Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: GALLOWWALKERS (2013) and AFTERSHOCK (2013)

(US/UK - 2013)

This long-shelved horror/western hybrid is best known as the movie Wesley Snipes was working on in Namibia when he was indicted on federal tax evasion charges.  Filmed mostly in 2006, GALLOWWALKERS (then without the "s" on the end) suspended production while Snipes returned to Florida to meet with attorneys and deal with his legal issues.  The judge allowed him to return to Namibia to finish shooting and then there were additional reshoots in 2008.  Snipes worked on three more films in the meantime (THE ART OF WAR II, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, and GAME OF DEATH), then served most of his three-year prison sentence before being released in April 2013.  All the while, GALLOWWALKERS languished in a state of incompletion, with missed release dates in 2010 and 2011.  It's finally out, quietly dumped on DVD seven years after most of it was shot, and it's hardly a triumphant "comeback" for Snipes.  This was obviously an extremely troubled production and despite Snipes being allowed to go back to Namibia to finish his scenes, it's clear that the star's offscreen issues caused more of a disruption than the filmmakers let on.  In its released state, GALLOWWALKERS is an incoherent mess, riddled with choppy editing, extended stretches where Snipes is offscreen, much voiceover narration by Snipes' character--almost always a last ditch desperation move to tie loose plot threads together, but that, coupled with Snipes not doing the narration is a good indication that the filmmakers were still frantically putting Band-Aids on this thing long after they lost access to their star. The plot has to do with Aman (Snipes), a bounty hunter in a strange desert purgatory where a curse put upon him causes those he kills to come back from the dead, forcing him to kill them again.  He's on a quest of vengeance after his wife is gang-raped and killed by psychotic outlaw Kansa (Kevin Howarth) and his men, so he recruits hotshot gunfighter Fabulos (Riley Smith) to help him out after the undead Kansa and his zombified gang return. 

It's hard telling what director/co-writer Andrew Goth is going for with GALLOWWALKERS.  It's a hodgepodge of BLADE, UNDERWORLD, and splatter spaghetti western, with visual and dialogue shout-outs to Sergio Leone (Charles Bronson's classic "You brought two too many" line from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is quoted here), and some of the surreal visuals in the very slowly-paced opening hour almost bring to mind what a hypothetical "Alejandro Jodorowsky's FOR A FEW ZOMBIES MORE" might look like.  Characters wander in and out of the story, Kansa and his zombies look different from scene to scene (I think there's two concurrent timelines going on here, but it's never really clear), one guy looks like the sinewy Frank from HELLRAISER and another looks like THE TOXIC AVENGER, and other than a couple of inspired action scenes that are too little, too late, the only real positive of GALLOWWALKERS is the impressive widescreen cinematography of Namibia's stunning desert landscape. Sixth-billed Patrick Bergin, once a leading man opposite Julia Roberts and now just mixed in with no-name co-stars without even the dignity of an "and Patrick Bergin" credit, shows up for five minutes as a marshal and is immediately killed (Hollywood tried to make Bergin happen from 1991-93 and he was just flatly rejected by moviegoers--was it the mustache?), and wrestling fanatics might be interested in seeing Diamond Dallas Page in a small role, but ultimately, GALLOWWALKERS is just a misfire that was probably too doomed to salvage.  The notion of Snipes as a cursed gunfighter being pursued by his resurrected victims is an interesting metaphor for a man trying to outrun the ghosts of his past, but even after seven years, GALLOWWALKERS still feels thrown-together and unfinished.  It's too bad, because there's some good ideas here that Goth, for a variety of reasons (many not his fault), can't bring together.  (R, 92 mins)

(US/Chile - 2013)

Taking a break from following Quentin Tarantino around and acting like Chester to QT's Spike, Eli Roth produced, co-wrote, and stars in this would-be disaster epic that was filmed back-to-back in Chile with his still-unreleased THE GREEN INFERNO, an homage to the Italian cannibal films of the late 1970s/early 1980s.  A sort-of EARTHQUAKE for the extreme horror crowd, AFTERSHOCK gets off to a laborious start, spending its interminable opening 35 minutes on what plays like a dull HANGOVER knockoff, with Roth as an American partying in Valparaiso with two Chilean friends (Ariel Levy as Ed Helms and Nicolas Martinez as Zach Galifianakis).  They hook up with some girls (Andrea Osvart, Natasha Yarovenko, and Lorenza Izzo) and hit some clubs.  There's drawn-out attempts at character development:  Roth is a single dad, Levy is still pining for his ex, Osvart and Izzo are sisters with unresolved issues, and Martinez is an inexplicable chick magnet.  Finally, a massive earthquake hits and chaos reigns as Valparaiso quickly turns into hell on earth.

To his credit, co-writer/director Nicolas Lopez gets the lead out once disaster strikes and the group finds themselves on the run from a band of thrill-killing convicts from a nearby prison, and there's an admirably cruel and unpredictable randomness to the order in which the cast members are killed off.  The tag line of AFTERSHOCK's poster is "The only thing more terrifying than Mother Nature is human nature," and unlike a lot of disaster films where everyone sets aside their differences and pulls together in full "triumph of the human spirit" mode, this film opts for the misanthropic "everyone is an asshole looking out for #1" route, and in that respect, in today's culture, that's probably a little more plausible.  But Lopez and Roth don't really explore the psychological elements that they hint at, and it takes so long to get to the main plot that once it gets going, it feels like they're in a rush to get to the end.  They get lazy (watch how the streets go from jam-packed to empty with no explanation) and a plot twist involving an additional character who joins the group doesn't really make much sense.  There's some scattered moments in AFTERSHOCK that work very well on a visceral level for gorehounds (one person poking their head out of a manhole cover only to have it immediately squashed by a speeding car), and Hungarian actress Osvart seems to be trying a lot harder than any of her co-stars, but a lot of the CGI effects are weak and it feels less like a cohesive film and more like an excuse for Roth and his boys to party in Chile (and not just the boys:  Selena Gomez has a pointless cameo) and shit out a movie in their spare time.  Most of the same cast and crew worked on THE GREEN INFERNO, so let's hope everyone was a little more focused when they made that one. (R, 89 mins)

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