Saturday, July 16, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray; EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016); ROAD GAMES (2016); and THE PACK (2016)

(US - 2016)

Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to DAZED AND CONFUSED is an inferior follow-up that's actually more in line with his Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET/MIDNIGHT trilogy. 23 years is a long time, and Linklater doesn't succeed in recapturing that lightning-in-a-bottle magic that he had with DAZED AND CONFUSED back in 1993. Gone are the insight, the wit, the quotable dialogue, and the standout cast. Look at DAZED and see how many future stars are in it, starting with Matthew McConaughey's scene-stealing Wooderson, the source of the actor's iconic "Alright, alright, alright!" mantra. That film had one of the most perfectly-cast ensembles you'll ever see. By contrast, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! is populated by mostly interchangeable actors playing not-very-interesting characters. Other than Wyatt Russell (Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn's son) as affable, TWILIGHT ZONE-loving stoner Willoughby, Judson Street as angry spaz Jay (a cartoonish character who wears out his welcome in record time), and Zoey Deutch (Lea Thompson's lookalike daughter) as a cute theater major, nobody stands out or really makes much of an impression. Linklater's script doesn't help, giving the actors--most of whom look 30--florid, philosophical speeches that sound overwritten and completely unnatural for college jocks--or anyone (I'm also reasonably sure that jocks weren't driving around Texas singing along to Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" in the summer of 1980 either, in a scene Linklater obviously loved so much that he couldn't end it). These guys talk like they've seen a bunch of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith movies that haven't happened yet.

Set at the end of August 1980 at the fictional Southeast Texas College, the film follows the baseball team's antics the weekend before classes start, with the focus on freshman Jake (Brody Jenner), who's a combination of Jason London's Pink and Wiley Wiggins' Mitch from DAZED. There's a lot of babes, beer, bong hits, and ballbusting, things you've seen in a thousand other movies of this sort, but rarely with such grating self-importance. The closest thing to keen insight is every few minutes, someone has to chime in with a reminder that "You guys were the kings of your high school, but here you're just a big fish in a small pond," or some such variant. Linklater had much more success revisiting the characters played by Hawke and Delpy every nine years in the BEFORE films, but here, a couple of decades later, he tries to reignite that DAZED spark and it just doesn't work. It's been too long and 55-year-old Linklater's understandably not in the same headspace now. DAZED was a retro slice-of-life collage that vividly captured a time and place and brought it to life. This just feels like middle-aged nostalgia. There's ANIMAL HOUSE hijinks, the period detail is terrific, and there's a killer soundtrack filled with classic tunes, but it's lacking everything special that made DAZED AND CONFUSED the beloved film that it's become. Nobody's going to remember EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! after it's over and nobody's going to be talking about it 23 years from now. (R, 117 mins)

(UK/France - 2016)

ROAD GAMES isn't a remake of Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin's 1981 Australian thriller ROAD GAMES, a minor classic set on the desolate roads of the Outback where a trucker (Stacy Keach) and his faithful dingo pick up a hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) and play cat & mouse games with a serial killer. This new, completely different ROAD GAMES has absolutely nothing to do with that film, nor does it spend much time on the road. Jack (Andrew Simpson) is a young Brit hitchhiking through France when he meets fellow hitcher Veronique (Josephine De La Baume). They're having a hard time finding any takers thanks to a serial killer prowling these little-traveled rural backroads, though they luck out when roadkill-collecting oddball Grizard (Frederic Pierrot) picks them up and welcomes them for dinner at his middle-of-nowhere farm with his depressed and distant American wife Mary (RE-ANIMATOR cult star Barbara Crampton). It doesn't take long for Jack and Veronique to figure out that something is decidedly off with this couple, starting with Mary clinging to Jack and displaying a bizarre demeanor toward Veronique. The next morning, Jack isn't buying Grizard's story that Veronique decided to leave and go on without him, and he's drugged and abducted by a weirdo neighbor (Feodor Atkine). Jack eventually escapes, goes back to Grizard and Mary's farm while they're away and finds Veronique bound and gagged in a room filled with stabbed mannequins. Then things get weird.

There's some bizarre moments like that scattered throughout ROAD GAMES, but it never really comes together due to writer/director Abner Pastoll's misguided approach that's slow-burn to a fault. There's a lot of dawdling and bullshit for the first hour or so before things get legitimately interesting. The big reveal is pretty decent, but would've been better had Pastoll not blown it earlier (hint: wasn't Jack's bedroom locked from the inside?). Then he gets too cute at the very end, with a really dumb post-credits stinger and a ridiculous "un film de Abner Pastoll" in credits that are otherwise in English, a joke that hasn't been funny in 40 years. There's also no reason for this to be called ROAD GAMES, other than hitching a ride on the familiarity some old-school horror audiences might have with a cult film that may not be widely known but is very much admired and revered by those who have seen it. ROAD GAMES has its moments, but the best is probably the end credits, in the beloved John Carpenter font, with aerial footage of those French backroads that are reminiscent of the theatrical version of BLADE RUNNER's end credits, with music by French synth rockers Carpenter Brut. It's the kind of closing credits party that can trick you into thinking you saw a much better film than you did. Pastoll closes big, and has a couple of effective bits along the way, but honestly, you can just queue this up on Netflix and go straight to the end credits at the 89:51 mark. You'll swear it's a great movie and you won't even have to sit through the rest of it to be let down. (Unrated, 95 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

(US/Australia - 2016)

Despite the title and the fact that it deals with a pack of feral dogs on the attack, THE PACK isn't a remake of the 1977 Joe Don Baker-headlined horror film, though that would be preferable. It seems like the idea of a family in a rural Australian farmhouse under siege by a pack of vicious dogs is a can't-miss, but director Nick Robertson and writer Evan Randall Green do everything they can to execute the premise in the most humdrum fashion imaginable. THE PACK is a slow burner than confuses the slow burn with "nothing much happening at all." It's a good 35-40 minutes before the attacks even start, with a bunch of "character development" involving the family's precarious financial situation and the possibility of foreclosure. The bank is offering them a hefty sum to vacate the land and sell it to a developer, but the dad (Jack Campbell) is too much of a proud, stubborn jackass to take the deal. Mom's (Anna Lise Phillips) small veterinary practice isn't enough to make ends meet, the teenage daughter (Katie Moore) is resentful that her folks can't afford an apartment for her like they promised, and the young son (Hamish Phillips) just wants everyone to stop bickering. None of this means jack shit when the dogs finally attack and cut the power, leaving the cast to wander around in darkness, peering out windows trying to see if the dogs are around. A cop arrives and is immediately torn apart by the dogs, then the phones go dead and of course, no other backup is sent when he fails to respond or report back to the station. Dad tries to do...who knows...with his pickup truck but is attacked in the process. Dogs get in the house and quietly wander around, their keen sense of smell unable to detect that someone is hiding on the other side of a door. The slow-burn horror crowd might be a little more forgiving of this than some, but this is just an aimless, ambling dud that never catches fire, never generates suspense, and never gets scary. It seems difficult to make this is bland and indifferent as it is, but there's somehow more tension in the family's bickering early on than there is in the wild dogs waiting outside to tear them apart. There's really not much more to say about this, other than it's one of the most disposable, generic, and instantly forgettable genre titles of the year. (Unrated, 88 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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