Monday, April 21, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2014), WRONG COPS (2013); and IN FEAR (2014)

(US/UK - 2012; US release 2014)

Universal buried this dismal Simon Pegg horror comedy after its disastrous UK opening in the summer of 2012, and it took another two years before indie Indomina gave it an apathetic VOD dumping in the US. Pegg is a great talent, and his performance in last year's THE WORLD'S END should've been up for some awards, but he hasn't really fared well outside of his beloved collaborations with buddies Edgar Wright and Nick Frost as well as his roles in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and STAR TREK franchises (does anyone remember BIG NOTHING, RUN FATBOY RUN, HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE, or BURKE AND HARE?), but A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING is just the pits, with Pegg as an agoraphobic former childrens book author named Jack Nife, who's been so obsessed with writing a TV script about 19th century serial killers that he's grown paranoid that someone is trying to kill him. A disheveled-looking Pegg spends the first half of the film freaking out and puttering about in a tattered robe and dirty tighty-whities and talking to himself in his filthy, cluttered hovel of an apartment. It's essentially a one-man show until he dares to venture out to do laundry, which ultimately brings him face-to-face with both his lifelong issues (his mother abandoned him at a launderette when he was a boy) and a serial killer known as The Hanoi Handshake (the actor in this role seems so much like Frost that I wonder if the character was written with him in mind).  In between, there's a meeting with his agent (HELLRAISER's Clare Higgins), an emergency phone call with his shrink Dr. Friedkin (Paul Freeman), the killer passionately defending the artistic merits of Europe's "The Final Countdown," an animation sequence featuring a hedgehog that looks like Ron Jeremy, and maybe one or two laughs over 100 tedious minutes (the bit about "The Ocular Stare" is amusing, as is an incredulous Jack Nife's reaction to meeting the killer: "The Hanoi Handshake?!  That sounds like two men meeting in a public convenience!"). Directors Crispian Mills (son of Hayley and frontman of Brit rockers Kula Shaker) and Chris Hopewell channel numerous horror influences, with a particular affinity for Hitchcock's PSYCHO, plus some Tim Burton and a little Roman Polanski, and the shout-out to William Friedkin with Freeman's character, but honestly, most of the film comes off like a Larry Blamire tribute to the forgotten 1988 Whoopi Goldberg bomb THE TELEPHONE.  A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING is unbelievably bad, though there's no denying Pegg throws himself into the role. Unfortunately, even with his usually engaging screen presence and his natural, innate likability, even the most devoted Pegg stalkers will find that a little of him goes a very long way here.  (R, 100 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

(France/Russia/Portugal - 2013)

The latest from absurdist French auteur Quentin Dupieux, director of RUBBER, the world's greatest killer-tire movie, is an agonizingly unfunny collection of shock-value vignettes detailing the activities of a squad of "wacky" Los Angeles cops who would have even the Bad Lieutenant making a call to Internal Affairs. WRONG COPS is tenuously connected to Dupieux's last film WRONG with the presence of abrasive Officer Duke (Mark Burnham).  Duke doesn't do much police work, instead focusing his energy on selling weed stashed in rat carcasses and dead fish and trying to find a way to get rid of the body of his mom's (Grace Zabriskie) almost-dead neighbor (SCANNER COP's Daniel Quinn) after he accidentally shoots him.  He also gets blowjobs from streetwalkers and tries to molest an awkward teenage boy played by Marilyn Manson (yes, that Marilyn Manson). The other cops in the squad include one-eyed Rough (Eric Judor), who's trying to land a record deal for his synth music; Sunshine (Steve Little), a family-man desk jockey who has a secret past in gay porn; DeLuca (Eric Wareheim), who's obsessed with nabbing women on bogus charges so he can force them to show him their breasts; and Holmes (Ardin Myrin), who raids fridges when she goes on calls and tries to blackmail Sunshine about his gay porn days. There's also Ray Wise as the police chief, on his cell phone at a cop's funeral and kicking the casket into the ground when it gets stuck being lowered, Agnes Bruckner as one of DeLuca's targets, and Eric Roberts, cast radically against type as a Hollywood washout buying weed from Duke.  I'm all for misanthropic, absurdist humor, but nothing is funny in WRONG COPS, especially the pointless overuse of the '70s zoom-in and the grating Burnham, who comes off like the loathsome offspring of Rainn Wilson and Billy Bob Thornton. Dupieux showed some cult movie promise with RUBBER, but WRONG felt too indebted to Michel Gondry to really work on its own. It's hard to imagine he'll ever make a film worse than the self-indulgent, unwatchable tire fire that is WRONG COPS, and the whole thing is bad enough that it's probably not too early to conclude that whatever Dupieux had to say, he said it with RUBBER.  (Unrated, 82 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

(France/UK - 2013; US release 2014)

The feature debut of British TV director Jeremy Lovering (MI-5, SHERLOCK), who's part of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg clique (he handled second unit duties on HOT FUZZ), IN FEAR has an intriguing premise that's ultimately its downfall.  Working without a script (no screenwriter is credited), Lovering kept the direction of the story secret from his stars in order to get legitimate shock and surprise in their reactions. It works for a while--there are several undeniably terrifying, dread-filled moments in the much better first half--but the cracks start to show and Lovering is forced to cram in many dumb things that have to happen by the end as plot convenience and stupidity become the general rule, all the way to an unsatisfying wrap-up that only succeeds in making you realize how illogical the whole thing was in the first place.  New couple Tom (AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Iain De Castecker) and Lucy (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES' Alice Englert) are on their way to a music festival when Tom surprises her by booking an overnight stay at the Kilairney House Hotel, an off-the-grid bed & breakfast in the middle of nowhere (though they have a web site).  They're guided down the narrow, hedge-lined back country roads by an unseen driver in a truck, who points them down a path and goes about his business in the opposite direction.  Following the signs to the hotel only leads them in circles down endless roads in an elaborate maze, their phones stop getting reception, and the GPS isn't working. A tree almost falls on them, clothes neatly laid upon the road actually belong to Lucy, and Lucy catches brief glimpses of figures, including a man in a white mask standing very near Tom as he takes a leak on the side of the road.  Tensions start to rise, the fuel's getting low, night falls and the rain starts pouring, and that's when they almost run over Max (DOWNTON ABBEY's Allen Leech), who's already battered and bloodied when he climbs into their car and says "They're coming...we have to get out of here now!"

So who--or what--is coming?  Does it have something to do with Tom offending some blokes at the local pub early on in an incident we don't see and about which Tom is hesitant to discuss?  Does it have something to do with a brief shot of an eye in a peephole watching while Lucy was in the ladies' room?  Does Max know more than he's letting on?  Once Max is introduced, the collapse begins.  As a thriller, it was working beautifully when it was just Tom and Lucy in the car, but once Lovering has to start putting the pieces of the story together, it becomes very obvious that he doesn't have much beyond the set-up. I don't want to go into spoilers, but this is one of those films where many people have disappeared over an extended period of time, drawn to a place of business that has a traceable online presence, and yet, no one ever puts the pieces together and no one--family, police, private investigators--ever comes to investigate. Also, if you're out of gas and go wandering in the woods after what's already been a hellish ordeal of being toyed with all night by an unseen menace and return to your car to find a full gas can waiting for you in the driver's seat, wouldn't it occur to you that this might be a trap?  IN FEAR is beautifully shot and makes terrific use of locations in Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, and while a basic outline and letting your actors riff might work for, say, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM or a Christopher Guest mockumentary populated by gifted and experienced improvisation vets, it probably isn't the best way to construct a tight suspense thriller. It's an admirable effort, the actors are fine, and Lovering's got some definite chops, but he should probably resort to a script next time.  They usually help.  (R, 85 mins)

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