Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dr. Giggles

Dr. Giggles came out in 1992, sort of a no man's land for horror movies. The slasher cycle of the eighties had gone down in the flames of censorship and camp, and the mid-nineties post-modern neo-slasher revival was still a ways off. Yet Dr. Giggles seems to be both the last hurrah of the former and the precursor of the latter. It's got all of the hallmarks of a post-Elm Street slasher movie: gimmicky killer (psycho who thinks he's a surgeon), novelty deaths (thermometer through the mouth, roto-rooter stomach pump, giant suffocating band-aid, etc.), themed one-liners ("Are you experiencing any discomfort?"), and oversexed 28-year-old teenagers (designated comic relief Doug E. Doug, that Irish dude from the first season of Angel, the other chick from Charmed). But it also displays a lot of the trappings that would become common in the Scream-a-likes to come: classy high-contrast photography, more expensive sets (as opposed to cheap location work), realistic but subdued gore, a cast of WB actors and actresses (Granted, their shows hadn't actually been created yet, but they still have that WB cute-but-broody look), and, most importantly, an ironic take on the conventions of the genre.

Of course, Dr. Giggles came out a couple years before Pulp Fiction popped the mainstream's post-modern cherry, so rather than going the Scream route and having all of the characters blatantly explain the tenets of the slasher movie so that their later subversion would be clear to the audience, it just parodies them mercilessly and expects the audience to get the joke on its own. Which it most assuredly did not, which is why Dr. Giggles has largely been lost to the ages.

When I first saw it back in '92, I thought it was really, really stupid. Fourteen-year-olds take the things they love pretty seriously, and the way Dr. Giggles kept ruining the illusion of reality with its goofy puns offended me. Since then, I've come to recognize and appreciate the absurdity of most of the things I once took at face value, and after rewatching Dr. Giggles, I have to say that it's an underrated horror comedy masquerading as a cookie-cutter slasher flick. It's a mildly subversive little in-joke that had the misfortune of coming out six or seven years before that kind of thing became popular. Sometimes it's not smart to be ahead of the curve.

Here's the deal: Dr. Giggles is this crazy motherfucker whose father was a general practitioner in a small town named Moorehigh (which is exactly what I got over the course of the movie). When his mom died of heart problems, Pop went crazy and starting cutting out his patients' hearts while little Dr. Giggles just sat there laughing. When the people of Moorehigh found out, they lynched the old man, but Junior escaped by hiding inside his mother's hollowed-out corpse. (If you've never seen a bloody, giggling eight-year-old scalpel his way out from between a pair of rubber tits, you haven't lived.) Then he spent the next forty years in an insane asylum before escaping and coming back to Moorehigh to get revenge on the next generation, giggling like early Daffy Duck the whole time.

Just from this setup, we can see that Dr. Giggles pre-dates the modern "mixtape movie" like Kill Bill and Doomsday by being a grab-bag of the preceding era's dominant horror heroes: He's got Freddy's motivation (lynching leads to murder of teenagers who had nothing to do with it), Michael Myers' backstory (crazy kid spends whole life in institution before returning to his hometown), and Jason's issues (son continues murderous work of insane parent). Dr. Giggles isn't so much a character as he is a collection of clichés, but the actor who plays him makes it work. He's played by Larry Drake, once best known as the retard janitor on L.A. Law but now mostly remembered as Durant from the Darkman series.

(I mean, who gives a fuck about L.A. Law anymore? That's the thing about stuff that normal people like: It has no legs, because normal people have no heart. They don't really love the things they like; they just passively experience them because they've got nothing better to do. In 40 years, do you really think people will still support American Idol the way geeks still support Star Trek? Hell no. When something new comes along, normal people just go with the flow and forgot about the old shit. But geeks remember. That's why we're finally running things. The norms might boost the opening-weekend grosses, but it's the geeks who'll still be buying the DVD [or the 3-D cerebral cortex implant or whatever medium is prominent at the time] in 30 years. There's a lesson to be learned there: Make a product for the masses and you'll eat for two days. Make it for the geeks and you'll eat forever.)

Anyway, Drake is great as Dr. Giggles. Every single word of dialogue he speaks is a medical-themed one-liner ("I'm not really seeing patients yet, but for you, I'll make an exception," "Visiting hours are over," "Open up and say ah," etc.) but somehow, they all seem to come from within the character. They don't make him seem like a slumming character actor; they make him seem like a total fucking nutcase who has his own separate reality running in his head at all times. His façade never breaks down. He never gets angry or threatens to rip somebody's lungs out. He maintains his bedside manner and soft-spoken bemusement at all times, even when he's chasing somebody around with a hypodermic needle or fencing with one of those rubber hammers they use to test reflexes. But at the same time, there's an undercurrent of gleeful sadism bubbling just below the surface, as if, deep down, he knows this doctor persona he's concocted is all for show. It's a hilariously deadpan performance that, in a different era, would have spawned a dozen straight-to-video sequels. Plus, there's one really creepy part where he keeps giggling hysterically while simultaneously whimpering in pain from a gunshot wound. You get the idea that the giggling is a coping mechanism for the good doctor, so even though the pain is very real (he's far from an invincible superslasher), he just laughs it away. He did the same thing as a child when his mother died. With no dialogue designed to develop his character, Drake gives you a little insight into the way Dr. Giggles' mind works. And really, in a movie like this, a little is all you need.

I think Dr. Giggles is ripe for a revival, but there's one part of the movie that just doesn't make sense. One of the teenage couples has doomed itself by playing a prank on the token black couple (the first to buy it, naturally) and retiring to the bedroom to fuck. So while the chick puts on the dude's mom's lingerie (which is creepy in its own right), the dude goes into the bathroom to put on the condom. Did people ever really do that? Were people in 1992 so scared of AIDS that they put on the rubber before the foreplay even started? Getting a handjob with a condom on would totally suck. But then the guy ends up losing the condom in the toilet while his girlfriend is getting murdered, so he says, "Maybe she won't notice." What? How the fuck is she not gonna notice that his pecker isn't encased in slimy latex? Was he just gonna walk out of the bathroom and jam it right in her without preamble? No diddling, no oral, no nothing? What a pig. And even if he had managed to put the condom on, was he planning on stepping out with his dong ensheathed and declaring, "Present vagina! It is safe for me to enter you now!" Man, sex in the early nineties must have been boring. I was only having sex with myself at the time, but I gotta say, I was much more romantic. Of course, it helps if you're completely head over heels in love with your partner.

In closing, watch Dr. Giggles. And practice safe sex, but don't be a fucking Nazi about it. A naked cock is not a lit stick of dynamite.


It's a well-known fact that, sooner or later, every disreputable genre will get artsyfartsified. Jaws did it for monster movies. Crouching Tiger did it for chopsocky. Silence of the Lambs did it for serial killer flicks. And now Redbelt is here to do it for one of the most disreputable genres of all: the Chuck Norris movie.

See, back when he was still blond and beardless, Chuck was always playing these retired martial artists who just wanted to hang back and not have to kick motherfuckers in the neck anymore. He used to be in the army, but now he runs a little dojo or something, nothing extravagant, but enough for him and the occasional ladyfriend. Somewhere along the way, he gets into a random bar fight to let you know that he could still kick ass if he wanted to. He just prefers not to. Then somebody asks for his help, and he tries not to get involved, but sooner or later, some dumb fuck pushes him too far and he has to break his feet of fury out of mothballs. This movie's been made roughly 700 million times, both with and without Chuck, and while it's awesome, it's not the kind of story that you ever really believe in; it's just a workable formula for mindless action. But Redbelt takes that exact formula—even down to the bar fight—and breaks your goddamn heart with it.

This is a great movie, and you know what? Even though respected playwright David Mamet wrote and directed this thing, I'm going to go ahead and take full credit for its existence. Long-time Majestykles will no doubt remember my review of the not-so-hot kung-fu flick Chinese Hercules in which I lamented that the so-called "hero" spent the whole movie bellyaching about how he didn't want to kick ass anymore. "Nobody wants to watch some dude wrestle with his demons and become a more spiritual person," I sagely declared. "We want to watch him get righteously pissed off and slaughter a whole mess of deserving scum." I then went on to say, "I kind of hope that someday somebody proves me wrong and makes a movie where, when the hero finally stops blubbering and learns to kill again, we think, 'Aw, that's too bad.'" Well, I guess David Mamet has been reading my blog on the sly, because Redbelt is that movie. I assume the check is in the mail.

Here's the deal: Chiwetel Ejiofor plays this badass jujitsu expert named Mike Terry who runs a little storefront dojo in L.A. He has a code of honor that makes sense to him and seems like the correct way to live his life, but the rest of the world doesn't agree. He's always broke, so everybody's always trying to get him to fight competitively, but he knows that's not the right way to use his skills. He just wants to teach his students, hang out with his hot Brazilian wife, and basically be the most decent and noble human being who has ever walked the earth.

That's pretty much what this movie is about: maintaining your personal code of ethics when the entire world wants you to sell out. The plot is too goddamned complicated to explain, but it involves all of these seemingly minor incidents adding up to a vast conspiracy to get Mike to fight in this UFC-style tournament. And I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but when that tournament comes up, I found myself wishing that Mike didn't have to fight in it. Crazy, right? The tournament is where the kung-fu happens, and I still wished that Mike could just go back to his dojo and teach a few whitebelts some basic self-defense maneuvers. The tournament is such a crass bastardization of everything that Mike believes in that it actually broke my heart to see him lower himself to that level. Redbelt did the impossible: It made me anti-asskicking.

A lot of that is on Ejiofor himself. I don't know how well known he is, but he's one of my favorite actors working today. He can play villains (Serenity), heroes (this movie), and sidekicks (Inside Man) with equal conviction, and he has a decency and grace that is second to none. I honestly believe that if the world wasn't so fucking racist this guy could play Superman—he's that fucking deep-down noble. Now, a lot of people don't like a 100% good character. They need shades of gray to be able to relate. It's the classic Superman vs. Batman debate. I can appreciate that (nine times out of ten I'll go with Bats over Supes), but I also love a character who doesn't have a dark side. Someone who either by nature or by conscious choice will always do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts. He refuses to act out of pettiness, to compromise his principles, to deny whatever help he can give to whomever needs it. Because, believe it or not, that's the person I want to be. I want to be the goddamn hero. But I am weak and I am selfish, and though I have my moments of courage and honor (like we all do), in the end, I am just as flawed as anyone else. I'm no hero. I'm just a guy trying to get along. That's why I'm a sucker for someone who represents the best of what I wish I could be. I wish I could be that humble, that loyal, that brave, that selfless. I don't know what it says about me, but I envy a martyr.

(Did I mention that I was raised Catholic?)

Anyway, Redbelt is definitely a portrait of a hero, but it's also an exploration of how much being a hero would suck. While everyone can agree with Mike's code of honor in theory, in reality, it would be a major pain in the ass. In the movie, he's always helping out everyone except himself. Some neurotic lawyer lady wanders into his dojo off the street and accidentally busts his window, and he lets her go without asking her to pay for it. After all, she was clearly not in control of her actions. Besides, she was a guest in his dojo. It would be wrong to ask her for money. Of course, his wife just wants to know how the hell they're going to replace the window when they can't even pay the goddamn rent. Redbelt asks the question: When does being honorable amount to selfishness? Is it not more honorable to compromise and be able to feed your family than to stay pure and have them starve? Mike's noble intentions and strict moral code may lead to enlightenment on the mountaintop, but down here on the ground with the rest of us mortals, it leads everyone around him to pain and suffering.

In the end, the movie does glorify Mike's code, but it's careful to show the cost, both to himself and those around him. But there are pluses and minuses in everything, and his example leads others to find strength within themselves they never knew they had. I guess the moral of the story is: Everyone loves a hero. Just don't marry one.

Anyway, let's talk about the fights, because none of this would matter if they didn't deliver. There are only two major fight sequences in the movie, but they're pretty awesome. The first is that bar fight I was talking about. Tim Allen plays this asshole movie star who goes out on the town without his bodyguards because he wants to get into a fight for research. Problem is, he's a pussy, so Mike has to save him. What follows is two minutes of seemingly effortless jujitsu, in which Mike disables four or five men without ever throwing a punch. In Japanese, "jujitsu" translates as "the gentle way," and while I wouldn't go that far (I don't see how you can gently snap someone's wrist), it's more about using your opponent's aggression against him than it is about being aggressive yourself. You can't meet force with force; you can only embrace it or deflect it. The catchphrase of the movie is "There is nothing you can't escape," and that's what Mike's fighting style and his life are all about. It's about maintaining your dignity and your honor even when you're facedown on the mat, because if you remember what you stand for, you will eventually find a way to get up again. It's as clichéd a message as there is, one parroted by every cheesy power ballad ever recorded, and yet there are moments in this movie that damn near made me cry. It just goes to show that there are no outdated themes, just outdated modes of expressing them.

I just realized that not only is Redbelt a classy version of a Chuck Norris movie, it's also a classy version of an inspirational sports movie. It's got all of the elements: Pure-hearted hero denies worldly temptations offered by corrupt society and emerges victorious from climactic tournament. This is pretty much the plot of Rad, only with a different sport and better haircuts. And just like Rad, the climax is a little rushed and a lot far-fetched (it's one of those endings where somebody gets rewarded for doing something that would get you or me imprisoned), but it packs a punch. And it does it without ever throwing one.

Street Kings

After he grew out of his Bill & Ted phase, Keanu Reeves pretty much made a career out of being miscast. He's gotten a reputation as the guy the studios saddle filmmakers with so they can have a bankable name on the poster. I think it started with his role as Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula. In Keanu's defense, that part has a long tradition of sucking. It's been played boringly by dozens of actors over the course of nearly a century, but never with a British accent that sounded like the San Dimas High School drama club's production of A Christmas Carol.

Then Keanu started utilizing his bland but strangely charismatic demeanor in action roles, where he basically functions as a blank canvas on which filmmakers and audiences alike can project pretty much whatever they want. Whether he's playing an idealistic adrenaline junkie (Point Break, Speed) or a superpowered messiah (The Matrix), he maintains the same facial expression and lets the context surrounding him do all the heavy lifting. He's sort of like C-3PO, who can look sad, scared, or happy depending on what's going on around him, even though his face is just an unmovable mask.

Nowadays, Keanu keeps trying to go against his dopey but sweet persona by trying to play cynical tough guys without ever really pulling it off. (I do think he was surprisingly intimidating as a redneck wifebeater in The Gift, though.) But somehow, even though you're never excited to see Keanu cast in anything (The Day the Earth Stood Still? Really?), and he's never really all that good, he still almost never ruins the final product. Eventually, you kind of have to respect the guy. He seems like a decent dude, and he always gives every role his best shot. That's probably why he's stuck around a lot longer than all the other prettyboy actors of his generation. I mean, have you seen much of Judd Nelson lately?

Which brings us to Street Kings, a halfway decent crime thriller that pretty much nobody saw. This is a different role for Keanu because he's trying to do the whole "burned-out detective on the ragged edge" thing, so it looks like he put on a little weight and tried to make his perpetual babyface sag a little. Even though this is really more of a Kiefer part than a Keanu part, he puts his back into it and manages to come off slightly more badass than usual. You still spend most of the movie wishing that they'd cast Tom Jane or somebody like that, but by the end, Keanu's inherent naiveté actually works for the character, who turns out to be not as cynical as he thinks he is. Unlike, say, Constantine, I can see why they went the Keanu route on this one.

Street Kings is based on a James Ellroy story, so it's obviously about dirty L.A. cops. And even if you didn't know that, you'd figure it out in the first 30 seconds, because the first thing Keanu does after he wakes up in the morning is grab his pistol and puke. Then puts on an ugly shirt and goes to the liquor store for three travel-sized bottles of vodka. Then he tries to sell a .50-cal Army surplus machine gun to a couple of Korean gangbangers who like to use the N-word in wildly inapt ways. Then he follows them back to their crib and kills them and their entire gang. He doesn't have a warrant or identify himself as a cop or anything. He just kicks the door in and starts shooting. The first two guys, one of them's just sitting at the dinner table and the other one's taking a shit. The next two try shooting back, but it doesn't work. Like all of the movie's gunfights, it's shot economically with an eye toward geography, and the squibs are nice and squishy.

So then, right when you've pretty much decided that this dude is just a monster with a badge, he opens a secret passageway and rescues two little girls in a cage. So now we don't know what to think. Sure, he violated those gangbangers' civil rights by murdering them without a warrant, but they were also evil kidnapping scum. The movie isn't really interested in exploring the theme of ends justifying the means in any kind of meaningful way, but it provides enough character development to keep the story moving in between badass beats.

You find out in the next scene that Keanu is basically a hitman for the cops. His boss, Forest Whitaker, tells him who to kill, then cleans up the mess afterward. But then Keanu's ex-partner tries to rat him out to Internal Affairs, represented by Hugh Laurie, the guy from House, which is the TV version of that old horror movie from the eighties, only set in a hospital. Which is not a house, in my opinion. Fucking TV people screw everything up. Anyway, then the partner gets shot more times than Robocop, and everyone in the whole world except for Keanu knows that Forest Whitaker ordered it. So he's got to deal with his guilty conscience and get to the bottom of the whole thing by shooting a whole bunch of people. Which he does, very satisfyingly.

Shit, man, I wish I had more to say about Street Kings, but it kind of is what is. It's the kind of down-and-dirty little shoot-'em-up that the marketing people like to call "gritty" even though that word has been ground down to a nub by overuse and thus has no meaning anymore. If you like that kind of movie, then this is the kind of movie you'll like. The plot is never the slightest bit believable, but the action is violent and exciting and the cast is interesting (Jay Mohr, Chris Evans, John Corbett, Cedric the Entertainer, The Game, and Common, who, despite being a crunchy granola pussyfag manages to be twice as badass as The Game, a real-life Blood with a face covered with prison tattoos). And there are some good poetically hard-boiled lines, like when Forest Whitaker describes Keanu's role in the police force by saying, "You're the tip of the fuckin' spear." And you get to see Neo fight Ghost Dog, so if that sounds up your alley, you should probably rent it or something.

Queen of Black Magic

Today we got another Indonesian oddity from Mondo Macabro, the video company that brought you such experimental arthouse fare as For Y'ur Height Only and Lady Terminator. This one's called Queen of Black Magic. It's not as shit-in-your-hand-and-rub-it-in-your-hair insane as the legendary Mystics in Bali, but it's pretty good.

It's about this broad who gets lynched because everybody in the village thinks she's a witch, so she decides to prove them wrong by, um, becoming a witch. It starts out at this wedding that looks more like a Day of the Dead parade, with lots of dudes in weird masks dancing around. Then the rice casserole turns into maggots and the bride starts seeing snakes everywhere (possibly a Freudian foreshadowing of her upcoming marital duties) and hallucinating that her husband-to-be is a plastic skeleton. Obviously, black magic is afoot, so they call in a witch doctor to clean that shit up. The evil's too strong, though, so he gets telekinesised to death.

Then the groom is like, "Hey, I know who did it. It's this chick I dumped after promising to marry her so I could take her virginity in a filthy shack out in the rice paddies." His unsubstantiated allegation is good enough for the angry mob he's got hanging out on his lawn, so they go grab the chick and burn down her house with her mom in it. Then they throw a dummy wearing her dress off a cliff, but luckily, she gets caught by this other witch doctor who convinces her that she needs to get herself some of that revenge everybody's talking about.

So she learns the dark arts and goes back to the village to magic the hell out of everybody who lynched her. She makes big rubber blood bubbles appear all over this one dude, then has another guy get his right eyeball stung out by bees. Then another guy gets his right eyeball eaten by worms.

Come to think of it, the blood bubble guy's right eyeball popped as well. She's got a problem with right eyeballs, I guess.

So then she keeps trying to quit this whole revenge thing (it's so time-consuming) but the witch doctor keeps bullying her into it. I don't know if I trust that guy. So she makes red Kool Aid come out of her ex-boyfriend's neck, and he stumbles back home and rips off his own head with his bare hands. Then it starts flying around and biting people, until this pious Muslim dude with a porn star mustache comes to town and tells everybody that praying makes the devil shit his pants.

Then the movie becomes kind of a commercial for Islam for a while. Then there's almost some incest. Then the witch doctor starts throwing around big papier mache boulders, so the main chick makes him explode with her mind, which I'm pretty sure is exactly what Muhammad would have done.


Jumper is a superhero movie for assholes. Anakin Skywalker plays Max Jumper, a dude who discovers that he can teleport anywhere in the world. So he what he does is he starts robbing banks so he can become a callow, self-absorbed yuppie prick who uses his powers to scooch over two feet on the couch so he can pick up the remote and change the channel so he doesn't have to watch flood victims drown on TV. (Kinda makes me wonder why he's not a big fatass, now that you mention it.) So you kind of figure that the whole movie is gonna be about him learning that helping people is more important than being a rich dickface, but then all he does is learn how to save his own ass.

Seems there are these dudes called "paladins" who want to kill jumpers for Jesus. Jesus hates jumpers, you see, because only God should have the power to rob banks and stand on top of Big Ben whenever He feels like it. Sam Jackson's the head paladin, and, like always, he seems like he's having a great time. In fact, even though he's playing a self-righteous cocksucker, I was kind of on his side. If all jumpers are selfish douches like Anakin, then they should be trapped with electric grappling hooks and stabbed with ceremonial daggers.

The movie, however, seems to think that Anakin turns into some kind of hero, even though the only person he saves is his own girlfriend (played by that chick from The O.C. who looks like a slightly oversized Bratz doll), who wouldn't even be in danger in the first place if Anakin hadn't lied to her about his superpowers. So then the movie ends and we're supposed to think that Anakin is some kind of hero now, even though there is no evidence to support that claim. I appreciate that they were trying to do something a little subversive and show a hero who's not very heroic, but they didn't follow through on that strategy. The whole tone of the movie acts like Anakin really is a hero, providing him with a triumphant theme song and slo-mo money shots. I got the sense that the assholes who made the movie actually expected us to root for this guy, even though he has no redeeming qualities and lacks the charisma to make that look cool.

The fight scenes are pretty sweet, though, even if X2 did teleportation better. The problem is, they never really work out the rules, so you're always kind of wondering why Anakin even bothers to fight anybody when he could just bamf himself to Sri Lanka. Then you're supposed to believe that Sam Jackson, armed only with a cattle prod, poses a serious threat to two dudes who can teleport, one of whom has a flamethrower. (Bonus: There's a dude with a flamethrower.) Still, I sort of liked it on an "Oooh, shiny!" level. It's hard to complain about flying buses.

But then the DVD has some animatics of scenes that didn't get shot, and they're way cooler than anything in the movie. There's one part where Anakin is fighting this other jumper on a helicopter and then he teleports them both to the fucking moon and handcuffs the dude to Neil Armstrong's flagpole. Not since The Chronicles of Riddick have I so wanted a sequel to a movie I didn't like that much.


Postal is a film by German auteur/tax loophole exploiter Uwe Boll, who takes a lot of shit because he's an arrogant, deluded, loud-mouthed asshole who makes really terrible movies out of video games that nobody's ever heard of. This one's different, though, because it's supposed to be funny.

It's about this dude (Zack Ward, a.k.a. Scott Fargis from A Christmas Story) who lives in a trailer park and has a 400-pound wife who fucks everybody but him. He can't find a job, so him and his Uncle Dave (former Kid in the Hall Dave Foley and his naked penis) steal a truckload of Krotchy dolls (anthropomorphic cartoon cock-and-ballses) so they can sell them on eBay. Problem is, Osama was gonna do the same thing, only he was gonna load the dolls up with Bird Flu. The whole point of Postal is to try and be as offensive as possible to as many people as possible, but it's just so childish that it fails and ends up being kind of…I don't know if cute is the right word for a movie in which the hero headbutts a retarded kid for no reason, but there it is.

Case in point: The first scene shows the 9/11 terrorists haggling with Osama over the phone about how many virgins they're going to get in heaven. That's about the level of satire we're dealing with here. Boll (whose first name is pronounced "uva," not "yoowie," as I had hoped) even appears as a child-molesting, video game-hating Nazi version of himself who owns a theme park called Little Germany and pays for everything with gold teeth while bikini babes in Hitler mustaches dance around him.

The only point he seems to be making with any of these adolescent shock tactics is that politics and religion and stuff are, like, stupid. Still, the movie is a lot of fun because it's so colorful and eager to please. It's got the feel of one of those USA Up All Night flicks from the late eighties, the ones you catch halfway through and never find out the name of. I'd compare it to Sonny Boy or Parents or Nice Girls Don't Explode, real classics like that.

Also, it's got some great cameos, like Seymour Cassel and the dude who played the Big Lebowski as dirty old men (Best line: "When I get through with her, she'll look like she got hit by the mayonnaise truck!"), J.K. Simmons as a street preacher who says fuck the 9/11 victims, Verne Troyer as a version of himself who gets raped by a roomful of monkeys, and that yuppie alpha-male asshole from Hostel, here playing the yuppie alpha-male asshole from Postal.

This will very likely be Boll's best movie ever, and I suspect it will develop a small cult following. Certainly Boll himself believes that he's made a timeless masterpiece. As he says on the outrageously paranoid and self-important commentary track, "I have the courage. This movie is full of courage. This movie is not pussying out for nobody. This movie is insulting the people that have now the power, who can now destroy my career. They can now sue me. They can now kill me, like the fundamentalists. I give a shit about the fucking Mufti shit, and about the Muslims or whatever, or Muhammad, because I give a shit about the whole religious stuff." Seriously, fuck firemen. Uwe Boll is the real hero.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Freddy vs. Jason

Dude, seriously, how excited were you when this movie came out? I couldn't even believe the universe loved me enough to let this movie exist. After a dozen years and thousands of rumors, the cinematic showdown between my man JV and that punk pederast Fredrick K. was finally a reality. Like many awesome individuals who grew up in the eighties, these two stabby motherfucks provided my gateway into the horror genre, laying the foundation for an obsession that would follow me into my thirties, stealing all of my expendable income and robbing me of an entire wall of my apartment. They're at least partially responsible for turning me into the unboyfriendable man-child I am today. I should probably want revenge, but if there's anything that these two have taught us, it's that vengeance is a closed circuit from which there is no escape. The world could learn a lot from Freddy and Jason.

Anyway, that's a lot of baggage for a movie about two ugly guys who put metal objects through each other. And while I can't say that Freddy vs. Jason is the definitive Freddy and Jason movie, it does enough things right that I can't help but love it. Bride of Chucky director Ronny Yu makes everything bright and shiny without going into full-on McG sugar rush mode, and the script stays on just the right side of the line dividing a stupid movie that knows just how stupid it is from a stupid movie that's pretending not to know how stupid it is. We'll call it "The Renny Harlin Line."

The actors certainly help set the tone. You can't fake bad acting of this caliber. Every single word that comes out of Kelly Rowland (hardly recognizable when not standing immediately to the left of and slightly behind Beyoncé Knowles) is an amazing display of computerized speech simulation. You can practically hear the gears turning in her head as she struggles to remember and enunciate the inhuman dialogue that the screenwriters (clearly deaf-mute shut-ins who have never had a conversation with another human being before) have concocted. Hers is the very special brand of terrible acting that makes you visualize the words on the page, where they're even funnier in stark black and white. It takes an actor of grandiose awkwardness to make these words, perhaps tapped out at random by a barn full of woodpeckers, truly sing. Luckily, Freddy vs. Jason is populated almost exclusively by such guileless anti-thespians.

The story, I have to admit, could be better, but I like the set-up, that Freddy brings Jason back to life to make people remember the legend of Freddy, which gives him the power to invade kids' dreams again. One thing I like about the script is that it's very old-school comic book, in that characters explain their motivations to no one in particular while looking straight at the audience. But then they have about 60 scenes where the plot gets re-explained over and over again. The first two-thirds of the movie is much more Elm Street than Friday, which means a whole bunch of backstory and strategizing that you don't find in Jason's minimalist solo adventures. There are way too many scenes focusing on the victims and not on the monsters, who are clearly the stars of the show. It reminds me of King Kong vs. Godzilla, where you had to sit through an hour and a half of baffled scientists before the climactic dust-up. The people scenes in FvJ are much more involving, though, thanks to the inventive cinematography of Fred Murphy and the bulging cleavage of Monica Keena.

The one thing that I was highly skeptical about before I saw this movie for the first time was the recasting of Jason. Stuntman Kane Hodder had played the venerable Mr. Voorhees a record four times, starting with Friday VII, and I felt that he was the definitive Jason. Whereas previous Jasons had played the character as a mindlessly murderous mongoloid who commits mass slaughter because that's just the way he's wired, Kane brought a certain malevolence to his performance. Just the way he cocked his head or rolled his shoulders told you that this was not just a character driven by violent impulses he doesn't understand, but a snarling engine of death that exists only to eradicate all human life in its path. With very subtle body language, Kane gave Jason a will and a soul. Without him, those last few Friday movies would have been nearly unwatchable, and it broke my heart a little when I heard that his services would not be required for Freddy vs. Jason.

But after I saw the movie, I could see why they recast him. To make the plot work, Jason had to be somewhat sympathetic to contrast with Freddy's mean-spirited nastiness, so they picked a stuntman with sluggish, dopy body language to make him more of a Frankensteinian misunderstood monster. That's why I've always preferred Jason, honestly. Both of them will kill you for no reason, but only Freddy's gotta be a prick about it. He's a racist, misogynist pedophile who likes to toy with his victims first, digging into their subconscious to bring their deepest fears to the surface. He's gonna make it hurt. Jason's much more Zen about the whole thing. He sees. He kills. It's nothing personal. I'm not saying he's the nicest guy on earth, but he'll do his best to make it as quick and painless as possible. He's not gonna call you a whore or make you endure some elongated torture sequence ironically referencing your favorite hobby. He'll just walk up and impale you on something. Done.

I think this has to do with their differing M.O.'s. Jason's killing sprees generally take place over the course of one or two nights, so he's got a lot of work to get done. He doesn't have time to dick around with elaborate production numbers involving claymation snakes and doppelgangers of his victims' loved ones. He's just gotta stab and move on. Freddy, on the other hand, usually only kills one victim per night, so he has to make a meal of it. Also, he's kind of a dick, so he enjoys his victims' torment. That's why Kane's Jason really wouldn't have worked. He's almost as malicious as Freddy, so the audience wouldn't have had anybody to root for. The FvJ Jason is too dumb to understand what's going on, so you kind of forgive him. He really doesn't know any better. He's sort of like Cujo in that respect. It ain't his fault he got the rabies and tried to eat E.T.'s mom. Metaphorically speaking.

What I always found strange about the movie is that even though Jason's body count is way higher than Freddy's, he still comes off as the lesser of two evils. If you really pay attention, you'll notice that Freddy only kills one person in the whole movie, while Jason hacks up like 35 teenagers just in that one scene at the kegger in the cornfield. I guess this says a lot about us as a culture. It doesn't matter how many innocent people you kill, just as long as you don't use any foul language.

Anyway, Freddy vs. Jason may not be everything it could have been, but it's a hell of a fun flick that I revisit a couple times a year. I love how deliciously squirty all the wounds are, as if all the victims are so hypertensive that their veins were about to burst. I like Freddy's stupid kung fu moves in the final battle, which is I guess what you get when you hire a Hong Kong action director to make your horror movie. I love all the Looney Tunes-style banging and bouncing as these two indestructible icons hack away at each other. I love that Camp Crystal Lake has enough propane onsite to create a small nuclear explosion. And I love that my man Jason walks away with that peckerhead Freddy's head as a trophy. Some say there's no definitive winner, but answer me this: Who's gonna get up tomorrow and continue his good work of enforcing teenage abstinence with whatever edged weapon God has placed in his path, and who's gonna spend the day on a mantelpiece, chatting with Mrs. Voorhees' rotting skull?

Robocop 2

Robocop 2 got a bad rap when it came out, and it's easy to see why. It could never live up to the original, the very existence of which is kind of a miracle. Robocop is both a kickass action movie that raised the bar on cinematic violence and a no-holds-barred satire that was ahead of its time in its depiction of corporate omnipresence, the militarization of the police force, and the general crassification of society at large. Like all of Paul Verhoeven's movies, you were never sure if you were supposed to laugh or cringe. Or both. Or neither. Who knows with that kinky Dutchman?

Robocop 2, on the other hand, takes all of the masterfully integrated components of Robocop 1 and cranks them up to 11 so that they don't fit together so well anymore. Like its upgraded biotech antagonist, it's a bigger, clunkier, less elegant beast than its predecessor. The funny parts are obviously trying to be funny, the violent parts are too over-the-top to be shocking, and the satire has degenerated into comic-book exaggeration. While the first one was an honest-to-God Film with a capital F wrapped in the shiny silver skin of a goofy B-movie about cyborgs, possibly the goofiest of B-movie tropes, the second one is just a goofy B-movie about cyborgs. But if you've ever read one of my reviews before, you know damn well I'm not gonna knock it for that.

At the start of Robocop 2, Detroit is in even worse shape than it was in the last one. Or in Action Jackson, for that matter. The cops are on strike, half the populace is addicted to a new superdrug called Nuke that looks like Taco Bell hot sauce, and evil multinational conglomerate OCP is about to pull a hostile takeover of city government. So what OCP does is, they take the brain of Kane, the leader of the Nuke gang, and put it into a huge stop-motion robot octopus monster that's dripping with gatling guns and chainsaws and arc welders, and there's only one dude who can stop him. You might have heard of him. First name Robo, last name Cop?

But before we get to that shit, we got some human drama to deal with. The first movie was as much a metaphysical melodrama as anything else, making you feel for the ghost of Officer Alex Murphy trapped in the machine of Robocop. At the end, he reclaims his humanity, but I guess he didn't tell the suits back at OCP, because they'd prefer if he just did what he was told like a good home appliance. They wish he'd stop cruising by his old house and freaking out his wife, so they make him tell her that her husband is dead and only Robocop remains. I've read reviews that say that this theme is then dropped so the movie can focus on the carnage, but I think it's subtly working in the background over the course of the film. Robo wasn't lying when he said that Alex Murphy was dead, but that doesn't mean that Robo isn't still human. At one point in the movie, his programming is overwhelmed with a list of bullshit politically correct directives that render him incapable of taking decisive action, much like a computer than can only do what it's been programmed to do. After he fries his circuits to burn this programming out of him, he's left with no directives at all, not even the three he started out with in the first one: "Serve the public trust," "Protect the innocent," and "Uphold the law." At first, you'd think this means that Robocop is going to go crazy and start murdering motherfuckers, but that's not his style. He doesn't need any programming to tell him to be a good cop. He wants to protect the innocent, serve the public trust, and uphold the law, because that's the type of dude he is. As he learned at the beginning of the movie, he can't be Alex Murphy anymore, but that doesn't mean he's just a robot. A robot can't make choices, but Robocop chooses to be a hero of his own free will. And isn't our free will what makes us human?

Anyway, that's some heavy-duty shit for a movie where Tom Noonan's skull gets sawed open and his brain and spinal column get put in a jar with the eyeballs still attached so he can watch the doctor show off his hollowed-out head like it was a conch shell he found at the beach. This is a pretty hardcore movie. Everybody who gets shot gets shot about a hundred times, and they're not afraid to kill kids and little old ladies or press gun barrels to the soft-shelled temples of infants. There's a heavy emphasis on surgery, with both the hero and the villain undergoing non-consensual vivisection, as well as some impromptu scalpel torture of a dirty cop. It seems fascinated with the effect of metal on flesh, whether it's in the form of bullets, bonesaws, Robocop 2's face-mauling claw hand, or Robocop himself, who puts Kane in the hospital by launching himself off of a motorcycle through the windshield of the oncoming big rig Kane is driving. Think about how badass that is: Robocop uses his own body as a projectile weapon. I think the movie missed an opportunity to have Robo stand up from the wreckage of the truck, his blue-steel chassis painted red with the blood of his enemy.

Even so, this is an extraordinarily vicious movie, which makes the comedic scenes of reprogrammed Robo spouting mish-mashed platitudes to a team of evil little leaguers even more jarring. That's what I love about it, though. Why bother with a consistent tone when you can run the gamut from Cronenbergian body horror to Airplane!-style spoofery? This is a movie that doesn't just have its cake and eat it, too; it has its cake, eats it, pukes it up, pisses on it, then makes some little elephant sculptures out of it, which it then blows up. Or something. I don't know, man, this is a movie that does a lot of shit with its cake.

I also like the villains. For one, there's an 11-year-old named Hobb with a foldaway submachine gun who is somehow the second-in-command of the drug empire. He's a mean little bastard, but you still kind of feel for him when he bites it because, after all, he's just a kid. He hangs out with fucking psychopathic drug dealers all day, how's he supposed to know right from wrong? He even gives an argument for the legalization of drugs that is so entirely reasonable that you stop thinking of him as a villain. He's much preferable to The Old Man, the oily OCP CEO whose bottom-line brand of banal evil makes Hobb's drug-dealing and murdering look quaint.

But the star of the movie, in my opinion, is Tom Noonan as Kane. He plays the character as a Charlie Manson cult leader who really, honestly believes that the drug he's peddling is the key to paradise on earth. "Jesus had days like this," he says when Robocop invades his lair, and he's not trying to be funny. He means it. His performance is so convincing that it's a shame that he disappears halfway through the movie and turns into a Max Headroom digital avatar that appears on a plasma screen in Robocop 2's face. Even so, he gives Robocop 2, who exists only as a mixture of animatronics and stop-motion puppetry, a personality. You picture the soul of Kane living in the machine, and it humanizes the special effects.

Noonan is one of my favorite creepy character actors. A tall, lanky fellow with an expressionless monotone, he's best known as the killer in Manhunter, but he also played Frankenstein in The Monster Squad. I've actually had the good fortune to run into him twice, once in Brooklyn when he was getting off of a train I was getting on (He had to duck to go through the door), and again when I was smoking a cigarette outside of a bar in Manhattan. He was on crutches for some reason, and after he'd hobbled about halfway down the block, I finally worked up the courage to shout, "Robocop 2 rules!" He skeptically looked back at me over his shoulder, probably wondering if I was making fun of him. I feel bad about that, because I definitely wasn't. Robocop 2 does, in fact, rule. It might not be a timeless classic like the first one, but it's a big, sloppy, socially irresponsible B-movie with guts. And it's not afraid to show them to you, either.

The Shepherd: Border Patrol

Watching JCVD made me want to do some research into the recent work of Jean-Claude Van Damme to see if his newfound acting chops had any historical precedent. So I checked out The Shepherd: Border Patrol, which I'd heard was the best of his straight-to-video output. And I gotta say, it was an entertaining meat-and-potatoes flick with some well-staged action and a few inspired touches. It won't change your life, but it's got a good chance of positively influencing your Sunday afternoon.

Let's talk about the title first. The second half of it makes sense, but the first half is like some random Polaroid that Pearl Jam stuck in the middle of their liner notes that has nothing to do with anything and you're like "What is that, a seashell? Somebody's pierced nostril? A phrenology chart in extreme closeup?" It's a complete non-sequitur, almost Dadaist in its aggressive incongruity. Some have postulated that the titular shepherd is actually the villain of the piece, an ex-Special Ops commander who has taken to smuggling heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border by strapping it to illegal immigrants. I call bullshit on that. Not only does no one say anything about anyone shepherding anything in the entire movie, I consider the connotations of the word "shepherd" to be far too positive to be connected to a guy who likes to blow his runners up with explosive vests when they get caught. What I think actually happened was, the sheisty charlatans who financed this flick sold it to distributors under the proposed title The Shepherd, little realizing that that aspect of the story was already being written out of the script by the army of straight-to-video screenwriting monkeys they had locked up in a warehouse in Burbank. But since the wheels of commerce were already in motion, they were stuck with it, so they slapped that Border Patrol part on there to make it look like they'd actually seen the movie they'd made. Basically, it would be like if The Goonies was called Tentacle Cove because of that scene with the octopus that got cut out.

Wait a minute, I just figured this whole thing out. So Jean-Claude is on the New Mexico border patrol, right? He's just transferred there from New Orleans, which is not the first time he's pretended to be Cajun to explain his accent. He's all tortured and shit, but you don't know why. It has something to do with a vague flashback he has where some chick falls back on a bed and closes her eyes and Van Damme knocks over a bookcase. Heavy duty shit. His name is Jack, and he has a bunny who's also named Jack that he carries around in a cage all the time. I think this might be symbolism, I don't know. Hard to tell.

So Van Damme's first assignment is to fight these evil drug-running, immigrant-smuggling mercs, who are known as "coyotes." So think about it: What's the job of a shepherd? To protect his flock from coyotes and other predators. So I guess Jean-Claude really is The Shepherd, even though he does no shepherding whatsoever and no one ever refers to him as such, and in any case he never manages to save any illegal immigrants and that whole angle is a very small part of the movie anyway. The word "shepherd" also has some religious associations than I don't think the movie warrants (unlike in Cyborg, Van Damme does not get crucified for our sins this time), but I'm still glad I could finally get to the bottom of this completely pointless mystery.

Anyway, this movie has a lot of things going for it. It's got a body count in the mid double digits, and the fights are inventive and well-shot, with lots of modified jujitsu moves where dudes climb up their opponents like spider monkeys and flip them over. Despite being in his late forties, Van Damme does a lot of his own stunts, too, as evidenced by this one shot where you can see his face the whole time he does a full body flip around some guy's neck. And the explosive vests are a nice touch, because watching people blow up is one of the things that ignited my love of cinema in the first place.

There's one incredible part in the middle where the coyotes are disguised as priests on a heroin-filled bus full of real nuns and priests. When they get stopped by the cops, all these secret compartments open up and mounted machine guns pop out. Then there's a big firefight where Jean-Claude gets to shoot indiscriminately in the direction of innocent bystanders while the bus knocks police cars through the air. Then they escape to Mexico, but Jean-Claude doesn't give a dog's dick about that jurisdiction crap, so he follows and shoots it out with the villains some more, leaving many nuns and priests dead.

Then Jean-Claude manages to sneak onto the bus for some slick close-quarters combat, complete with human shield, but then his partner, Officer Turncoat McDeadguy, sells him out to the drug lords, who live in a big mansion with heavily squibbed statues all over the place and a swimming pool full of big-tittied bikini bitches. There's an early scene where one of the bad guys keeps lighting small sticks of dynamite on his cigar and throwing them into pool where the chicks are swimming. Nobody seems to mind this overmuch. It's a good thing that guy gets gassed to death in a barn a few scenes later because eventually that joke was going to stop being funny when somebody's breast implant got popped by flying shrapnel.

So Jean-Claude gets thrown in a Mexican prison, where the chief of police gives us a Van Damme staple by making him fight a cage match against the Mexican penal system's number one mixed martial arts champion. The police chief also employs one of my very favorite lazy writing clichés: He speaks perfect English for most of the sentence, until he gets to the words that the screenwriter learned in high school Spanish. Take this line, for instance. "I'll never understand you Americans. Why can't you keep your problems in su país?" So let me get this straight. This guy has a firm grasp on contractions and rhetorical questions, but he can't handle the word "country," which they probably teach on the very first day of Inglés 101? Nice try, warehouse full of typing monkeys.

Luckily, people don't talk very often in this movie, particularly Van Damme. I think he has like six lines of dialogue in the first 15 minutes, and three of them are "Yes, ma'am" and two of them are "I would like a cheeseburger and a coke, please." Luckily, he gets into a barfight in less than 12 minutes, so I ain't complaining. The dude's still got moves, but I don't really like him as the brooding, tortured hero type. I want to see him smiling and hitting on the ladies, like in real life. I think maybe this is why his acting was so much better in JCVD, because they let him talk. Left to his own devices, the man is a total babbler who's beloved by the French for routinely dropping the most ridiculous bon mots of all time. (Example: "Air is beautiful, yet you cannot see it. It's soft, yet you cannot touch it. Air is a little like my brain.") JCVD played more to his strengths than a movie where all he does is glower for whole reels at a time, so then when he finally does talk you haven't had a chance to get used to his accent so everything he says sounds stupid. It's sort of like how sometimes you like a song because it's so bad that it makes you laugh, but then it grows on you and all the irony leaks out so that you don't even remember why you thought it was funny anymore. That's what the sound of Jean-Claude Van Damme talking is like.

Also, has anyone else noticed that he has a huge lump on the right side of his forehead? It looks like a softball is trying to birth itself through his skull.

Anyway, if you like back-to-basics action where the clergy is collateral damage and a floppy-eared bunny rabbit gives the best performance, you could do a lot worse than The Shepherd. It's still got that direct-to-DVD look, but at least it's well framed and edited, which is more than you can say for most theatrical action movies these days. And thanks to over-the-top touches like the awesome bus chase and the exploding vests, it's got a more big-budget feel than anything I've seen from Seagal in at least ten years. Maybe this Van Damme guy's got legs after all.

Beer For My Horses

We're living in an age where any damn thing at all can be made into a motion picture. We've got movies based on TV shows, comic books, video games, theme park rides, other movies, board games, and big-headed tween slut dolls. This one right here, Beer For My Horses, is an action-comedy based on a Toby Keith song guest-starring Willie Nelson. It's about vigilante justice, which is odd, because the movie's about cops. Also, not only are there no beer-drinking horses, I actually don't remember seeing any horses at all. Then again, it might be wishful thinking to expect that kind of thematic consistency from a movie in which impending doom is announced by a farting bulldog.

Before we get to the movie, I'm gonna make an announcement that will probably blow your mind. You should go get a drink of water or some smelling salts or something just in case. I will not be held liable for any bodily harm that may befall you due to fainting and/or seizure caused by reading the following statement.

I like country music.

I ain't talking about Johnny Cash, neither. Everybody likes Johnny Cash. If you don't like Johnny Cash, congratulations, you're an asshole. Come on up to the front and get your certificate, which is in the form of a big, brown "A" tattooed right on your fucking forehead. The "A" stands for asshole, asshole.

So, obviously, I like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe and all that old school outlaw country it's cool to have at least a passing appreciation of. But that's not the country I'm talking about. I'm talking about country country. The kind of music cool people hate more than any other. The kind of music made by ignorant rednecks, for ignorant rednecks. I ain't embarrassed about it, though, and let me tell you why.

Well, first, let me make it clear that I ain't talking about no pussified country. If it sounds like Celine Dion with steel guitars, I hate it just as much as you do. Unfortunately, that's about 95% of the country that's out there. That's why you can't buy country by the album. You have to cherry-pick the good songs and make a mix. A good country song possesses the same gumbo of irreverence, showmanship, absurdity, braggadocio, and unexpected emotion that I look for in a good B-movie. And just like a B-movie, you can usually tell whether it's gonna be a good one based on the title. You see a song called "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" or "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," you know you're in good hands. You learn to look for certain keywords, like "beer," "redneck," "drinking," "truck," "bottle," "Texas," "six-pack," or any combination of the words "kick" and "ass." But whatever you do, stay the fuck away from any country song with the word "love" in the title. Those songs are for overweight housewives from Utah whose husbands spend too much time at Home Depot.

Now that that's out of the way, I must stress that I don't just listen to country. I listen to all kinds of music. Everybody says that, but what they really mean is they listen to everything from U2 to Pearl Jam. I really mean it, though. On any given day, I could be found rocking out to German pirate metal, early nineties New York hip-hop, vintage British punk, cheesy eighties synth pop, trendy bands with three full-time French horn players, and/or any of Mike Patton's estimated 975 side projects. I am a well-rounded motherfucker. If a song makes me feel something, whether it's making me want to laugh, cry, dance, or punch somebody in the neck, I consider that a good song, no questions asked. I don't give a fuck if it's cool or original or well-played or anything. All I care about is the effect it has on me. In the words of the great prophet Andrew W.K., "I love music / I love to feel / I love to get through."

I think a lot of modern music forgets about that last part. It makes no attempt to connect with the listener. It's so desperately poetic and willfully obscure that you can't relate to it. It makes a nice sound, but what's it saying? Think about it. What is the average contemporary rock song even about? Half the time, you can't even understand the words the singer's slurring, and even when you can, they don't mean a damn thing. All the average contemporary rock song seems to be about is a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I actually listen to a lot of that shit, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to raise a beer and sing along to.

Country's not like that, though. It always wants to connect, and that's important to me. Its subject matter is the stuff of good times: drinking, driving fast, picking up chicks, and not giving a fuck. These are rock staples, but rock has largely abandoned them in favor of navel-gazing and angst. It's the same thing that happens to every art form on its journey to redundancy: It loses touch with the basic gristle of human life, turning ever inward, until only its practitioners and the most devoted of aesthetes can appreciate it. It happened to once-popular mediums like poetry, theater, and jazz, and if things don't turn around, it'll happen to rock, too. Some day, if the Radioheads of the world have their way, the only place you'll be able to hear rock is in a cocktail lounge. Snobs will be sipping white wine and thinking real hard about every note, while outside, the rest of humanity is having a great time drinking and singing along to whatever new form of music has deigned to come down from its pedestal and talk about shit that matters to them.

Take Toby Keith, for instance. Now, I'll be the first to admit that his politics are somewhat less than progressive. "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" is a horribly jingoistic and short-sighted song that I happen to find hilarious. I don't agree with its mission statement that "put[ting] a boot in your ass" is "the American way," but I have to admit that it's a fun fantasy along the lines of a mid-eighties Chuck Norris movie. I kind of wish that we were that righteous and that all we had to do was find the right asses to kick to set the world straight, but I know that ain't so. Luckily, it's just a song. It's not a foreign policy doctrine. But he's also got a song called "Get Drunk And Be Somebody" that I can totally get behind. Its message has gotten me through some rough times. It's about working all week for people who don't give a fuck about you, then going out on Friday night and being with your friends and feeling like maybe it's all worth it. Who can't relate to that? You hear it once and you already know the chorus by heart. You know what it's about just from the title. It ain't trying to prove how smart it is. It's just trying to make you feel better about your shitty life. Because guess what, hipster bands? Most people have to go to work every day. We don't live in a loft with 18 other art school kids, so we can't really relate to your danceable but aloof songs about Kierkegaard and ennui. We have real problems, so we don't need to manufacture depression through music just to feel something. We'd rather listen to a song that makes us transcend all that bullshit and feel good about ourselves for a change.

That brings me to the topic of joy. Isn't joy awesome? It's just about the best thing on earth, yet there are a whole bunch of joyless fucks out there. Let me tell you a little secret: The world don't wanna give you shit, so you better steal your joy where you can. If some country-western singer gets his from putting monster truck tires on his Ford F-150 and spitting his Copenhagen juice into a Big Gulp cup, who the fuck am I to argue? And if he can convey that sense of joy to me—a sarcastic New York liberal—then doesn't that make the world a better place for everybody? Even though I've never gone hunting or been in a honkytonk or worn my straight-leg jeans up to my sternum, I know what he's getting at. He's just trying to express himself through the iconography of his time and place. It's just like when a rapper talks about his gold chain or when a metal band sings about swords. These items are just totems of their identities, like Batman's cape or Indiana Jones' hat. When a rapper talks about his 24-inch rims, he's really saying, "This is who I am, and I don't give a fuck if you don't like it." When a metal singer talks about the glory of battle, he's really saying "I am awesome. Deal with it." And when a country singer writes a song about sitting on his tractor, drinking sweet tea, he's saying "I am not embarrassed to be who I am," which is a sentiment that I think we can all stand to learn. When you're listening to a song, it doesn't really matter what the particulars are, as long as the theme is relatable. I can't relate to owning a pickup truck, but I can sure as shit to relate to being totally in love with a whole bunch of stuff that the rest of the world looks down on (See: every movie review I've ever written). Whatever you care about, whatever makes you get up in the morning and love being you, even if nobody else understands, that's your pickup truck. That's what the man's singing about. He's not singing about his gun rack and his Skoal Ring; he's singing about joy. And joy, my friends, is universal.

Anyway, that's a lot of shit to dump on a movie co-starring the guy who wrote a song called "Letter To My Penis." His name his Rodney Carrington, he's some kind of redneck comedian/novelty songwriter, and he's Toby Keith's sidekick.

In Beer For My Horses, Toby and Rodney play bumbling deputies who have to take the law into their own hands when Toby's high school girlfriend Claire Forlani (still the prissiest broad in movies, despite the halfway decent Oklahoma accent) gets kidnapped by Mexican meth dealers who dress like Scarface. Luckily, they've got Ted Nugent on their side. He plays the Snake Eyes of the Bible Belt, a mute bowman who was raised by Indians, carries two Tech Nines at all times, and has his badge tattooed on his chest. Needless to say, the Nuge rules, but he's just one small facet of a great cast. Tom Skerritt plays the leather trenchcoat-wearing sheriff; Willie Nelson pops up as the leader of a trailer park circus troupe; David Allan Coe says one unintelligible line but still scores with a 21-year-old blonde hooker with a gold cross dangling between her hooters; Gina Gershon has one scene as Toby's soon-to-be ex; the guy who played Booger plays yet another sleazy lawyer; and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, plus every movie ever made) is the jerky rich villain who makes fun of Toby because his dad died poor. It's a game of Spot The That Guy: Good Ol' Boy Edition. Also, Toby's character is named Rack, which makes me hope his first name is Gunther. (Think about it.)

Movie-wise, this is all very eighties. There's lot of wisecracking, some truck chases, an explosion, and a shootout in a bar where Toby gets to jump through the air shooting two pistols. And just when you least expect it, there are monkeys and midgets running around everywhere, though they're not half as surreal as the scene where Rodney sings an a capella version of "Shout!" with a bunch of multiethnic thugs who for some reason are hanging around a rest stop bathroom in the middle of nowhere, which seems to reinforce the theory that minorities are only acceptable to the masses if they can sing. None of this is gonna blow your skirt up or anything, but I don't know, I like this kind of movie. It's just a stupid buddy flick that they don't make anymore unless Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are in it.

Anyway, having a fondness for country music will probably help you appreciate Beer For My Horses more. (By the way, the title refers to a toast: "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.") I ain't exactly recommending it, but I am recommending busting out a bottle of whiskey, a bucket of icy longnecks, a pack of Marlboro Reds, and a playlist of shit-kicking music. If you need some suggestions, give me a holler. And if your voice ain't hoarse the next day from singing along, I'm sorry, bud, but you ain't doing it right.

Foul Play

What the hell happened to Chevy Chase? And by that question, I don’t mean “Why isn’t he making movies anymore?” I mean “What the fuck is physically and/or psychologically wrong with him?” This is a man who had it all. He was tall, good-looking, charming, and equally adept at verbal and physical humor. He was the only Saturday Night Live cast member who could be considered a full-fledged romantic leading man, sans irony. If he’d played his cards right, he could have segued into latter-day Alec Baldwin roles: condescending, smarmy, but just sexy and sensitive enough to make you love him.

So what happened? He went from being one of the funniest people alive to being not only not funny, but the opposite of funny. Plenty of older comedians lose their mojo (Dan Aykroyd, I’m looking at you), but Chevy is actually anti-funny. Funny implodes upon contact with him. When funny spots Chevy Chase at the bar, it pretends to be looking real intently at the jukebox until he passes by.

Here’s my theory, and like most of my theories, it involves either the devil, time travel, or a warehouse full of monkeys. I think Satan approached Chevy when he was just a rich kid who occasionally played drums with an early incarnation of Steely Dan. At the time, Chevy had everything a young layabout could want: money, looks, perfect pitch. The only thing he didn’t have was a sense of humor. So the devil made him an offer: His soul for 20 years of hilarity. So Chevy took the deal, not realizing that those 20 years would pass so fast and that, at the end of it, he would be forced to do on-camera interviews for the DVDs of his old movies where people would expect him to still be funny. So he figures, how hard could it be? And so he tries to be funny, even though Beelzebub long ago repossessed his sense of humor. And we, the DVD-viewing public, soon learn what happens when unfunny people attempt comedy without a license. Don’t let this happen to you. If you’re not funny, folks, just stick to the facts. Leave the wisecracks to the pros.

It’s a shame, because Chevy used to be my kind of comic actor: the kind who was funny because he was smarter than everybody else. I can’t help it, man. I’m a cocky little fucker, so I relate to comedians who use humor as a way to feel superior. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of contemporary comedies. They’re all about idiots, losers, and oafs, people I would never want to hang out with, let alone emulate. Back when I was a kid, performers like Chevy, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, and even John Candy made funny look cool. For a little dude like me who couldn’t fight, I admired the hell out of these guys who could take control of any situation with just their quick wit and unflappable confidence. I dare say that these men had more influence over me than any of the people who are actually in my life. I patterned my personality after their teachings, but who the hell would want to be like Will Farrell? Sure, he might make you laugh, but his entire schtick is “Look at me! I’m wearing a stupid outfit! I’m making a stupid face! Laugh at my shame!” I can’t stand desperate comedians like Jim Carrey or Mike Myers who look like they’re gonna shoot themselves in the fucking face if you don’t laugh at their tired antics. I prefer old school Chevy Chase, who was so busy amusing himself that he didn’t even give a shit if you thought he was funny or not. And that’s why he was funny. It’s like how the guy who looks like he doesn’t even need it gets all the chicks.

Anyway, that’s a long way to go to get back to Foul Play, a comedy-thriller in which Chevy plays second fiddle to Goldie Hawn. It was his first major film role, but he was already a star. He held a closeup well, he looked good in a suit, and you believed him when he spoke. It didn’t hurt that late-70s Goldie Hawn was so fucking adorable that you could have put Jim Belushi up against her and she’d make him seem like Cary Grant.

The movie is a corny but agreeable good time. It’s from a period when comedies looked like actual movies, not slickly edited blooper reels. The camerawork is as sly and sinister as lightweight Hitchcock, with lots of silent shots that let you see the location and all of the players in it. Every director wants to make a Hitchcockian thriller at some point in their career, because it's the purest form of cinema and a showcase for directorial talent. The story must be told visually to build suspense and lead (and mislead) the audience and the characters (though often not at the same time) through the plot. A good thriller’s major set-piece can be something as simple as two people walking down the sidewalk. A good director will make that an exciting cat-and-mouse game, while a bad director will make it just what it is: two people walking down the sidewalk.

Anyway, I think the Foul Play guy does a good job. As for the script, the plot is twisty but not particularly crucial, in the best Hitchcock tradition. Goldie plays a mousy but hot as fuck librarian who picks up a hitchhiker one day after driving through an interminable credits sequence in which a Barry Manilow song plays in its entirety. There isn’t enough irony in the world to make me like Barry Manilow, so this sequence is best watched on mute so you can enjoy the beautiful Bay Area scenery without any flugelhorn solos intruding. The hitchhiker slips Goldie a pack of Marlboro Reds with a roll of film in it ("Beware of the dwarf," he whispers ominously in her ear as he bleeds out), and then the rest of the movie is about all these wacky goons (an albino, a guy with a scar down his face, the archbishop of California's mustachioed chauffeur, etc.) trying to get the cigarettes away from her. They might as well have been called MacGuffin Lights.

Along the way, she gets hooked up with Chevy, who plays a detective with a partner played by Brian Dennehy. This flick has a great cast. At one point, Chevy, Goldie, Dennehy, and Burgess Meredith are all in the same scene together. That’s a roomful of awesome people right there. Also showing up is world-class midget actor Billy Barty, who gets hung out a window, beat with a broom, and rolled down the street in a barrel but survives with his dignity intact.

Personally, I don’t find midgets as funny as I used to. I’d rather see them treated with respect and given full-fledged characters to play. I much prefer mocking just regular old short guys, which is why I was so glad to see Dudley Moore show up as a wee pervert with a closet full of blowup dolls and a hideaway bed that makes a trumpet fanfare when it folds out. The man’s a natural born hobbit who comes up to about doorknob height, and for some reason, it makes me laugh to see him walk around in his little suits.

But the highlight of the movie is the part where Burgess Meredith (Goldie’s snake-owning anthropologist landlord) suddenly reveals that he’s a blackbelt and starts karate-chopping motherfuckers. Goldie and Chevy have been captured, so Burgess sneaks into the villain’s lair like a ninja and gets into a five-minute no-holds-barred fight with this big dominatrix-looking bitch. Before I saw that, I never realized how spiritually impoverished my life was.

Then Chevy and Goldie race downtown to the opera house where the Pope is about to be assassinated while watching Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, which has got to be the single gayest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Man, the Pope must have to sit through shit like that all the time. “Welcome to our country, here is our national children’s choir singing three hours of tribal folk songs.” Heaven better be pretty fucking sweet for His Popeness to put up with that shit.

Anyway, here’s where the movie becomes a game of Grand Theft Auto for a while. Chevy steals a car and drives like a maniac until he crashes into a pizzeria, at which point he steals another car. Then he does it again. Granted, he doesn’t beat an old lady to death with a dildo, but I bet they'll totally do that if they ever remake it.

In conclusion, Foul Play is a fun movie from a time when comedians were the coolest guys in the room and comedies were treated with a little respect, even when they featured pratfalling, dwarf-rolling, and karate-chopping. It’s also a sad reminder of what happens to funny people when they fuck around with the devil. Satan is no laughing matter, kids. Remember that.

Zombie Strippers

When a movie comes out called Zombie Strippers, it's a given that I'm gonna see it. And I sort of resent that.

It's not that I don't think there should be a movie called Zombie Strippers. (Frankly, I'm stunned it took this long.) It's just that I dislike feeling pandered to. To me, the title seems a little forced, a little too on the nose. The people who made this movie think they can just slap the word "zombie" together with the word "strippers" and I'll come running. And they're 100% right, but fuck them for being so presumptuous. We both knew it was a done deal as soon as Zombie Strippers and I laid eyes on each other, but it doesn't need to act so cocky about it. Sure, I'm easy, but does that mean I don't deserve to be romanced a little bit? C'mon, Zombie Strippers. At least buy a girl a drink first.

Anyway, when a movie has an awesome title like Zombie Strippers, you can be reasonably certain that the title is going to be the most awesome thing about it. So I knew going into this thing that it was going to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am type situation. I knew that Zombie Strippers was going to seduce me with the promise of sexy, splattery hijinks, then leave me vaguely unfulfilled and somewhat embarrassed afterward. It was always going to be a one-night stand, just a rough and sloppy 90 minutes of forgettable fun. No promises, no strings, no future. But dammit, I guess I'm just a romantic at heart, because I dared to hope for more. I see no reason why a movie called Zombie Strippers has to be a one-off timewaster, a movie you see just so you can say you saw it. I mean, if I thought that way back in 1990, would Frankenhooker and I still be together after all these years? You gotta dream, man, or what's the point?

Well, it turns out my first instinct was the correct one. Zombie Strippers is a better title than a movie, but it does have its moments.

We start out with a phony baloney news report that fills us in on the backstory of the Zombiestripperverse. In the near future, George W. Bush has just been elected to his fourth term (And the award for Most Instantly Dated Plot Device goes to…), and as his first order of business, has banned all forms of public nudity. We also learn that the U.S. is low on troops because of all the wars we're fighting in France, Venezuela, Alaska, etc., so the government is experimenting with zombie soldiers.
Then we cut to the hallways of that same old abandoned mental institution where 90% of every direct-to-DVD horror movie gets shot. The zombies are already on the rampage, and a dude in a lab coat watches them through shatter-proof glass and says, "Behold a pale horse." Which would be a pretty solid line if I thought the screenwriter was actually referencing the Bible verse it came from (Revelation 6:8) and not the Johnny Cash song that they use in the opening credits of the Dawn of the Dead remake. So already this flick is ripping off a ripoff, which lets you know that it's one of those self-conscious winky-winky flicks that want you to know that it's all just a big joke so there's no need to hold the movie up to any kind of standard of quality.

I'm sorry, fellas, but that dog won't hunt. Go ahead and make your movie funny if you want, but admitting right off the bat that it's all just a big laugh and that we shouldn't take it seriously is a huge cop-out. It means you don't have the balls to treat your absurd but workable premise with the respect it deserves, so you attempt to circumvent criticism by letting us know that you're "in on the joke." If you really wanted your movie to be funny, you'd have the courage to play it with a straight face and trust us to get the joke on our own. The way it is now, Zombie Strippers is like some awkward fat dude who makes self-effacing jokes at parties, not realizing that if he didn't point out his flaws, people might just overlook them.

Anyway, so the government calls in cinema's eight gazillionth knockoff of the space marines from Aliens. They spout a bunch of self-consciously satirical dialogue that wouldn't sound out of place on South Park but sounds pretty stupid coming out of the mouths of crappy straight-to-video actors. Then there's some reasonably spooky Ridley Scott-inspired backlit photography and some CGI-enhanced head explosions before one of the soldiers gets bitten and hides out in a nearby underground strip club run by Robert Englund. His star attraction is Jenna Jameson, whose boobs are so fake they look like special effects. Even before she turned into a zombie, I kept expecting them to burst open and have a bunch of tentacles come out.

So then the soldier bites Jenna, but the twist is, being a zombie makes her a better stripper. So then all the other girls have to follow suit if they want to keep up. I think this might be some kind of metaphor about all the plastic surgery that models and sex workers have to get to stay competitive. Speaking of metaphors, you can tell that the filmmakers thought they had a real rich stew of allegory going here, what with all the political jokes (the zombie serum is created by a company called W Industries) and the references to sociosexual peer pressure, but none of it really comes together into anything semi-coherent. I think it's all about choosing not to become a zombie, even when everyone else is doing it, which is a clear reference to America's apathy in the face of our ongoing War on Terror. All the strippers are also big into quoting from philosophy books, but that seems more like the screenwriter showing off the stuff he learned in college than any kind of legitimate thematic concern. All this stuff is pretty ham-handed, proving that movies are never dumber than when they're trying to be smart.

Anyway, Zombie Strippers is one of the new breed of exploitation movies that try to be naughty and transgressive but never succeed in being legitimately sleazy. They throw in all this industrial metal/Suicide Girl shtick, and it just ends up seeming like reheated Rob Zombie. This is what happens when nerds try to get kinky. Back in the day, you had real perverts like Jess Franco making this shit. Nowadays, it's just geeks with laptops who think nudity is funny. That's why none of the sex and gore is actually sexy or shocking. It lacks the courage of its convictions.

Like I said, there are some good moments, like when a stripper rips a dude's jaw off and bites his tongue out, or when Jenna (who looks surprisingly creepy as a zombie) battles her archnemesis by shooting billiard balls at her from her coochie. And there are lots and lots of ugly prosthetic boobs on display, if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I like boobs that flop around a little bit when you shake 'em, but maybe I'm just old fashioned.

I didn't have a bad time watching Zombie Strippers, but its problem is that it's simultaneously trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Clearly, the world needed a movie called Zombie Strippers. I'm just not sure it needed this one.

Executive Koala

Tamura's just your average Japanese dude. He's an executive for a successful vegetable pickling concern, and despite his crippling shyness and lack of self-confidence, he's managed to spearhead a partnership between his firm and a South Korean kimchi manufacturer that promises to help his company boost its market share. His love life is looking up, too. His ex-wife disappeared three years ago, but he's moved on, even though he still loves her. He's dating this cute secretary in his office, who likes him even though her co-workers make fun of her for it. So it's kind of a bummer when she ends up murdered and everyone assumes he did it. Kind of makes for an awkward work environment.

There's one other thing about Tamura, but I don't know if I should even mention it. Honestly, I feel like some sort of racist for even bringing it up, because it's not like it really matters. So what if he's a six-foot koala bear? It's not important to who he is inside, you know? This is the age of Obama. We shouldn't judge people by the color of their skin or how much fur they have growing out of it.

So, yeah, that's what this movie's deal is. It's a deadpan comedy/thriller type thing where every now and again somebody is an anthropomorphic man-beast with a big plushy head like your high school football team's mascot. And nobody thinks that's weird. It's not like they don't notice it. Everyone is fully aware that Tamura is a koala and his boss is a bunny rabbit and the guy who runs the convenience store is a frog. They just don't bring it up, which makes sense. I mean, you wouldn't just walk up to a midget and be like, "Hey, so you're wicked short. How's that working out for you?" That would be rude, which the Japanese are more frightened of than just about anything besides giant nuclear lizards and tall white women. There's a pretty great shot where Tamura is walking down a crowded street, and it's pretty clear that the people around him aren't extras. Some of them do double takes when they see him, but most just keep their heads down and go about their business, secure in the knowledge that, if they had reason to be concerned about the dude with the huge, bulbous koala head in their midst, their superiors would surely let them know about it.

Executive Koala begins with an animated credits sequence like an old Pink Panther movie. Temura is shown in cartoon form, flying around in a business suit while his teeth-rottingly chipper theme song plays, explaining that little things like divorce and downsizing can't keep him down. It's sort of like the beginning of the Toonses the Driving Cat sketches on Saturday Night Live. Then we see him at work, trying to convince some skeptical human executives of the validity of his plan to merge with the kimchi company. The fact that he gesticulates a little too wildly to compensate for his mostly inexpressive animatronic stuffed animal head probably doesn't help his case, but they go for it anyway.

At this point, it's still funny to see a guy with a koala head wearing a business suit or making pillowtalk with his attractive ladyfriend, but that wears off pretty quickly and you start wondering what the fuck they were going for with this one. There is really no good reason why Temura should be a koala. It has nothing to do with the plot, and it's never explained why this world has humanoid animals walking around and assuming high-level corporate positions. The story would have remained exactly the same if he'd just been a regular human, only I probably wouldn't have watched it, because who the hell wants to see a movie where some boring peckerhead who's not a koala occasionally blacks out and goes into a blind rage and maybe killed his girlfriend and possibly his ex-wife? Without the koala, you got nothing.

From now on, this should be a viable option for all directors stuck with a not-all-that-interesting script. I'm pretty sure I would have gone to see Righteous Kill if Pacino and De Niro had been played by a mongoose and a sea lion, respectively.

Anyway, Executive Koala is admirably deadpan at the outset, letting you get used to this world where you can walk into a room and there's a big white bunny rabbit just sitting there, being real friendly and supportive despite his evil pink eyes. It does get weirder as it goes on, however. At one point, this Korean businessman opens his briefcase and a fluffy hand puppet jumps out, and Temura is like, "A giant flying squirrel!" And you're like, "Giant? Buddy, you're a six-foot koala." It brings up some bizarre questions about the zoological hierarchy of the world this movie takes place in. It's sort of like how Goofy is a person, even though he's a dog, but Pluto is just an animal.

The visual style also gets more surreal as the movie progresses. At the beginning, it's very flat and drab, with fluorescent lights washing out most of the color, but by the time it gets to the concluding kung-fu battle in front of a flashing neon ferris wheel, it turns into a full-on psychedelic light show. That's also when the movie gives up on trying to make sense and gives in to the ironic detachment it had valiantly fought off up until that point. In my Zombie Strippers review, I complained that the movie never took itself seriously enough to justify its existence, but Executive Koala treats its retarded premise with a commendably straight face right up until the final reel, when it reveals itself to be a big joke that doesn't amount to anything. Still, it's hard to complain when a movie's climax hinges around the idea that learning Korean martial arts allows you to self-resurrect at will. Makes me wish I hadn't wasted my time on those breakdancing lessons when I was a kid.

The Patriot

The Patriot is a total load of horseshit, but I liked it. Actually, I think that’s why I liked it. Normally, I’m not one for Ye Olde Hiftorical Adventuref. To me, history is way too complicated and unwieldy to be effectively packaged into movie length. Life just doesn’t behave like a movie. Significant events don’t all happen within five minutes of each other, plot strands get left dangling, and satisfying endings are hard to come by. Pretty much every movie that purports to be historical is just as full of shit as The Patriot, but at least The Patriot isn’t ashamed of it. It just trots out every single cliché in the Screenwriting 101 textbook and acts like it invented them. This is what I’ve been talking about in my last few reviews: There’s nothing ironic about The Patriot,which makes it a million times funnier than a movie that tries to be in on the joke. I don’t want you in the on the joke, movie. If you are, how am I supposed to mock you?

The Patriot opens with a shot of its star: Mel Gibson’s badass tomahawk. This flick has more concentrated tomahawking than any other movie in history, so it’s got that going for it. Then we meet the tomahawk’s co-star, Mel himself. He’s playing this ex-soldier who won the French-and-Indian War single-handedly by chopping motherfuckers’ heads off and cutting their eyes out and mailing them home to their mamas. Now he just wants to pull a Mr. Majestyk (the Charles Bronson character, not the devastatingly handsome B-movie bloggist) and leave the killing behind so he can live a quiet life on his farm, raising his seven kids and pretending that he doesn’t want to get biblical with the surprisingly age-appropriate sister of his saintly dead wife.

Speaking of which, you ever notice how many movies Mel is in where he’s a widower? Just off the top of my head, I can think of six. And that’s not even counting sequels. And the funny thing is, Mel has been married for like a million years. So either he can’t think of anything scarier and more dramatic than losing the love of his life, or he desperately wants to kill the bitch. Could go either way. You really can’t tell with Mel.

Shit, we’re gonna have to talk about Mel, aren’t we? Look, man, I have a certain amount of respect for his complete lack of giving any kind of fuck about what anybody else thinks, but I’m not going to apologize for his views. I’m not sure I even know what his views are. Sure, the evidence seems to point to him really having some issues with the Jews, but am I the only one who saw him get married by a rabbi in Lethal Weapon 4? That’s gotta count for something. Either way, I grew up on Mel’s movies. I probably know the script to Lethal Weapon by heart. So I kind of think of him like a racist uncle: I hate the illness, not the man. All I can do is hope that he pulls his shit together so he can focus on making badass movies where various Christ surrogates (and occasionally the man Himself) bleed all over the screen before going on a rip-roaring rampage of righteous revenge. (That happened at the end of Passion of the Christ, right? I only saw it once and I was pretty high.)

(Ed. note: This was obviously written before Mel's meltdown.)

Anyway, so Mel’s eldest son the Joker wants to join the Revolutionary Army so he can fight for freedom, duty-free tea, etc. Mel just wants to stay home and make crappy chairs that break when he sits on them. This is a Mel staple: He begins all of his historical adventures with some slapstick comedy before getting into the atrocities. I know Mel didn’t write or direct this thing, but it’s got his hairy knuckleprints all over it. I can’t fault the strategy, though. Most historical movies make their characters so austere and noble that we can’t relate to them, but Mel knows that people falling down and/or farting was just as funny in the past as it is now. That’s universal. It’s what makes us all human, so that when his characters start getting slaughtered in their dozens, we actually feel bad about it. Like in Apocalypto, we’re like, “Oh man,one minute that guy was being tricked into eating wild boar balls, and now he’s getting his decapitated head bounced down a Mayan pyramid. That could happen to me.”

Also, what’s up with Mel’s main characters always building furniture? I can’t be the only one who feels that the infamous “Jesus invents the table” scene was the heart and soul of The Passion.

And speaking of atrocities, The Patriot really ladles them on thick. Most movies just have one inciting event that makes the audience lust for the villain’s blood, but The Patriot has like twelve. Every 20 minutes, the British slaughter some more innocents, and you’re like, “Okay, movie, I get it. The Brits are assholes. You don’t have to keep convincing me. I am perfectly cool with you murdering the bastards. You had me at ‘They shot my 15-year-old son in cold blood.’”

So yeah, that happens, so Mel calls up his old buddy Thomas Aaron Hawk and gets his two younger sons to snipe some redcoats while he gets all up-close-and-personal on their limey asses. This is hands-down the best scene in the movie. When he goes blood simple with rage and grief and hacks up some random English infantryman into McNugget-sized pieces with the blood splattering all over his face like a P.A. on the set of Dead Alive, I once again lamented that Mel never got the chance to play Wolverine. Not only is he squat and hairy, but the man does berserker rage like no one else. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s completely insane. Or Australian. Whichever.

Then the movie plays out almost exactly as you’d expect. The black soldier earns the respect of his racist compatriot by saving his life, a sentimental gift spells certain doom for the character who receives it, and everyone has a dead loved one to avenge. Some have several. That’s sort of the movie’s genius: It turns the American colonies’ battle for independence and democracy into a Death Wish movie. It makes the whole affair much more personal, especially since all the atrocities get carried out by this one prick, a brutal British officer with cold blue eyes and a WWF haircut.

That’s why I question the title. Sure, at the end, he starts leading the charge against the redcoats and waving Old Glory (Just called “Glory” at the time) and making the guy who wrote the score have a fucking embolism with the swirling violins and triumphant trumpets. But really, he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about patriotism. He just doesn’t want you killing his kids. The movie really should have been called The Tomahawker. Or, if you want to be subtle, The Chairist. If it had been called either of those, I probably wouldn’t have waited nine years to see it.