorism, which explains how he's able to take on a quintet of guys 50 years younger than him in a fight. Attempts to humanize Dick amidst his scatological and gynecological insults and one-liners that would make old-school Andrew Dice Clay blush come off as forced and phony. BAD SANTA turned its misanthropic anti-hero around, but that film provided Billy Bob Thornton with a real character to play, with a real progression and arc, and surrounded him with ringers like late greats Bernie Mac and John Ritter. De Niro gets Efron, who's frankly in over his head in pretty much anything, and even gets to mimic his co-star's familiar facial expressions at one point, which might've been funny had he not already done it for the De Niro party in NEIGHBORS.

Dick (De Niro) isn't afraid to take on
some younger troublemakers in DIRTY GRANDPA
De Niro's career took an unexpected turn into comedy the late '90s and into the '00s with ANALYZE THIS and MEET THE PARENTS and both of their sequels. But in those, he was essentially parodying his own serious image. It's not that De Niro can't do comedy--after all, 1988's buddy action comedy MIDNIGHT RUN is a classic--but he needs well-written comedy, or at least a comedically-gifted co-star to bounce off of, like he had with Charles Grodin in MIDNIGHT RUN. It goes without saying that Efron is no Grodin, and while De Niro has nothing to work with here, it still no excuse for the revolting mess in which he's gotten himself. The two-time Oscar-winner has taken a lot of shit over the last decade and a half or so for taking easy gigs that were beneath him (FREELANCERS, THE BIG WEDDING, THE BAG MAN), with constant cries from fans that he's tarnishing his legacy. But there have been some excellent performances from this much-maligned period--the barely-seen STONE and BEING FLYNN and his Oscar-nominated turn in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK come to mind. I get that working actors have to work, and De Niro likes to stay busy. While I'm sure he enjoys the big paychecks as well, it's easy to see where he's coming from--how many 72-year-old actors are still getting leads in major movies these days?  We bag on De Niro but forget someone like Harrison Ford, who's been coasting and phoning it for years but that's all forgotten now that he's Han Solo again. Ford doesn't even mask his cynical disdain for what he does for a living, but you have to give De Niro some credit--he actually seems to be enjoying himself with DIRTY GRANDPA. He approaches the role with an enthusiastic gusto that gets increasingly desperate as the movie flop-sweats its way through one depressingly unfunny set piece after another. After some dubious career choices in recent years, De Niro has hit bottom and there's nowhere to go now but up, as DIRTY GRANDPA is an unequivocally soul-crushing endurance test of a comedy, easily the worst film he's done in a career now in its sixth decade. It's really hard to sufficiently convey just how incredibly devoid of laughs DIRTY GRANDPA is, but in the De Niro comedy canon, it's gotta rank dead last, with nothing in it nearly as hilarious as Travis Bickle's rescue of Iris in TAXI DRIVER or the Russian Roulette scenes in THE DEER HUNTER.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Netflix, Special "Universal/Blumhouse Dumpjob" Edition: THE VEIL (2016); VISIONS (2016); and CURVE (2016)

(US - 2016)

Blumhouse, the Jason Blum-led production company behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, INSIDIOUS, and PURGE films, has a serious backlog of delayed and shelved titles through various distributors. One such distributor is Universal, who released several Blumhouse titles directly to Netflix with no fanfare in late 2014. This week, the studio quietly released to Netflix another batch of Blumhouse product that's been sitting around for anywhere from one to three years. The best of the bunch is THE VEIL, written by Robert Ben Garant (JESSABELLE) and directed by the long-absent Phil Joanou (THREE O'CLOCK HIGH, STATE OF GRACE), helming his first feature film since 2006's GRIDIRON GANG. THE VEIL takes its cue from Ti West's relatively recent THE SACRAMENT in that it obviously references the 1978 Jonestown tragedy in Guyana, but goes in a different and more supernatural direction. In 1985, 47 members of the Heaven's Veil religious cult committed mass suicide by poisoning, including the cult's crazed leader, the shaggy-haired and shades-wearing Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane). 30 years later, lone survivor Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe), who was only five years old at the time of the mass suicide, is contacted by a team of documentary filmmakers headed by Maggie Price (Jessica Alba). Maggie and her cameraman brother Chris (Jack De Sena) have also had their lives affected by the Heaven's Veil incident--their father was the lead FBI agent investigating Jacobs and the man who led the raid on the compound. It had a profound effect on him and he committed suicide three years later, his body found by young Maggie. Maggie has scoured her father's personal files on Heaven's Veil and in some photos never released to the public, there are visible movie cameras, though any film that was shot was never recovered. As desperate to confront her past as Maggie is to see what truths are to be uncovered on any lost films, Sarah accompanies the group to the ruins of the Heaven's Veil compound where they indeed discover reels of film that show Jacobs experimenting with a brain-death-inducing drug and an antidote that pulls one back from the edge of death with what he claims are newfound, otherworldly, spiritual abilities. It doesn't take long before some unlucky members of the group discover the hard way that Jacobs' spirit haunts the Heaven's Veil grounds, with the intent of procuring new vessels for his and his followers' spirits to carry on their work in the present day.

Admittedly, the early going isn't promising, starting with Jane's character being named "Jim Jacobs" (not a far leap from the real Rev. Jim Jones or Stuart Whitman's "Rev. Jim Johnson" in 1980's GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED) and wearing the signature dark sunglasses (do all suicide cult leaders go to the same Sunglass Hut kiosk at the mall?). But rather than go through the pointless, found-footage Jonestown re-enactment that West did with THE SACRAMENT, Joanou and Garant at least try to do something different with the idea, even if it seems a little reminiscent of EXORCIST III or PRINCE OF DARKNESS at times. Joanou also admirably avoids going full found-footage and instead shows Maggie and the others start watching the grainy, damaged films that seamlessly become flashback sequences. It's a rudimentary technique but it at least avoids the stale, shaky-cam, tilted-angle nonsense that permeates the found-footage subgenre. There's a tremendous sense of atmosphere and chilling imagery throughout, using old-school standbys like shadows, fog, and trees with ominous branches. Dead characters revived and inhabited by the spirits of long-gone Heaven's Veil members walk together and approach their next victims in scenes where Joanou invokes Mario Bava films like the "Wurdalak" segment of BLACK SABBATH and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. THE VEIL doesn't break any new ground, but it's a good mix of predictable Blumhouse jump scares and a welcome throwback to horror tropes of old, with a legitimately dramatic climactic twist that leads to a downer ending that pulls no punches. The experienced Joanou (other credits include U2: RATTLE AND HUM and FINAL ANALYSIS) may seem like he's slumming in low-budget horror, but he's done his homework and knows what works, and in the end, it's really just a catchily repetitious synth score away from being a mid-level John Carpenter film. We're not talking about a new cult classic or anyone's new favorite horror flick by any stretch of the imagination, but for a movie buried by its studio and dumped straight to Netflix, THE VEIL is better than anyone would expect it to be. (R, 94 mins)

(US - 2016)

Completed in 2014 and hopefully the world's first and last oenosploitation horror film, VISIONS is a relentlessly dumb paranormal activity potboiler whose sole saving grace is that it isn't found-footage. A year after surviving a freak car accident that killed a baby in the other vehicle, Eveleigh Maddox (Isla Fisher) and her husband David (Anson Mount) have purchased a vineyard in Paso Robles where they plan to rebuild their lives now that Eveleigh is expecting. It's not long before she's plagued by (spoiler alert) visions, such as a bloody hand print on the wall, exploding wine bottles, an attack by a mannequin, and being stalked by a robed figure with an unseen face. A preoccupied David doesn't take Eveleigh's claims seriously and pushes hard to get her back on antidepressants with the help of her doctor (Jim Parsons--yes, that Jim Parsons), but against the advice of her new prenatal yoga pal Sadie (Gillian Jacobs). Eveleigh does some investigating and discovers that the house's previous owners abandoned it due to ghostly occurrences, and that the paranormal poppycock dates back to the late 1800s, when the home was owned by the great-grandparents of local vintner Napoli (John De Lancie), who conveniently said nothing about this early in the film when he hosted a housewarming party for the Maddoxes.

Written by Lucas Sussman, whose last screenplay credit was collaborating with Darren Aronofsky on David Twohy's impressive 2002 WWII submarine horror film BELOW with , and directed by SAW series vet Kevin Greutert, VISIONS can't decide what it wants to be and is ultimately all red herrings and no payoff. There's an entire subplot about Eveleigh thinking the neighbors are running a meth lab and it serves no purpose whatsoever. The supernatural silliness makes no sense once the twists and turns are abruptly laid out in the climax, which seems headed in a ROSEMARY'S BABY direction before it suddenly shifts gears and turns into a ripoff of the French "extreme horror" outing INSIDE, which may have been a better idea all along. It's never made clear why the paranormal activity is confined to the house or why it's doing what its doing (is it the ghost of Paul Masson, avenging the sale of a wine before its time?) and its ultimately all smoke and mirrors to cover up a really weak script that wastes an overqualified cast of TV vets and others who should have better things to do. Joanna Cassidy turns up as a wine distributor who also--gosh, wouldn't ya know it?--happens to be a medium when the plot requires one, and in easily the most frivolous role of her career, Eva Longoria in a pointless, two-scene bit part as Eveleigh's unattached and on-the-prowl friend. Being stuck on NBC's TELENOVELA is one thing, but what did the former DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES star do to get busted down to minor supporting roles in crummy horror movies where she plays the second best friend to the lead actress? Did she lose a bet with Jason Blum? (R, 83 mins)

(US - 2016)

Shot back in 2013, CURVE is essentially a two-character piece that starts out as a HITCHER ripoff that morphs into a survivalist thriller version of 127 HOURS before wrapping up as a grisly revenge outing. It gives singer and DANCING WITH THE STARS vet Julianne Hough a chance to get gritty as Mallory, a bride-to-be taking the deserted highway route from San Francisco to Denver, where her fiance is currently working. Of course she has engine trouble but that's remedied by a convenient hiker named Christian (Teddy Sears) who happens to stroll by. She offers him a ride to the next town and things go pleasantly enough until he openly ponders if she'd be able to "deep throat his cock," which Mallory correctly interprets as a major red flag that Christian is a depraved psycho. Unable to get him out of the vehicle, Mallory instead crashes through a guard rail on a road, sending them sailing into the woods below. Christian is thrown from the passenger seat  but Mallory's leg is trapped and she's unable to move, so after taunting her a little, Christian leaves. Days go by, with Christian periodically returning to the scene of the accident to hector her some more, because if he killed her, then there'd be no third act where she manages to free herself and track him down at a lodge where he's killed several other people and has a girl (Madalyn Horcher) strapped face-down on a bed.

It doesn't really score any points for intelligence or originality, but CURVE is never dull and Hough is surprisingly credible in the lead. Her fans might be surprised to hear her dropping vulgarities, eating a rat, and drinking her own urine as she's trapped in her car for days on end, but director Iain Softley (HACKERS, THE SKELETON KEY) and first-time screenwriters Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson and Lee Patterson don't offer much in the way of logic or consistency. Why would Christian leave Mallory alive in the car? And why is the highway completely deserted early on, but when Mallory gets in a position to expose Christian, you can suddenly see several cars whizzing by, including a cop (Drew Rausch) who, right on cue, becomes Christian's next victim? Sears doesn't do much as the dull antagonist besides widen his eyes and smirk. It's nice that he doesn't overplay it, but since we know nothing about the character, and what little we do know is unreliable info, it's hard for both Sears and the audience to get a handle on the hows and whys of Christian. Has he left a trail of dead bodies in his wake? Is he from the area? Is anyone after him?  Who knows? For the most part, CURVE is a forgettable retread of other, better movies, but Hough does a surprisingly convincing job of stretching outside her comfort zone and really gives it everything she's got. (R, 85 mins)