Saturday, January 20, 2018

In Theaters/On VOD: MOM AND DAD (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Written and directed by Brian Taylor. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Lance Henriksen, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Olivia Crocicchia, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Rachel Melvin, Samantha Lemole, Sharon Gee, Adin Alexa Steckler. (R, 83 mins)

An inspired mash-up of 28 DAYS LATER, HOME ALONE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and Bob Balaban's 1989 cult classic PARENTS, MOM AND DAD is the first solo effort of Brian Taylor, half of the Neveldine/Taylor duo behind the gonzo Jason Statham masterpiece CRANK. Neveldine/Taylor's anarchic, adrenalized style of filmmaking only got more over-the-top with each subsequent film, like the forgettable GAMER and the unwatchable CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, which has its defenders but is just too stupid for its own good, whether Statham is growing to Godzilla size or David Carradine is playing an Asian guy named "Poon Dong." The crazier Neveldine/Taylor got, the more they regressed. The pair parted ways after 2012's GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (another film I found terrible but one that has its admirers) and while Neveldine went on to be involved in a number of awful films (he directed THE VATICAN TAPES and produced URGE and OFFICER DOWNE), Taylor laid low until he resurfaced in 2017 as a co-creator of the Christopher Meloni SyFy series HAPPY! MOM AND DAD has distinct elements of the Neveldine/Taylor style, but even amidst its batshit lunacy, it's a film with a clear vision and assured, controlled direction. It's smart, it's thoughtful, it's funny, and on a few occasions shocking. It's the best thing Taylor's done since CRANK, and the early buzz from last year's Toronto Film Festival gave some serious cause for celebration: this is the best Nicolas Cage movie in years.

A signal transmitted through white noise on TVs, monitors, and other devices sends parents into an uncontrolled rage to murder their children. The situation quickly spirals out of control as a mob of seemingly possessed parents show up at the school and attack their kids when they try to flee. The Ryans--dad Brent (Cage), mom Kendall (Selma Blair), teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and young son Josh (Zackary Arthur)--are an average suburban family whose lives are turned upside down by this event. Brent is exposed to it when he dozes off after a little downtime with some internet porn in his office, and Kendall is "infected" after the white noise comes through on a monitor in a hospital. She's at the hospital since her younger sister (Rachel Melvin) is giving birth, and the new mom's first instinct upon seeing her daughter is to try and stab her to death to the tune of Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love."  After Carly and her boyfriend Damon (Robert Cunningham) flee the school and head to the Ryan house, Brent is already there waiting to kill Carly and Josh--with Damon being collateral damage--and he's soon joined by Kendall, as Carly and Josh barricade themselves in the basement while Mom and Dad reroute the gas line to flush them out, armed with a meatcleaver and a Sawzall ("A Sawzall...saws all!" Brent keeps repeating) waiting to attack when the door opens.

For Cage devotees, MOM AND DAD represents the actor caving to his inner William Shatner and going into fully self-aware "give the fans what they want" mode. Following one of his most subdued turns in the recent drama VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY, he's at his unhinged best here, whether he's demolishing a pool table while screaming "The Hokey Pokey," ranting to Damon about anal beads and ass-to-ass dildos, or just randomly shouting or running around the house barking. Blair is a bit more restrained as Kendall, instead going the less-is-more route, using a dead-eyed glare as she chases her children through the house, hellbent on slaughtering them in the most brutal way possible. There's also other unsettling and dark-humored bits throughout, like new fathers in the hospital looking through the window into the nursery, seething with unexplained rage, barely able to wait for the chance to kill their infant children; a mother pushing a stroller in front of a speeding car; and a radio announcer's grave warning to parents, "Do not go near your children!" On a deeper level, MOM AND DAD is a film about the frustrations of parenting and about parents in midlife crises. In a flashback, Brent and Kendall have an epic argument that turns emotional when both realize they aren't the people they thought they'd be and that their dreams never came true (a point earlier brought home by the use of Dusty Springfield's version of "Yesterday When I Was Young"). They're losing touch with their children with each passing day. Indeed, bratty, bitchy Carly can't even, and does little but roll her eyes and dismiss her mother, even stealing $80 from her purse to buy drugs for a party. "We used to be best friends," Kendall tells Carly, who snottily replies "Well, I have new friends now. It's not my fault you have no life."

Taylor has made MOM AND DAD the most deranged examination of the generation gap you'll ever see, a point hammered home with the eventual appearance of Lance Henriksen as Mel, Brent's hardass, Vietnam vet dad, who shows up for dinner ready to kill his son. Every generation harbors contempt and resentment for what came before and after, whether it's Carly perceiving her mother to be out of touch, or Mel griping that "I fought in wars! What have you done?" while frantically trying to stab Brent to death. MOM AND DAD is a raucous blast, but it's also got a bit more going on under the surface, and it's sure to delight cult movie fans with its BRADY BUNCH-style, '70s TV show opening credits and throbbing synth score by Mr. Bill that often sounds similar to Ennio Morricone's work on John Carpenter's THE THING (unlike many of today's genre films, it works here and doesn't sound forced or too winking). A lot happens in MOM AND DAD's brief 83-minute running time and judging from what's here and from the drek that Neveldine's name has been on since they parted ways, it's really looking like Taylor may have been the brains out of the operation. It's surprisingly thoughtful, the story is multi-layered, and Taylor expertly balances humor and horror. But the big news here is Cage, who came to this party ready to have a blast--he told the audience in Toronto that this was the most fun he's had a movie in a long time, and it's obvious--and MOM AND DAD serves as proof that he can bring his A-game when he's inspired by the material.

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