Dead And Breakfast (2004)

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I think “Dead And Breakfast” is a victim of over-expectation. The pull quotes used on the trailer are full of praise, even if one or two of them are weirdly indirect – “sure to become some sort of cult classic” is an odd one. There’s a level of expectation built up (the trailer also features two moderately big names, Portia De Rossi and David Carradine, when their level of participation in the movie is barely more than those few seconds, which is a bit of a dick move) and I feel if they’d toned it down a smidge, viewers would’ve been a lot happier with what they got.

 

But they really give it their all. Everything is thrown at the screen, every gore effect and comedy style you can think of, and…most of it is pulled off. In terms of what the finished product is most like, I’d say it’s more “Brain Dead” than “Shaun Of The Dead”. There are a couple of straight lifts from other horror-comedies, but by and large it finds its own niche.

 

How many horror movies have started with a group of teenagers / young adults in a camper van? Hundreds? I imagine fans of romance movies also do this mockery with stuff like…a woman rushing into an office with her clothes all dishevelled because she had to run for the bus and her heel broke? I don’t know, I don’t watch them. Anyway, this group are driving to their friend Kelly’s wedding (De Rossi), and in amusingly perfunctory fashion, get lost on the way and end up in the small town of Lovelock. Even though they’re driving in a massive camper van and could all sleep in there (presumably the reason they picked that particular mode of transportation) they stop off at a bed and breakfast, run by Mr Wise (Carradine) with an assist from exceptionally rude French chef Henri (Diedrich Bader). Because of reasons, there’s an ancient and powerful magic box just stored on a shelf at the B&B, and when it falls off and is opened, an ancient evil spirit is released and people start getting murdered sharpish; the person in charge of the box can put a small part of someone else’s body in there (blood, hair, a finger) and then that person becomes a mindless sort-of-undead slave.

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So, all hell breaks loose. Our heroes and a few friendly residents (the Sheriff, the lady in charge of the Hall Of Records) up against a horde of sort-of-zombies. A mysterious drifter, who knows all about the box, also helps out – there’s a group trapped in the B&B and a group who go to find Wise’s body so they can do some ritual to stop it all. It’s a bit tenuous, but it works. They’re forced to improvise weapons, and the blood! So much blood. Gallons of the stuff – one particular gruesome beheading drenches an entire room (bringing to mind that classic lawnmower scene in “Brain Dead”).

 

I’ve already mentioned some of the cast, but the rest of them are strong too. Jeremy Sisto is sort-of star Christian, the sensible-ish one; and Erik Palladino is hot-head David (Palladino and Sisto look enough alike to easily play brothers, but don’t). The female side of the camper van crew is Gina Phillips, Ever Carradine and Bianca Lawson, and all five are solid TV and movie hands. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, just pre-“Supernatural” and much bigger fame, is the Sheriff, and lovers of “Friends” will recognise Vincent Ventresca, aka Fun Bobby, as the town doctor. In a direct lift from “There’s Something About Mary”, there’s an onscreen musical narration from time to time, supplied by actor/musician Zach Selwyn – although Jonathan Richman never performed a rap song about how him and his zombie buddies are coming to eat you (the little zombie dance is another lift, though, from “C.H.U.D. 2: Bud The C.H.U.D.”)

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I’ve not even mentioned the comedy yet. It’s a mix of every comic style you could think of – there’s some nice wordplay in there, lots of juxtaposition (zombies shouldn’t behave in this wacky way!), lots of situations where the wildly OTT action just becomes funny; but most of all it’s farce. Farce is a tough one to pull off alongside everything else, but they manage it, with some lovely pratfalls and visual gags.

 

I appreciate I like movie trivia probably more than some of you do, but “Dead and Breakfast” has some interesting examples. Credited co-writer is Billy Burke, the actor known for “Revolution” and the “Twilight” series; turns out he and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have been friends since childhood. Burke was going to play the Drifter, but got a bigger gig; Burke asked if their other childhood friend, Brent David Fraser, could play the part instead. All three have been friends with director Matthew Leutwyler since their first days in Hollywood in the early 90s, and Leutwyler must be a good guy to work for as Palladino, Burke, Morgan and Sisto have all appeared for him multiple times.

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So, it’s a decent movie. Not as hilarious as it could have been, but handles the horror / comedy split better than most. Approach it with a friendly mind and you’ll have a fine time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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They Came Together (2014)

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I think David Wain is great. He’s been involved in tons of hilarious things – “Stella”, “Wainy Days”, and “Childrens Hospital”, to name a few. Of his directing work, I love “Role Models” and think “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Ten” had brilliant moments, so I’m right in the target audience for this. With him, Michael Showalter as co-writer, and a cast crammed with America’s best comic talent, it could not tick any more pre-viewing boxes.

At about the twenty minute mark, I paused this, turned to my wife and said “do they need to beat every single joke into the ground?” If you wanted to, you could stop reading there and you’d have all the information you need. The gist of it is, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are a couple, relating the story of how they became so to their friends Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader. They mention how it’s like a bad romcom and refer to themselves as those clichés – she works in a charming little sweet shop, and he works for CSR, the world’s biggest sweet conglomerate, and their story has every single roadblock and wacky misadventure you’ve ever seen in a rom-com. And I mean every one.

The cast list is absolutely amazing. Aside from the four of them, we have Max Greenfield, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, and Christopher Meloni; Michael Shannon, Adam Scott and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, and Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins pop in too. Among many others. That is close to a comedy dream team, and they all give it their best. Which is why the fact the material gives them no laughs at all is so incredibly disappointing.

A character commenting on the action as it’s going on can work, I think. I feel like it works better when there’s only one or maybe two people behaving like that; when you’ve got the entirety of the cast telling the viewer about the romcom cliché they’re working with at that moment, all the damn time, it becomes so tiring that it eventually just turns into white noise. And there’s a lot of times when that is the only joke, so great swathes of the film go by and I’m sat there in stony-faced silence. Add that to the fact that they’re mocking those romcom clichés at the same time as using them, and you’re left wondering just what exactly the point of this is.

If this entire film had been done, exactly the same, by a slightly less well-known cast and had been written / directed by Friedberg and Setzer (the guys behind all those awful genre spoof movies) then you can absolutely guarantee it would have been slammed by the critics. Yet the entire cast and crew coast on their accumulated goodwill, and a film which my wife didn’t laugh at once and I laughed maybe three times at gets great ratings (currently 69% on Rotten Tomatoes).

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It treats its “hilarious” observations as if it’s the first film to ever poke fun at rom-coms, when “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally…” (to name but two) have a lot more to say about the genre itself, operating from inside it, than this does. It seems to think that just noticing a cliché is enough, that you don’t need to bother with funny material or doing something original with the cliché or anything like that. It seems so weird to waste an amazing cast on something like this. It’s almost as if they don’t think you’ll get it, so keep reminding you you’re watching a parody every ten seconds or so.

There are a few good bits, and non-coincidentally they’re when they go off-book and just try to make something funny. Rudd’s encounter with his grandmother and Christopher Meloni’s extended bit about soiling his superhero outfit are fantastic, because they’re not trying to be incredibly tired parodies, and have no-one in them saying out loud “look at this romcom cliché, look at it, this is why you should laugh”.

This film drags. I paused it for a cup of tea, thinking I had maybe 10 minutes to go and it was barely half over. The incessant reminding you’re watching a parody, rather than just doing the parodying, isn’t a good idea for a decently paced film it seems. Wain and some of the cast of this are involved in “Childrens Hospital”, the hilarious Adult Swim parody of hospital dramas. Those shows come in, minus adverts, at 11 minutes and are just about perfect. This film, at 83 minutes that feels like 150, ought to have been a great deal shorter. The blame on this one has to go on Wain (as director / co-writer) and Showalter as the other co-writer, I’m afraid.

Rating: thumbs down