A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to many, if any, theaters.
The barely released Miley Cyrus/Demi Moore vehicle LOL left me feeling equal parts confused and enraged. By the end, I wanted to shake everyone associated with it and angrily demand, “Why did you make this? How could you have thought this was a good idea? How could any sane human being have looked at the script for this movie and imagined it would be worth tens of millions of dollars and months of the principals’ time? I’m not angry. Well, okay, I’m a little angry, but mostly I’m just confused. Why does this exist? How can this exist? I honestly, genuinely just want to know.”
LOL left me legitimately bewildered. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s alternately bland and awful, a ploddingly placed, incoherently plotted comedy-drama populated by characters equally implausible and unbearable. The film casts Cyrus—whose performances run the gamut from cheerfully generic to vapid with this definitely falling on the vapid side of that divide—as a spoiled Chicago teenager (though the film was filmed largely in Michigan, with its rich tax incentives for slumming film productions) with a unique dilemma. Cyrus is in love with best friend Douglas Booth, who just so happens to look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model and play in a band that’s totally got an important gig at a battle of the bands that shockingly figures prominently in the film’s climax, yet Cyrus is worried about making a move on Booth out of fear it might affect their friendship, a bond conveyed almost exclusively through a montage of them making goofy faces at each on the train.
Cyrus and Booth hook up and enjoy some blissful moments of profound connection until Cyrus thinks she catches Booth having sex with the school harlot (Twilight star Ashley Greene) when in fact all she really saw was the aftermath of best friend Ashley Hinshaw losing her virginity in a bathroom stall to the school dork (the dude that played Moose in the Step Up movies). Hinshaw, you see, wants to be freed of her virginity so that when she achieves her life’s goal of hooking up with her hot teacher (the dude that played John From Cincinnati in the television program John From Cincinnati) it’ll be less awkward.
The relationship between Hinshaw and the dude that played Moose in the Step Up movies is sometimes fascinating in its staggering perversity. A crucial scene between the two, for example, involves Hinshaw using a hollowed-out frozen chicken carcass to pretend to masturbate for the dude that played Moose in the Step Up movies on a Chatroulette-like website. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes a whole lot of sense and, like so much of LOL, it really doesn’t, but apparently Hinshaw thinks the insides of a hollowed-out chicken carcass look like female genitalia. I should probably mention at this point that LOL is rated PG-13 and ostensibly pitched to a family audience in spite of elements like frozen-chicken-assisted fake masturbation and girls losing their virginity in crowded public-school bathrooms.
But the Moose/Hinshaw subplot, fucked up as it is, is secondary to Cyrus’ obnoxiously entitled little brat undergoing an existential crisis when she thinks her best friend/boyfriend cheated on her. LOL is a remake of a 2008 French comedy of the same name, which lends a wicked irony to a sequence where Cyrus and the rest of her smug ugly American classmates go on a field trip to France and are totally grossed out that the French people all worship Napoleon and force their children to emulate Joan of Arc and eat totally gross things instead of Big Macs and Starbucks like sane, rational, American people. LOL repays the nation of its source material by reducing it to a series of ugly, insulting, and incredibly broad stereotypes.
Since there was no real reason for them to split up in the first place, Cyrus and Booth reconnect in time for a big battle of the bands where Booth’s glowering dad, who has been cold-blooded and sneering throughout the film, decides that, doggone it, he really does love his son and wants him to succeed, even if it’s with music and not school or business. LOL clumsily combines the two most overused plots in the history of teen films—the best friend who might just be the one and the film-closing battle of the bands where all conflicts and resentments are washed away in a celebratory sea of rocking—in a monstrosity that plays like a pilot for the smuttiest, silliest show ever to afflict the ABC Family Channel.
Just how bad is it? Oh, it’s fucking awful. Absolutely dreadful. Worse than even a barely released Miley Cyrus/Demi Moore vehicle with the tagline “You can change your status but not your heart” has any right to be.
Get The Gringo (2012)
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to see Mel Gibson’s recent cinematic endeavors, including his ill-fated attempt to bring the stories of the Maccabees to the big screen with the serene assistance of the ever-dependable Joe Eszterhas outside of the context of Gibson’s well-publicized recent journey to the outer edges of insanity. At the height of his recent public infamy, Gibson uncomfortably played a wildly successful businessman who finds an unlikely means of escaping the lacerating self-loathing and suicidal depression throttling his soul by communicating through a beaver puppet in Jodie Foster’s ill-fated melodramatic psychodrama The Beaver.
Gibson followed up The Beaver with another project of the damned that seems to reflect and comment upon the reviled public pariah he has become over the past few years, this time a labor of love Gibson financed himself called Get The Gringo where Gibson plays a dead-eyed criminal who ends up in a Mexican prison that’s a world onto itself, a miniature Tijuana, really, after a lifetime of bad deeds.
Given the unwieldy baggage Gibson carries with him, it makes sense to cast him as a grizzled anti-hero, the kind of professional ne’er-do-well audiences find themselves rooting for against their better judgment and better angels. Gibson has not aged well, but he has aged interestingly. The years have robbed Gibson of his beauty, but lent him character; he now looks more like a tough-guy character actor than a pretty leading man, and Get The Gringo makes inspired use of good looks that used to be rugged and now feel ragged. In Get The Gringo Gibson plays a gifted thief with a spotty but still fundamentally intact moral compass who ends up in a massive, massively corrupt Mexican prison following a heist gone wrong. The prison is like none Gibson has ever seen, a co-ed affair where just about everything is available and allowed —guns, drugs, organ transplants, Coca-Cola, wrestling—except escape, and even that’s negotiable under the right circumstances.
Gibson initially cares about nothing beyond survival and being reunited with the money he stole before getting caught until he befriends a boy whose family is being used as a makeshift organ factory by a sickly kingpin, and he becomes an unlikely father figure to the boy. Gibson proves an unconventional mentor to the young boy: He keeps the boy from attempting to kill a gangster not by appealing to his sense of morality, but rather to his sense of pragmatism by pointing out how inherently doomed his killing strategies would be.
To its credit, Get The Gringo never professes to be anything more than a down and dirty B-movie coated in sleaze, with a distinct grindhouse feel to it. It’s unashamedly pulpy and vulgar, though it does over-reach in a third act that finds Gibson getting close to a bad guy played by Bob Gunton by impersonating Clint Eastwood over the phone. That’d be a ridiculous plot point under the best of circumstances, but the film pushes it even further into the realm of implausibility by having Gibson’s Eastwood impersonation sound an awful lot like Ronald Reagan. Then again, maybe Gibson just thinks all Republican tough-guy actors sound alike, which helps explain why his “Eastwood” also sounds a little like Gibson’s regular speaking voice.
Despite a strange infusion of wacky sitcom plotting toward the end—Gibson outwits the bad guys using techniques that wouldn’t fool Colonel Klink—Get The Gringo does exactly what it sets out to do: It’s a solid if less-than-spectacular drive-in movie for a post-drive-in era cursed to have its commercial prospects dimmed by its star/producer/financier’s seemingly never-ending, largely merited professional freefall.
Just how bad is it? It’s actually not bad at all.
It would be an exaggeration to say the barely released 2002 comic heist film Scorched, with its eclectic, overqualified cast (Woody Harrelson, John Cleese, Rachel Leigh Cook, Alicia Silverstone, David Krumholtz, Jeffrey Tambor, Joshua Leonard of The Blair Witch Project and Hump Day) and god-awful cover art has been a source of enduring fascination for me. It’d be more accurate to say it’s been a source of mild interest for reasons star-studded direct-to-DVD oddities intrigue anyone: I wanted to see just how egregiously things might have gone wrong. Alternately, I wanted to discover whether things had inexplicably but wonderfully gone right.
It turns out that with the lukewarm Scorched, things didn’t particularly go wrong or right. The film is neither a fascinating train wreck nor an overlooked gem. It’s actually something much less: a bona fide mediocrity. Scorched chronicles a go-nowhere desert town where a motley crew of disgruntled bank employees hope to escape the rudderless emptiness of their small lives by robbing the bank where they all work.
The thieves are motivated by a combination of boredom and revenge. Teller Alicia Silverstone wants to get back at the bank’s manager (Leonard), with whom she shares a long and unfortunate romantic history. Duck-lover Woody Harrelson is equally spurred by rage due to the shabby treatment he’s received as a bank employee and because a hateful customer (John Cleese) murdered the mother of his beloved duck. Tellers Paulo Costanzo and David Krumholtz, meanwhile, want to rob the bank so they can use the proceeds to fund a wild gambling spree in Las Vegas.
There’s a germ of a clever idea in mapping out the overlapping machinations of a group of frustrated small-time dreamers who are each out for a big score the same crazy weekend, but Scorched is too bland and under-written to work as farce, broad comedy, or drama. And, like far too many comic heist movies, the caper elements here barely qualify as an afterthought.
The Hollywood Squares-meets-Rat Race cast is the film’s big attraction, but of the outsized ensemble only Cleese and Leonard register; Cleese with the snide, aristocratic disdain of his sneering heavy and Leonard with what appears to be a weird but welcome riff on Owen Wilson’s onscreen persona. The rest of the cast isn’t anywhere near as lucky. Silverstone’s performance helps illustrate why her career path has followed an unfortunate arc from America’s sweetheart and box-office attraction to nice animal lover who pops up in supporting roles in movies and TV shows seemingly at random. As with so much of Scorched, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Silverstone’s performance here: She merely does nothing with a nothing role.
Scorched was competently directed by Gavin Grazer—brother of Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Grazer, the producing partner of Ron Howard and one of the most powerful and successful producers in the business—though Gavin’s unremarkable work demonstrates that when it comes to the less successful siblings of Imagine principals, Gavin Grazer is no Clint Howard. After a disastrous theatrical run where it grossed something like $8,000 domestically and racked up a spooky $666-per-theater opening weekend, Scorched has popped up recently on Comedy Central, where it seems to have found its level as a generic basic-cable slot-filler, a time-waster of the flimsiest sort.
Just how bad is it? It’s not bad so much as it’s mediocre and forgettable.