Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009)

It’s times like this that I wish I’d not described a load of other movies as the worst comedy ever, because we’ve got a new kid in town that makes “Van Wilder 2” (our description: “miserable failure”) look like “The Godfather 2”. I’m not sure the words exist to truly convey how wretched this is, but I’ll give it a go.

Van Wilder is off to college, the sort of college entirely populated by soft-porn actors in their mid 20s. We get a delightful recreation of the scene from that “Police Academy” movie where Van, giving a speech to his high school’s graduating class, is given oral sex by the valedictorian who has hidden underneath the lectern. He’s a chip off the old block as his Dad is ready to take him to Amsterdam and party with him, but he has business and can’t make it; so the credits roll and we see a series of snapshots of Van’s summer before he gets to Coolidge College.

Then the realisation sets in that this is a competition movie. The person you’re most likely to recognise, Kurt Fuller, is the colonel who’s now in charge of Coolidge, and was a former classmate of Papa Wilder; he hated the Dad and now hates the son too. So, he forces Van to join the ROTC, along with a troop of nerds and stoners, assuming that the tough military discipline will force them all to drop out. That this will all end up in a sort of wargame act 3, for control of the school, is never in doubt.

ASIDE: Why did no-one check that the college had become a military school in the intervening years?

The plot is effectively the same as part 2. Van meets a beautiful young woman, Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari, a former reality TV star), but she’s not only in the ROTC, she’s the girlfriend of the villain, Dirk (Steve Talley, who played the younger Stifler in the straight-to-video American Pie sequels). There’s also an organisation called Daughters In Christ’s Kingdom (DICK, because of course), which appears to be entirely made up of extremely hot women who are saying no to sex, despite them nearly devouring Van and his friends at one point.

Van’s friends are the aforementioned stoner and a character called, and I genuinely wish I were making this up, Yu Dum Fuk. He’s the Taj replacement, being desperate to pleasure as many women as possible; and the first great prank that the three of them pull is to steal all the dildos and vibrators…I thought this was to drive the women so crazy that they started having sex with the guys, but in reality it’s just to strap them all to the underside of the choir’s bench in church and turn them on at once so all the DICK ladies get an orgasm from the vibration. There is no reason for this.

Van, despite being a fairly obnoxious freshman, instantly becomes the main man of the school. He helps the football team break their long losing record by getting the cheerleaders to come out in little more than underwear and offer to have sex with the players if they win. Luckily, all the female students (who have all had pre-college boob jobs) are instantly okay with nudity, pole dancing and engaging in a bit of faux-lesbian play for the delight of the assembled men – not a single one of them, of course, has any lines or anything like that. Undoubtedly, if you watch movies to see attractive naked women, then this has an awful lot to recommend it. You’ll also really enjoy the sex ed class that Van takes over, where a supply of underwear models are helpfully on hand to demonstrate all the sexual positions (every one of which Yu knows the name of, which immediately makes him attractive to the women).

So, pranks pranks pranks. Van, at one point, laughs off being waterboarded by the ROTC assholes, as the substance they use is beer. I don’t even know if this is okay any more. Is it cool to joke about a modern torture technique? So he gets them back by replacing their camo-face-paint with dogshit.

Oh, let’s talk about continuity for a second. Van meets his dog for the first time as it apparently escaped from an animal testing lab (no payoff on that, in case you were wondering). It’s either the same dog from the first movie – set seven years after this – or he just happened to have two English bulldogs with grotesquely enlarged testicles. Because their names are different! Balzac is the dog from parts 1 and 2, and this fellow is called Colossus; and let’s not get into the whole thing about his testicles reverting to normal size after he’d “taken a load off” into those cream-filled doughnuts in part 1. If they don’t care, I shouldn’t either, I guess.

I actually felt bad for Kurt Fuller at one point; that point was, during a blindfolded massage, when he had his penis and testicles smeared with peanut butter by Yu’s Asian girlfriend (awfully nice of her to agree to do that) and had the dog lick it off, just as his wife paid him an “unexpected” visit. Kurt Fuller is a decent actor who’s appeared in comedies I like; this is a little like seeing an old school friend homeless.

In the cold light of the next morning, it reminds me of a porno version of a college comedy. There are a grand total of two women who have lines – one of which is Kaitlyn, the other the super-horny woman who offers to do Dirk’s dirty work for him in return for sex (not planting stolen test papers like in part 2, but planting a bag of weed which Colossus eats before the cops get there anyway). Every single other woman in the movie is there to get naked, grind on other women and get leered at by men. Or to perform acts that would probably qualify as prostitution? You know, good old fashioned teen raunch fun.

I might have made this sound moderately entertaining. It certainly never stops trying, but the relentlessly sleazy treatment of women is really hard to get past. Plus, if that’s your thing, there’s a ton of blatant homophobia in there too, as the ROTC sidekick masturbates to gay army porn and then is tied to a tree with Dirk, in the classic “accidental rape” pose, as the final joke of the movie. Good jokes would have given them a ton of leeway, but it’s just presenting a limp double entendre then pausing for the audience to have a chuckle before moving on to the next one.

But, the acting is largely okay, I guess? Cavallari is terrible, but everyone else appreciates that this might be a good thing for their careers and tries their hearts out. Our criticism must land squarely on the shoulders of the people who financed a movie solely for soft-porn addicts; dishonourable mention goes to writer Todd McCullough (his only feature-length writing credit) and director Harvey Glazer (whose first movie was a Jamie Kennedy starring vehicle in that crazy time when people thought Kennedy was remotely funny, engaging or bankable as a star; his second was a Jason Mewes vehicle!)

I just don’t buy that Wilder, father and son, are the same characters that appeared in the first movie. Dad seems to party more, and be a great deal more tolerant of his son, in part 3; plus, young Van doesn’t seem like the sort of man who’d spend seven years at college. Oh, there’s cellphones and references to modern stuff in this, which makes the whole prequel thing completely stupid. I appreciate this is a strange thing to fixate on, but when movies mess this sort of thing up, it’s a good indication that nothing is right.

What a thoroughly depressing experience. I always assumed that raunch movies had sort of died out, to be replaced with slightly more “conscious” efforts in the post American Pie world, but it turns out they just went straight to video and carried on with the fine work of elevating the white teenage male to godhood and exploiting the hell out of women. I’m sorry for bringing this into your life, dear reader.

Rating: all the thumbs down

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Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj (2006)

PRODUCER 1: We should make a sequel to Van Wilder.

PRODUCER 2: Ryan Reynolds costs too much-

PRODUCER 1: Kal Penn was in that “Harold and Kumar” movie last year! He’ll do!

PRODUCER 2: We don’t even have a script-

PRODUCER 1: Well, I’ve got this script from 1986. How about we just go through it and CTRL-F the star’s name with “Taj”, make the villain a racist and throw in two extremely brief references to Van’s character?

PRODUCER 2: I love it!

That is, I’m sure, how “Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj”, was created. Were it not for 1990’s “Getting Lucky”, this would be in the conversation for worst comedy we’ve ever covered here. The first gag is Taj mentioning how he was “king of cool at Coolidge College” – if you laugh at that, you’ll probably be okay (because you’d clearly laugh at literally anything).

Into the beautiful English university of Camford comes a character with the same name and played by the same actor as Taj from part 1, but otherwise sharing no characteristics whatsoever. He’s basically Van Wilder, which either indicates Van rubbed off on him completely, or they just didn’t bother changing the spec script featuring Ryan Reynolds they’d already prepared. He’s come for his master’s degree and to work as a TA, and as his father (seen in a flashback from 1965, even though hippies and painted VW cards and all that wouldn’t come along for a few more years) is a legacy at the Fox & Hounds secret society, so he’s got a great place to stay – only they’re a bunch of idiots who apparently get to reject whoever they like then force those rejects to stay in a dilapidated barn somewhere on campus.

ASIDE: British universities don’t have fraternities, although they do have what amount to drinking clubs for rich people. No huge buildings, no bedrooms for members, none of that at all (one society I read about owns a building, but they rent most of it out and only have a small area to use as a “clubhouse”).

So, Taj is forced to go to the barn, and meets the collection of stereotypes that anyone who’s ever seen one of these movies before will know and “love”. The super-smart nerd, the violent Irishman, the slutty girl, and the computer gaming nerd; you may also spend a few seconds and think “this is going to end up in a competition of some sort, isn’t it?” and you’d be entirely correct. Taj forms the “Cock and Bulls” society and enters his outcasts in the Hastings Cup, a series of entirely unrelated events scattered throughout the term which the Fox & Hounds have dominated for years.

The villain, an actor whose career has hit the skids so hard he doesn’t even have a photo on IMDB, is doing a sort of evil Hugh Grant impersonation, and his girlfriend is Lauren Cohan, bumming around in trash like this til “The Walking Dead” catapulted her to stardom, with her extra-posh English accent just waiting for Taj to show a whisker of character growth so she can hop into bed with him. There’s nothing new at all here, and it’s so dull and formulaic I started doodling rather than writing notes, occasionally being roused to pen something like “they’re the most obvious body doubles I’ve ever seen” (although it appears Cohan didn’t use one) or “it’s like the worst 70s British farce ever”.

There are a very small number of bits that crack a smile, though. For instance, the bit where the villain, just before the “climactic” sword fighting scene, says ‘We are going to settle this like our ancestors would have!’ to which Taj responds ‘you’re going to exploit me economically?’ – a reminder that Kal Penn can deliver a line well when he really has to. There’s the small visual gag of the writers of newspaper articles having names like “Ben Derhover”, “Anita Hanjaab” and “Mike Oxsbig”. Taj’s parents, British sitcom stars Kulvinder Ghir and Shobu Kapoor, appear beamed in from a slightly funnier, more self-aware movie.

I don’t know where to lay the blame. Is it director Mort Nathan, who got his start as a writer / producer of “The Golden Girls”? Or is it writer David Drew Gallagher, a bit-part actor for whom this was his only writing credit? Or is it one of the 19 (!) listed producers?

It’s a movie made by people who have no idea about youngsters, or the UK, or comedy. Perhaps one of those 19 producers lost their virginity during a showing of long-forgotten 1984 Rob Lowe movie “Oxford Blues”, and wanted to recreate it only much much worse. I’m honestly at a loss here, people. It has no reason to exist – the first Van Wilder movie wasn’t that big a hit and Taj was a one-note supporting character, at best. Lazy is the best way to describe it – like Van apparently giving up his beloved dog to the guy he was briefly at college with, or saying Taj is from the USA when the first movie very clearly said he was Indian (perhaps to justify his constant accent slips).

As I hope I’ve indicated in the last five years, I like lowbrow humour as much as the next man (significantly more than most) but I also like it when the people who have the huge privilege of getting paid to make movies actually put some effort in. This is a miserable failure.

Rating: thumbs down

Man With The Screaming Brain (2005)

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Our mini-season of SyFy reviews concludes with Bruce Campbell’s directorial debut. It’s as unlike a normal one of their efforts as it’s possible to get, and after the hyper-generic “Ice Quake”, that’s refreshingat least. Whether refreshing = good is a conundrum the next 800-1000 words will unlock for you!

 

Campbell wrote “Man With The Screaming Brain” some years ago, and set it in LA, but when SyFy got on board, they suggested Bulgaria as it was cheaper to film there. Well, by “suggested”, I mean said ”film it where it’s cheap or we’re out”. So Bulgaria is the location where stereotypical ugly American William Cole (Campbell), the CEO of a drug / research company, has decided to take advantage of some juicy investment opportunities. He and his wife seem to hate each other, and she immediately falls for their taxi driver – who they pick because he’s the only one who can speak English – Yegor (Vladimir Kolev, “Dungeons and Dragons: The Book Of Vile Darkness”). He mocks Cole when they first meet, and as he’s quickly shtupping Mrs Cole in the back of his taxi, there’s clearly something less than respect there. But we don’t really get time to drink this in. There’s a lot of stuff in this movie!

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Tatoya (Tamara Gorski) is a woman with a confusing backstory and motivation, a problem she shares with every other character. She kills her boyfriend when he decides to dump her, then steals some stuff from Campbell, then when he confronts her, kills him with a lead pipe, and shoots Yegor, who was coming to help. An impressive amount of work for the first half-hour, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

This leads to the last spoke of the movie, the mad scientist and his assistant Pavel. Ted Raimi, friend of Campbell’s since childhood, starts at OTT and just keeps dialing it up as Pavel, and Stacy “what the hell is he doing here?” Keach is Dr. Ivanov, who’s invented a serum that allows part of one person’s brain to be transplanted into another person’s brain, to heal damaged areas and so on. If only he had a couple of recently killed people, one of whom had a head injury, to test his invention on! That he tried to interest Cole in his invention before is what counts for irony in a movie as bonkers as this.

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Anyway, the majority of proceedings is incredibly tiring slapstick, as Cole, with Yegor riding shotgun in his brain, with one of them sort of in control of one half of the body, the other the other, trying to track down and stop the woman who killed them both. Campbell gives it his all, but he must have realised this was pretty weak sauce compared to the stuff he used to do with Sam Raimi (and they really try to remind you of those movies with some of the physicality). They seem like a pair of friends who are mildly annoyed with each other, rather than strangers who met ten minutes ago.

 

His wife, unhappy with her husband and happy to turn off his life support, then finds Tatoya (lord knows how she knew where she lived) and tries to kill her. You think she’d be thanking her? But of course Tatoya kills her too, and this allows Ivanov to put her brain in a robot’s body and all the wackiness that ensues from a crap immobile robot wandering about. There’s little worse than unfunny comedy, because when the jokes fail you’ve got nothing to fall back on.

 

I’ve perhaps been overly unkind to it. There’s a weirdly prescient reference to “Donald Trump” when discussing the worst excesses of Americans; there’s some real and completely unvarnished Bulgarian locations, very much unlike anything you’ve seen of Europe in most movies; and the casual attitude of Raimi and Campbell to deaths all around them is pretty funny too.

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That above paragraph is, as I’m sure you noticed, pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise. Campbell clearly recognises where comedy should go in a movie, but he seems unable to provide it, giving us sections that in another pair of hands might have us creasing up with laughter but here just leave you, full of goodwill for his amazing career, just short of smiling. He’s not much of a director, which might be why he and Sam Raimi divided up the jobs the way they did back in 1980. And if I had to guess, I’d say he let Ted Raimi write his own dialogue, and he’s even less funny than Campbell is. He obviously loves old B-movies the same way I love them, and peppers the movie with references and plot devices from them, but…well, a lot of them sucked, too.

 

The thing is…there’s no reason for any of this stuff to happen. It feels like Campbell had an idea after watching “The Man With Two Brains”, wrote a bunch of slapstick but then couldn’t really be bothered with the rest of it. There’s a long list of “why is this happening?” questions you’ll ask yourself as things go on, and none of them will be answered.

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If you want to feel embarrassed for these folks, listen to the end credits, where Raimi gives us a rap song, in character, about how he’s stealing bodies and doing brain surgery. As much as I love songs written from the perspective of the people in the movie, or performed in character, this is miserable. Then I remembered the other passion project “My Name Is Bruce” that you’d expect to be hilarious but was actually, much like this, all sound and fury signifying nothing, and thought perhaps this is as good as we can expect?

 

Rating: Thumbs down

Getting Lucky (1990)

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Or, as my wife memorably christened it, “the movie where they act better on the cover” (see above). After watching and thoroughly enjoying the lowest-of-the-low-budget “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, I decided to check out the next Michael Paul Girard movie, one I could only assume to be some sort of teen sex comedy. In other words, right up my street! What I found, though, was a movie I’m still struggling to describe with human words.

 

Bill is a nerd, sort of. Actually, saying that is crediting this movie with giving him some sort of consistent character. Bill is a human being, probably, and he’s been in love with Krissi, the “beautiful” cheerleader, for years. His friend Tim, who’s in love with new French exchange student Babette, tells him to just go for it, but Krissi is sort of going out with evil jock Tony, who’s solely interested in sex. Now, I feel I ought to pause things briefly, because I can already feel this movie slipping away from me and I’ve only recapped the first five minutes.

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“Rugsuckers” was wonderful because while it was one of the cheapest movies ever made, all the handmade odds and ends added to that “labour of love” feel. The most generous possible reading wouldn’t call this movie a labour of love. From the very first minute, the supposedly upbeat, fun activity on screen (cheerleaders, people ogling cheerleaders, jocks doing jock things) is overlaid with dark, downbeat music, as if we should be looking at these people and tasting the cold ash of death in our mouths, knowing that all activity is futile and all joy is not just fleeting but illusory.

 

Or, you know, the music might just suck. I’m not a professional. But the weird nightmare of seeing the cheerleaders dance can’t possibly be meant to be titillating? So anyway, Bill, as poorly written and unbearable a lead character as the movies have given us in a long time, becomes a towel boy in order to earn money for college. The jocks are not just mean to him but almost psychotically violent, assaulting him and forcing him to clean up a flask of rotten old soup. You’ll get used to this feeling, but the buildup for what is a terrible gag (a rutting couple covered in puke-water) is really long. At least, I’m guessing it’s buildup, it’s hard to tell. When it’s a bunch of athletic men who look about 30 years old beating up a teenager, I struggle to make sense of any of it.

 

I’ve got to put my game-face on! This movie needs reviewing! As Tony keeps trying to get in Krissi’s knickers, Bill ditches his job and goes back to picking up and getting money for depositing recycling. One beer bottle…contains a leprechaun called Lepkey! Lepkey is a bit rubbish but basically helpful, giving Bill three wishes, although in the end it turns out to be six or seven, depending on how you view the horse thing. The most “famous” scene in this movie is when he completely cocks up a “make this wrench very slightly smaller” request, making Bill an inch high. Bill then…seriously can’t believe I’m writing this…climbs into Krissi’s underwear, hangs on to her giant-looking pubic hair and gives her an orgasm. This scene achieves that all-too-rare trifecta of being unfunny, looking awful and going on forever – you will be screaming at the screen to just make him normal size again and get on with it, long before it’s through.

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Bill wins over Krissi by just being a decent guy, and Tony gets a tennis racket rammed up his arse by the leprechaun. So ,he decides to rape Krissi, gets arrested and throws Bill under the bus by claiming he’s a drug dealer…and on the say-so of someone trying to get out of a rape charge, the police put 24/7 surveillance on Bill for six weeks. You know, like the police do.

 

Perhaps because they spent so bloody long on that “honey, I shrunk the nerd” scene, the bit where Bill and Kristi suddenly decide to get married, but wait til they’re married to have sex, appears schizophrenically fast, like all this has been happening in a different movie that we didn’t get to watch. Then we’ve just got more attempted rape, a weird guy riding two horses by standing on top of them both, a guest appearance by the hobo from “Rugsuckers”, and our loving couple ride off into the sunset.

 

Although I’ve used a lot of them, this movie has rendered me at something of a loss for words. It’s so deeply odd, that I genuinely can’t decide if it’s just horribly misjudged or if it’s a work of absurdist genius. I will say that if I knew nothing about the director, I’d have been insulting it from the first sentence, but that first movie has given him a lot of leeway in my eyes – plus, he was apparently living in a van when he made this movie. Is that dedication and spending every penny you have? Or was he just kicked out of everywhere he lived? Of course, the flipside of “great first movie” is “terrible every other movie”, and it appears Girard spent the next decade directing late-night T&A thrillers (including a couple of entries in the “Witchcraft” series, which looks awful enough to be an ISCFC project) and awful family movies, before hanging up his directing hat in 2006.

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But I can’t just dismiss this. Despite a cast full of people we’d never see again (of the six top-billed people, three have this as their only acting credit, and the star only appeared in one other movie) there’s something to be said for normal-looking films which end up being completely wrong-headed. Being able to be bad, but in a new way, is just as important as making something which is good, although admittedly occasionally tough to watch. Would you rather watch (to pick two recent Best Picture Oscar winners) “The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech” every day, or this and “Rugsuckers”? You could spend ages puzzling this movie out – although don’t do that, it would be a bad idea and life’s too short.

 

Plus, we’ve got those for-no-reason weird sex jokes in the credits. Every other name is a fake one (presumably Union people working on the quiet?) – here’s an example:

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I say watch it. The days of the utterly irresponsible teen raunch movie are long behind us, so we ought to celebrate them from time to time, while being glad that they’re not still being made. And we ought to thank Girard for employing a cinematographer who was only 2 feet tall – seriously, the number of shots from below (usually of cheerleaders and their underwear) goes beyond directorial fetish into a whole new area.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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

 

Space Milkshake (2012)

Ducked! Ahahahahahahaha

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Sci-fi comedies have a long and glorious history, starting (to all intents and purposes) with “Dark Star” in 1973. With its crew of slackers and oddballs, it showed that space wasn’t all clean corridors and humanoid aliens, but dirty underwear, things breaking down and weird beachball-with-feet aliens. We fans of both genres are living in its debt, and the makers of this film are definitely doing so too.

Robin Dunne, Billy Boyd, Kristin Kreuk, and Amanda Tapping are our heroes, the crew of an orbiting sanitation station, sort of a rubbish bin / recycling centre for all the junk left in space. They keep the space lanes clear but they’re seen as no better than the garbage men of earth. Bog-standard incompetence and petty jobsworth-ness on their part leads to an unscheduled transport getting blown up, and it contains two things – a rubber duck and a blue glowing time cube (the deadliest machine in the universe, so we’re told). One quick beaming to an alternate universe later, the duck starts mutating, while still retaining the personality of Tapping’s ex-boyfriend (and the voice of George Takei), and a robot double of Kreuk’s beams on board, kills her and starts behaving very oddly.

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There’s little in life worse than an unfunny comedy, and sadly for way too much of its running time that’s what this is. These people are all awful to each other, with the exception of Dunne as he’s the new guy on the station, and that snark and unpleasantness is used in the place of jokes and funny situations. You can tell where the jokes are supposed to be, but unless you think unnecessary rudeness is hilarious then you’re not going to get a great deal.

There’s also a lack of care over the finer points of the film, which worries nerds such as I. People making monstrously large words in Scrabble is a pet peeve of mine (you only have seven tiles, dammit!) and when they make a big point of the computer voice having changed, there’s a scene where it’s changed back and no-one seems to notice. Still, in the history of movies very few people have ever said “I would have loved that hilarious film, except for a lack of verisimilitude when it comes to Scrabble” so ultimately it didn’t matter.

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Gives an unrealistic expectation of how much fun this film was

The acting is absolutely top-notch, as you’d expect from a cast such as this, full of TV and film veterans. Boyd pokes a little fun at his Lord of the Rings role, while suffering from a mild case of Small Man Syndrome; Kreuk does well with her two roles; and clearly Tapping and Dunne must have had fun working on TV show “Sanctuary” together for four years, as they’re both producers on this. All four of them are clearly capable of comedy, but I feel the problem isn’t them so much as the writing. And now I feel bad because it’s a low budget movie made with several Canadian tax benefit packages, and was filmed in a little over two weeks…but then “Dark Star” had a tenth the budget of this and was a classic.

I love that people are making more sci-fi movies now, and they’re trying to do different things with them. And this certainly isn’t a bad movie, but it’s just not quite good enough. I presume there’s a hilarious story behind the title, too, but I don’t care enough to find out what it is. Still, I’d be happy to watch this cast do something else together, and given it’s the director’s first movie, he may improve too.

Rating: thumbs down (sorry)

EXTRA: The film’s website is remarkably similar to the film, having lots of little games to play which look fun but are in fact sort of boring and pointless.

Hellbenders (2012)

hb1

There’s nothing worse than a comedy that’s not funny. Well, there is, and it’s a horror-comedy that’s not scary or funny. Luckily, we get to see that with “Hellbenders”, a film I expect you’ll all be rushing out to rent after this glowing review.

The opening credits, framed in the form of a documentary about exorcism, tells us about the Hellbound Saints, a secret offshoot of the Catholic Church. Its members commit sins and break commandments left, right and centre in order to be as ready for Hell as possible. The idea is, if they find a demon they can’t cast out in the normal way, they can invite the demon into their bodies, die, and then be sure of the demon going back to hell inside them. It’s sort of an interesting gimmick, even if it’s a slightly convoluted way to off the occasional demon. So, you get churches run by the Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints, under the Catholic umbrella.

Clancy Brown, the voice who made “Highlander” awesome, is the main man, Angus, and there’s also Clifton Collins Jr, Andre Royo (forever Bubble from The Wire) and Dan Fogler, the man who inexplicably got comedy leading roles for a few years there before everyone twigged he was terrible. Robyn Rikoon rounds out the main cast as Elizabeth, the one time love interest of Collins’ Lawrence.

The story of this film, is to be fair, pretty interesting. An ancient God-killing Demon called Surtr, far older than Jesus, is trapped in the body of a kid in a basement, and when he’s freed after 30 years (by the Hellbound Saints) he builds an army and goes on a sin-spree, ready to perform a ritual that will kill God and exterminate Heaven. The Saints have to figure out a way to stop someone for whom their old tricks just don’t work. A large chunk of “Hellbenders” is a pretty straight horror-thriller, as the Saints try and fail to contain Surtr, then have to contend with a Catholic Church representative who’s no believer in their cause and wants the order shut down.

To be constantly prepared for Hell, the Saints have to keep sinning, and this takes the form of them drinking alcohol first thing in the morning, looking at porn, stealing newspapers, adultery (for the only member of the crew who’s married) and smoking marijuana. Their attitude towards all this stuff has become boredom, which is an interesting way to play it, but the presence of Fogler and his comic overacting seems to indicate we’re supposed to find this funny. Look, a Priest smoking a bong! It’s as if the very presence of those scenes ought to be enough to make us laugh, and if they’re not supposed to make us laugh then way too much time is spent on them. There’s also the idea that God is basically an accountant, and merely keeps lists of the things you’ve done, never mind why. Surely sacrificing yourself to save humanity from a powerful demon, giving up your life in preparation for it even, would be enough to get you “upstairs”?

The documentary part, bleeds into the beginning of the film proper, with a few scenes of the characters talking to camera, then this conceit is dropped and not mentioned again til after the end credits (in a scene which is desperately angling for a sequel). It’s all odd, as is the mix of tones – it goes from horror to comedy but never all the way in either direction, so the funny bits aren’t all that funny and the scary bits aren’t all that scary. Am I making sense here? A case could be made for playing it way straighter improving both sides of the equation. Also, I’m not quite sure the amazing sacrifice these people are willing to make really gels with broad comedy.

I wanted to like this film a lot. The trailer had me looking forward to it, the cast all looked decent (and do about as well as the material allows) and I’m a sucker for a good horror-comedy. But it’s just not good enough, and mediocrity is a way worse sin (so to speak) than being terrible. I get the impression the director and cast expected this to be a cult hit, and you can almost feel their pre-emptive disappointment at how it actually turned out in the film itself.

It's edgy!

It’s edgy!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombie Driftwood (2010)

That review line may not be accurate

That review line may not be accurate

I have a rule with zombie films. It’s not 100% accurate, but there’s a sliding scale of zombie film quality, and it depends on when the first zombie pops up (pre-credits sequences not included). “Dead Snow”, a film that lots of people seemed to like, I was bored to tears by. The first zombies didn’t really show up til 45 minutes or thereabouts, which is close to the worst I’ve ever seen from a zombie movie. “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn Of The Dead” are both amazing, and non-coincidentally the undead show up right at the beginning.

Before I get started with the review, I’ll give you this film’s zombie arrival time. Apart from 2 seconds of a bloke with a toilet seat round his head, the first zombie doesn’t show up til past 21 minutes, which is kind-of unacceptable for films like this. The piss-poor acting and cheap locations aren’t really enough to carry it, you know?

A group of friends are in the Cayman Islands to see a battle of the bands. The main guy in the group is an obsessive fan of one of the bands and follows them round the world, to the chagrin of his girlfriend; then a cruise ship filled up with zombies comes to shore and…all hell breaks loose.

First things first – they really try to be funny in this. There’s jokes everywhere, mainly coming from the fact that the zombies retain quite a lot of their intelligence. They kill everyone at a TV station and then start making zombie-themed programming, which is a pretty nice touch. No-one really seems that bothered, though, like the zombies are mildly inconvenient rather than flesh-eating monsters.

The zombies, or at least the people with a bit of red splashed on their faces, go about doing the things they would have been doing as the people on an expensive cruise ship. They buy merchandise from the bar where our heroes are holed up; they have first class dining areas on the beach, to serve blood and body parts to the wealthy undead; and so on.

This film certainly seems to be filmed on the Cayman Islands. Perhaps one of the filmmakers is friends with the Governor, or something. There’s too much obvious local flavour for it not to be the case. It certainly looks more interesting than your average zombie film, even if it’s still very obviously super-low-budget. It also seems like all the actors in the Caymans were on holiday the week they made this, because aside from the unhappy girlfriend, the acting in this is beyond rotten. Normally, I’ll try and give low-budget films as much of a break as possible in this regard, but it’s so bad here that it can’t be ignored.

There’s also the matter of the comedy. Some of the ideas are funny – how would a group of zombies organise if they could sort of think for themselves? – but they’ve told everyone to turn up their delivery of the comic lines to 11, and the writing is so poor and the acting so shocking that everything becomes leaden and awful. There’s nothing worse than a comedy that’s not funny. There’s a scene which rips off “CHUD 2: Bud The Chud” which annoyed me too – don’t mess with the classics, guys (I assumed the day when I thought of that film as a classic woild never come, but here we are).

It doesn't get much better than this (sadly)

It doesn’t get much better than this (sadly)

Fans of the metal band October File should be pleased with this film, as the band play themselves and even get to perform a song in its entirety, after they’ve been turned into zombies. Fans of all other bands should probably not bother, however. Oh, and add this to your list of “films where Hitler appears as a zombie”.

To sum up, I’ll leave you with a quote from Blackadder – “It started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end the better”.

Zombie Driftwood on IMDB
Buy Zombie Driftwood [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]