this space intentionally left blank

June 17, 2007

Filed under: movies»reviews»horror

The Dark of the Matinee

Although he is a ridiculous figure, there is something about Uwe Boll's movies that's a cut above the average B-movie. I think it's the star power, actually. He's not much of a director for the A-list actors that his tax loophole payoff attracts, but even on a bad day many of his leads outshine the typical horror-movie fodder. It's especially apparent when his movies show up on Sci Fi, where a big pitch is apparently professional sibling Stephen Baldwin in "Stan Lee's Harpies."

Speaking of which, I wonder how that goes over in the evangelical community after Baldwin's much-publicized conversion. I know he's supposed to be the cool face of Christianity for the home-schooled crowd, but I have a hard time imagining that Army of Darkness ripoffs are really what they consider "godly" entertainment. Then again, I enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep, so I'm really in no condition to judge anyone.

So today's Tivo'd diversion is Boll's Alone in the Dark, which corrals Tara Reid and Christian Slater together for an on-set disaster nearly as horrifying as the idea of Tara Reid and Christian Slater together off-set. The guide gives it 1 1/2 stars. I can hardly wait.

0:00 Already, we're looking at a long chunk of on-screen text and narration, explaining something about a lost civilization and experiments that "merge man with creature." Sounds like a Mercer Mayer book gone horribly awry. A flashback establishes that the experiments were performed on orphans (except for one--I smell foreshadowing!) with the assistance of a weak-willed nun. Isn't that always the way?
0:05 Christian Slater wakes up from the flashback, unshaven and unkempt, on an airplane. Some kid tells him that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Slater tells him that being afraid of the dark keeps most of us alive. I don't even know what that means. During a taxi montage, he voiceovers that he wasn't just scaring that kid for nothing, but that what you don't see can kill you. He's Edward Carnby: cliche hunter and child abuser. John Stossel in a trenchcoat.
0:09 The taxi montage leads directly to a car chase, the best moment of which is when Slater tells his cabbie to duck into a farmer's market and they immediately crash into a truck. The pursuing cabbie rams them, then gets out of the car and runs away--so he can jump down on Slater from a bridge. Why he needed the altitude is not entirely clear. The resulting fistfight ends in an ice factory, which I think exists only so that Boll can do a bullet time shot through a block of ice. There's also a lot of shoving going on, which is the mark of lazy action movie direction--if the bad guy shoves random people around to establish his evilness, he's clearing a pretty low bar. He could at least shoot an innocent bystander before Slater impales him on a convenient metal spike.
0:12 Tara Reid as a museum curator. I sense a great disturbance, as if thousands of casting directors cried out, and then were suddenly silenced. The last time I saw cheesecake this unaccountable was Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist for that James Bond movie.
0:20 On a boat, Reid's archaeologist boss has extracted some kind of evil basement refridgerator from the ocean. It's made of gold, which sets the boat's captain off in a capitalist lust. The archaeologist muses that nowadays "we don't even remember why gold is valuable in the first place." Perhaps to point out the stupidity of the statement, the captain slugs the archaeologist and cracks open the vault to get at the sweet, sweet precious metals inside. Sadly, the only thing in the case is an unseen evil force that slaughters the crew. Around the world, said force also activates some people that I guess are "man merged with creature." One of them shoves someone around on the way out of the house. Clearly, the height of malignancy.
0:26 Christian Slater has a flashback to establish that his orphanage was the center of these experiments, but he was somehow immune. After making some calls, he heads back to the orphanage, where he's greeted by the same nun. Long-lived, these sisters. Slater's driving an SUV in these sequences, by the way, so I guess being a crusty psychic detective pays pretty well.
0:33 As if to make sure that even the dimmest viewer gets the plot, Slater's contact at the paranormal Bureau 713 has a thirty second lunch with him, just long enough to establish that yes, all the disappearances are from his old orphanage. Alone in the Dark is actually filled, so far, with scenes that only last 30 seconds or so, just long enough to deliver their one line of exposition. Normally, I'd say that this kind of choppy, incoherent storytelling was the fault of the network's chopping it up to fit into two hours with commercials, but this is a Uwe Boll movie. Again, here's where he differs from most low-talent filmmakers, because most of them don't have the budget for so many location shots. It costs a lot to make a movie this badly.
0:36 Tara Reid and Christian Slater meet up at the museum. They hug, and then she punches him in the face. Score one for Tara Reid! Slater obtains forgiveness by handing over a paranormal artifact that he's been lugging around for the last 20 minutes. Jewelry makes things all better. Reid adds unintentional hilarity to her impression of a brilliant art expert by mispronouncing "Newfoundland" in her description of its history.
0:38 Remember that old horror movie where the creepy wooden tribal doll runs around a museum with a butcher knife? That's about ten times more disturbing than the giant bug that attacks the museum now. Especially when the SWAT team from Bureau 713 drops in, led by Stephen Dorff, and the bug just runs away. Another thirty-second conflict: done. This movie even makes The Relic's museum monster look terrifying.
0:54 Having returned from his disastrous boat trip, the archeologist injects himself with blood extracted from another giant bug, which he's keeping in the broom closet. Dude, there are easier ways to get high. Meanwhile, Slater's bureau friend explains that the monsters disrupt electricity (hence the darkness of the title and the flickering lights whenever they show up), but not flashlights, because "the shorter the path for the electricity, the less disruption." That's convenient, and also completely incoherent. He also passes on some bullets filled with light-producing resin, because they're allergic to sunlight. The producers of Underworld contemplate suing, but settle for watching Kate Beckinsdale in tight leather again.
0:59 Tara Reid shows up at Slater's loft apartment for no discernable reason, where he is passed out on a filthy mattress, and has sex with him, again for no discernable reason. I'm confused, and slightly unnerved. One or both of them should probably go get tested.
1:05 From sex directly to dubious archaeology--just like real life! The costume designers have obviously decided that putting little indie-girl glasses on Tara Reid will make her look smarter. Shockingly--and I say this as a guy who's totally got the hots for the indie glasses--it doesn't work at all. With thirty seconds elapsed from the last plot point, evil orphans and another bug now attack. The SWAT team drops in again. Why don't these guys ever use the door? Who's going to pay for all those windows? The resulting shootout resembles the first scene from Equilibrium, with lots of strobe-light gunflare in pitch darkness, although it goes on for about twice as long and includes a truly terrible nu-metal soundtrack. I have to admit, it does bear a strong resemblance to a video game.
1:18 Obligatory scene in which the characters prepare for the big finale, which looks like it will take place in a mine. While we wait for something interesting to happen, I'd like to say that I never actually played the Alone in the Dark games. I had a demo once, back in the late 80s, of the first one, but it only gave you one room, an attic, and had one monster, who burst in through the window a la a hellhound from Resident Evil. This movie seems to be based on the rebooted fourth game in the series, which ditched the offbeat adventure genre for forgettable survival horror. I think they would have been better off sticking to the setting from the earlier games, because monsters are almost always cooler in the 1930's.
1:34 Standing in a room wallpapered in human skulls, Christian Slater mutters, "I don't think we're supposed to be here." Subtle. Meanwhile, giant computer-animated bugs tear the marines outside the mine into little bits. For a movie that was previously edited like a tribute to ADD, Boll now finds the patience to linger for a long, long time on these shots. All the marines die. It's all very expensive and tasteless. Most of it is a ripoff of Aliens, except for the parts that are a ripoff of Starship Troopers.
1:47 Double cross! Triple cross! No-one cares! Tara Reid's boss reveals that he's one behind the experiments, and proceeds to open a door into a giant cave of darkness using the artifact from an hour and fifteen minutes ago. Now that it's assembled, it looks like a candleholder from Pier 1. Stephen Dorff tosses a knife into the archeologist's chest and then he stays to set off a bomb while the others run for the surface. I don't know why they're so desparate to get outside, since there's just a bunch of monsters and dead marines out there.
1:54 Wait, what? Slater and Reid climb out of the mine and end up just outside the orphanage which is in broad daylight. So I'm confused, because all of the previous scenes took place at midnight. Maybe they've been climbing for 12 hours. When they leave the orphanage, the city is evacuated according to the onscreen titles. Again, I'm not really sure when that happened. Slater voiceovers that the people have been wiped off the face of the earth, just like the ancient civilization. This word "evacuation," I do not think it means what you think it means.

Final verdict: if we were ranking Uwe Boll movies, this is much better than House of the Dead. It's also better than Bloodrayne, but it only manages that by stealing virtually every moment from much better movies. Neither, of course, is anything to be proud of. There's also no real charisma on exhibit here, so you can't even feel sorry for its stars. The thing is, every month Sci Fi broadcasts monster of the week movies that are three times as good as this, with a fraction of the budget. If anyone should be profiting from illicit tax money, it's those guys. If that means supporting Stephen Baldwin's career, I think we should take that risk.

Future - Present - Past