Wednesday, February 29, 2012


(US - 2012)

Given a limited theatrical and VOD release the first weekend of 2012, the Texas-shot indie BENEATH THE DARKNESS is already on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming on Netflix.  It's not good, but it's not as bad as that dubious distribution schedule would lead you to believe.  It's surprisingly old-fashioned in the sense that there's virtually no gore and no nudity.  Remove a few F-bombs, and this could almost be a made-for-TV movie.  The other surprise is the participation of a slumming Dennis Quaid as a crazed mortician who keeps his dead wife's preserved body in the house on the edge of town and dances with it by romantic mood lighting for passersby--like, say, troublemaking students Tony Oller, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS' Aimee Teegarden (also one of the producers), and Stephen Lunsford--to see.  When Quaid kills one of their friends, the trio can't convince cop Brett Cullen (also a producer) that Quaid, still a hometown hero thanks to his youthful high school football heroics, is a homicidal maniac.

There's certainly an old-school, almost Hitchcockian basis for this fright flick, and it's an admirable quality that isn't given justice by the finished product.  As directed by Martin Guigui, BENEATH THE DARKNESS also appears to be the location where much of the film was shot.  Everything is so dark that most of the time, it's hard to see what's going on.  The teen characters are annoying and one-dimensional and the actors are dull.  You won't believe for a second that skinny, sullen Oller can get the edge on the still-cut Quaid, who's still in great shape at 57.  I'm not sure why Quaid is in this.  He's become quite the B-grade horror regular lately, with roles in forgettable fare like LEGION, HORSEMEN, and PANDORUM.  Four years ago, he was getting some minor Oscar buzz for his performance in SMART PEOPLE, and here he is hamming it up and chewing the scenery in a cartoonish horror role.  Maybe it was a few days work and he owed someone a favor.   Maybe it's because they agreed to put two songs by his band, DQ and the Sharks, in the movie.  Maybe he always wanted to play a horror movie villlain, or maybe he wanted to spend a little time acting like his brother Randy.  Who knows?  Quaid seems to be having fun (I'm sure the electronic cigarette prop was his idea) and he's easily the best thing about BENEATH THE DARKNESS.  It really drags when he's offscreen, but even he gets hard to take by the end.  I guess it's worth a look for Quaid completists, but it's pretty inessential otherwise.  Quaid had roles in SOUL SURFER and the FOOTLOOSE remake, but he needs to ditch these B-movies and get on a good TV show.   He may be pushing 60, but he's still got that gleam in his eye and I'm sure he can summon that rascally charm from the days of THE BIG EASY.  He's always been a likable, dependable actor, one that would no doubt get a career boost from a solid weekly police procedural if BENEATH THE DARKNESS is any indication of where the "and Dennis Quaid" phase of his big-screen career is headed.  (R, 96 mins)

(US - 2011)

Andrew Niccol arrived on the scene as a major new talent in the late '90s when he wrote and directed the often brilliant GATTACA (1997) and got an Oscar nomination for writing THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998).  Since then, he made the unjustly-maligned S1M0NE (2002) and the ambitious LORD OF WAR (2005).  IN TIME is Niccol's first film in six years, and it's also his worst, a half-baked, heavy-handed look at a future (with de rigeur retro iconography) where time is the currency and people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 and they die at 26...unless they keep earning time.  Society is divided into the rich, forever young, and virtually immortal (everyone looks 25), while the working class grinds it out, working jobs that pay little time while dealing with the increasing cost of living (four hours for a cup of coffee).  With the harsh economy and class warfare talk of late, there was probably an insightful, powerful, prescient film that could've been made of the story of a working-class guy (Justin Timberlake) who's given 100 years by a suicidal 105-year-old (Matt Bomer) who's grown tired of living.  The police, er...timekeepers, led by dogged Cillian Murphy, pursue Timberlake not because they think he killed Bomer, but because he's upset the balance of society by having so much time.  In this world, time zones separate the haves from the have-nots, and as Bomer points out, "everyone can't live forever...the cost of living keeps rising to make sure people keep dying."  Timberlake ends up on the run with Amanda Seyfried, the spoiled daughter of influential, powerful time magnate Vincent Kartheiser.  They fall in love and begin robbing her father's time banks, and giving the "loot" (time) to the poor.  So, what starts as a potentially thought-provoking sci-fi allegory of our tough economic times and an ever-widening class divide becomes little more than a predictably-plotted, watered-down, pun-filled (a panhandler asks "Got a minute?"), dystopian remake of WISDOM.  What a missed opportunity. (PG-13, 109 mins)

(US - 2011)

The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise seems to have supplanted the temporarily dormant SAW series as the annual fall cinematic comfort food for horror fans, as each entry outgrosses the previous one while everyone bitches about how much they suck.  I thought the first film was entertaining and sufficently suspenseful, but as the "found footage" subgenre continues to get beat to death, the makers of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise have had to find new and increasingly ludicrous ways to keep it going.  For about an hour, PA3 is an improvement over the dismal PA2.  At the very least, it explains some of the inconsistencies between the PA1 and PA2, which was a prequel.  The problem is that the explanation, while filling in some blanks, takes the series to a level of improbable silliness the likes of which we haven't seen since HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS.  PA3 goes back to 1988, when sisters Katie and Kristi first started experiencing the title phenomenon.  Luckily, their mom's (Lauren Bittner) boyfriend (Chris Smith) videotapes weddings and has access to all sorts of cameras and tapes.  And it's largely the same as the previous two:  camcorders record various ghostly occurrences and it is effectively done, especially a brilliant bit involving the attachment of a camcorder to the oscillating mechanism of a fan, which allows for some nicely-staged, slow-panning jolts.  But the film falls apart as soon as the family leaves the house and goes to stay with Bittner's mother (shouldn't famed Broadway actress Hallie Foote have better things to do?), which leads to an abrupt change in direction that will no doubt be explored in the inevitable PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, due out later this year.  Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same guys responsible for the fascinating-but-probably-bullshit documentary CATFISH, do a good job maintaining the tension for a good chunk of the film, but when Christopher Landon's (son of Michael) script goes off the rails in the last third, it all just becomes a big stroke-off that feels like a half-assed attempt to drag it out for another movie.  The first PA is a solid, standalone scare machine.  But this is just getting stupid now.  (Note: DVD version reviewed; Blu-ray version is unrated and runs 11 minutes longer and contains added and extended scenes that, from my research, wouldn't make the finale any less idiotic). (R, 84 mins)

No comments:

Post a Comment