Thursday, May 19, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: KINDERGARTEN COP 2 (2016); SOUTHBOUND (2016); and DEMENTIA (2016)

(US - 2016)

Here to present its case as the most unnecessary sequel of 2016, KINDERGARTEN COP 2 would more accurately be termed a remake, and not a very funny one at that. No returning cast or characters from the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy are on hand here, with the star replaced by perennial DTV legend Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren is a better actor than he's usually required to be, but comedy isn't really his specialty, and KINDERGARTEN COP 2 does little to establish any genre bona fides for him.The tired plot has Seattle-based FBI agent Reed (Lundgren) going undercover as the new kindergarten teacher at the posh, expensive, and ultra-politically correct Hunt's Bay Academy. He's looking for a flash drive hidden somewhere in the school by his dead predecessor, whose loser brother worked for Albanian gangster Zogu (Aleks Paunovic), who's about to go on trial and the flash drive is needed to lock him away for life. Reed isn't prepared for what he has to deal with, namely oversensitive kids with names like Cowboy, Jett, and Patience who, along with their classmates, need constant reassurance of emotional safe spaces and boundaries, and the structure of a rigid schedule. Reed also finds he has to negotiate with the kids, who need their hands held through everything, eat tofu for lunch and lecture him about the dangers of gluten. Worst of all, Reed can't even have a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in the classroom because of Cowboy's peanut allergy.

KINDERGARTEN COP 2 really could've taken some shots at helicopter parenting and the delicate-snowflake coddling of today's kids, but the kids barely factor into the story. Instead, Reed and his partner Sanders (Bill Bellamy) bust each others' chops in cliched buddy comedy fashion when they aren't being chewed out by their shouty, Frank McRae-like boss Giardello (Danny Wattley), and Reed dates pretty kindergarten teacher Olivia (Darla Taylor). She seems to be the only other educator in the school (and Reed's class the only students) other than uptight principal Miss Sinclaire (Sarah Strange) and oafish computer teacher Hal (Michael P. Northey), who's never shown teaching a computer class and gets angry when Reed and Olivia become an item in a subplot that goes nowhere. There's not really anything funny in KINDERGARTEN COP 2, with an early reference to Grey Poupon more or less setting the tone. There's a running gag about the Asian kid in the class having his perfectly understandable dialogue accompanied by English subtitles, but it's not funny the first time they do it, let alone the 20th. Screenwriter David H. Steinberg (AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS THE BOOK OF LOVE) shares script credit with Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Simon, and Murray Salem, the trio who wrote the 1990 original, but their inclusion here seems to be for legal, WGA reasons, especially considering Salem died in 1998. KINDERGARTEN COP 2 was directed by Don Michael Paul (HALF PAST DEAD, WHO'S YOUR CADDY?), apparently the go-to guy for forgettable DTV sequels to movies that you had no idea spawned a franchise that was somehow still a thing, with LAKE PLACID: THE FINAL CHAPTER, JARHEAD 2: FIELD OF FIRE, SNIPER: LEGACY, TREMORS 5: BLOODLINE, and the upcoming SNIPER: GHOST SHOOTER to his credit. Sure, there's worse things out there than KINDERGARTEN COP 2, but who wants an uninspired carbon copy of the first movie, and one that seems more focused on constant Twix product placements and doesn't even bother to supply a game Lundgren with his own "It's not a toooo-maaah!" quotable? (PG-13, 100 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

(US - 2016)

Much of the creative personnel behind the wildly overrated V/H/S franchise reconvenes for another hipster-approved Horror Insta-Classic (© William Wilson) of its week. As far as this generation of horror anthologies go, SOUTHBOUND is no CREEPSHOW--hell, it's not even NIGHTMARES--and while it's marginally better than most of its ilk, it still isn't worthy of all the slobbering knobshines it got from the scenesters. With an overarching Purgatory metaphor running through all of the stories--all in some way are connected, and the ending of one blends with the beginning of the next--the themes are rather obvious and there's little narrative drive, even once everything starts to clumsily coalesce. Revelations land not with a "Whoa!" but with a "Huh? Uh, that's it?" On an endless desert highway that seems to go in circles with all road signs indicating South (METAPHOR!), two men (Chad Villella and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) covered in splattered blood try to flee strange, hovering, insect-like creatures in "The Way Out," directed by the collective Radio Silence, of which Villella and Bettinelli-Olpin are two of the four members. That leads to "Siren," from debuting director Roxanne Benjamin (a V/H/S producer), where a female punk trio--a quartet until one band member was recently killed--are stranded on that same endless highway and picked up by a strange couple who are part of a cult (led by comedian Dana Gould, of all people) planning their next sacrifice. Next is "The Accident," from THE SIGNAL co-director David Bruckner, where a distracted driver (Mather Zickel) on that same endless highway plows over someone from "Siren" and is given a series of increasingly strange directions by EMT personnel who are too far away to assist. The segues into "Jailbreak," by ENTRANCE and THE PACT II director Patrick Horvath, in which a vengeance-crazed man (Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow) takes on some dangerous dudes at a middle-of-nowhere bar in an attempt to rescue his kidnapped sister. Finally, Radio Silence return with the closer, "The Way In," a rote home-invasion story where a bunch of guys in creepy masks--two of which will obviously be the guys in "The Way Out"--converge on a seemingly nice family (mom Kate Beahan and dad Gerald Downey) spending a final weekend together before their daughter (Hassie Harrison) goes off to college.

If general weirdness is your thing, then you might get more out of SOUTHBOUND than I did. We're eventually shown the source of the hovering creatures from the first segment who also periodically appear in other segments, but that still doesn't mean their eventually-explained presence makes any sense. Because the filmmakers have the stories flow together in a not very smooth fashion, they tend to end in abrupt and confusing ways. Nothing makes sense in "The Way Out," and by the time you get to the big reveal of "The Way In," you'll still have more questions than answers. "The Accident" and "Jailbreak" have some committed performances by Zickel and Yow respectively, and both go above and beyond the gore quota. The standout story is easily "Siren," which is the only one to make concerted efforts to develop its characters and establish a legitimately unsettling vibe. It almost feels like a tribute to those really unnerving occult movies of the '70s and has a real MESSIAH OF EVIL thing going on. Elsewhere, there's synth cues and John Carpenter homages all over the place, which was affectionate fun for a while but has become so prevalent and obligatory in today's horror movies that it's really time for the genre's current standard-bearers to find a new crutch. Also, I'm sure they're nice people and it's nothing personal, but when Larry Fessenden and Maria Olsen--an unusual-looking actress who's found an indie horror niche as essentially the female Michael Berryman--turn up in the opening credits, I'm already annoyed. I don't know--I'm pretty much a curmudgeon when it comes to most new horror offerings these days, especially these fawned-over indies where the film's most vocal supporters are all Facebook friends of the directors. The accessibility of fans to the artists has undoubtedly clouded the judgment of critics and bloggers when an unwatchable piece of shit like V/H/S: VIRAL gets good reviews. SOUTHBOUND isn't bad for this new breed of horror in the social media age, but there's still very little about it that's noteworthy. (R, 89 mins)

(US - 2015)

A thriller that would fit right into the late 1990s with its "caregiver-from-Hell" plot, DEMENTIA is a reasonably suspenseful and well-acted film with a twist that's perhaps a little too easy to see coming, but the script by Meredith Berg does some alliance-shifting bait-and-switches that keep you on your toes. After a mild stroke, elderly retiree George Lockhart (Gene Jones from Ti West's THE SACRAMENT and best-known as the gas station clerk on the receiving end of the "Call it, Friendo" coin-flip in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) is tended to by his estranged son Jerry (Peter Cilella) and 18-year-old granddaughter Shelby (Jennifer Lawrence lookalike Hassie Harrison, also seen in SOUTHBOUND), neither of whom he's seen for many years. The recovery goes slow when moody George has difficulty focusing and periodically forgets who Shelby is ("This bitch broke into my house!"), so Jerry and Shelby decide to hire a temporary live-in caregiver to assist him until he's well again. The caregiver is Michelle (Kristina Klebe), who says her specialty is post-stroke therapy and insists Jerry and Shelby check into a hotel in order for her to focus on George's recovery, but it doesn't take long before George gets a bad vibe from her. When he begins showing signs of improvement, she pumps him full of unnecessary medication that makes him worse, then starts playing tricks on him, which escalates to Michelle beheading George's beloved cat and covering him with its blood while he's sedated to convince him he did it. George insists he's a victim of elder abuse, but a preoccupied Jerry doesn't buy it, choosing to go back home to his job while a summer vacationing Shelby decides to stay behind at the hotel and keep visiting with her grandfather, an idea constantly thwarted by an increasingly irrational Michelle.

While Michelle is the clear antagonist of the story and obviously isn't what she claims to be, George isn't exactly an innocent victim. A man deeply traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam (Eric Senter plays George in flashbacks), George returned home and became a violent, alcoholic wife-beater and child-abuser, the source of Jerry's alienation from his father. George has made efforts to change: he's been sober for over 20 years and tells Jerry he's proud of how he raised Shelby since he had such a terrible role model. His sorrow is sincere, and while an understanding but apprehensive Jerry warns her not to get to close to him, Shelby can't help but feel sympathy for her ailing grandpa, even if she steals jewelry out of a drawer and helps herself to some of his more powerful meds when nobody's looking. But George is a man with secrets, and he's been specifically targeted by Michelle, whose rage grows so strong the she forces whiskey down his throat and starts torturing him in ways he endured during his days as a POW. Berg and director Mike Testin do a good job of making the audience reconsider its loyalties throughout: is Michelle batshit crazy? Does she have her reasons for putting George through hell? And sure, George is contrite and has sincerely attempted to right his wrongs as a husband and father, but is he a monster beyond redemption? DEMENTIA provides no easy answers, and it's the kind of movie that would be a talked-about, hot-button, big-studio thriller if it was made 20 years ago. Jones, Klebe, and young Harrison turn in convincing performances, and 90% of DEMENTIA is a nicely-done sleeper that's sure to find a cult following on Netflix Instant. But then something inexplicable happens in the climax that has nothing to do with the script or story but still manages to very nearly drive the movie off a cliff. Just as the big reveal comes along of what George did and why Michelle has gone to such extreme lengths to make his life hell, the sound mix gets all bungled and wonky, with the score cranked up really loud and the dialogue drowned-out and almost completely unintelligible. I had to turn the subtitles on to find out what was being said. There's a whole thread about this on the movie's IMDb page, and several reviews from the film's December 2015 VOD release also mention the dialogue being muffled and barely audible when it matters most. Was this an artistic decision on Testin's or the producers' part? If so, it's one of the dumbest I've ever seen. It must be by design, or else it would've been remixed between December and now. I don't get it. It's baffling why the filmmakers drown out the dialogue just in time for the big reveal. I mean, seriously. What the fuck? (Unrated, 90 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

***UPDATE*** (June 16, 2016)

Regarding DEMENTIA's sound issues, star Kristina Klebe recently posted an update in the comments section of the film's IMDb page.

"The sound design was a major oversight and has recently been fixed. It will hopefully be up on all platforms by end of this week. I would encourage everyone to watch the end again at least so you can feel you saw and understood the whole film. You, as an audience, deserve that."

1 comment:

  1. Just saw Gene Jones in one of Robin Williams' final pictures, A MERRY FRIGGIN' CHRISTMAS (2014). One of those rare actors who got a late start in the game and is quickly developing into a recognized character favorite. And re: SOUTHBOUND; by GAWD, nothing is or could ever be NIGHTMARES (1983). Nothing!! Best. Anthology. EVER.