Uncle Sam

Over the past 30 years, cult filmmaker Larry Cohen (Q: The Winged Serpent, It's Alive!, God Told Me To) has written almost 30 produced screenplays. But, while writers like Stephen King and Wes Craven have become brand names, with their monikers attached to projects only tangentially connected to them, Cohen has remained a hard-working hack, churning out blaxploitation films (Hell Up In Harlem, Black Caesar), historical biographies (The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover), and literary adaptations (I, The Jury), in addition to a slew of low-budget horror films. Now, having seemingly exhausted the creative possibilities of the Maniac Cop and It's Alive! trilogies, Cohen and Maniac Cop director William Lustig have teamed up for Uncle Sam, a potential franchise starter that hopes to capitalize on the dearth of Fourth Of July-based horror films. Uncle Sam tells the story of an alcoholic, child-molesting Gulf War hero who, upon being killed by friendly fire, returns to his home town and dons an Uncle Sam costume for the purpose of killing insufficiently patriotic townspeople. Uncle Sam begins with a truly creepy montage sequence featuring an array of disturbing-looking Uncle Sams throughout American history, suggesting that the film will be both a satire of blind patriotism and a critique of authoritarianism run amok. And for its first 20 minutes or so, it's a simplistic but effective condemnation of militarism as a front for irresponsible male sadism. But relatively early into Uncle Sam, Lustig and Cohen abandon any semblance of political satire and just start having its title character kill everyone in sight, regardless of their political affiliations. The film loses what's left of its dignity when they introduce that bad horror-film staple: the disabled misfit with the telepathic connection to the killer. Uncle Sam boasts a cast heavy on '70s-era stars (Timothy Bottoms, Robert Forster, P.J. Soles, Isaac Hayes), but all are wasted, particularly Hayes, who's cast in the Scatman Crothers role of the shuffling janitor, and Forster, who, after his Oscar nomination, will hopefully never again have to play a part in which he is brutally murdered by a psychotic American icon. Incoherent as social satire and perfunctory and routine as a horror film, Uncle Sam is every bit as lazy and uninspired as the Maniac Cop films that preceded it. Hardworking scribe Cohen is also the screenwriter behind Misbegotten, the latest in a long line of post-Fatal Attraction thrillers devoted to the concept that someone close to the protagonists is a raving psychotic bent on their destruction. With temps (The Temp), paper boys (The Paper Boy), and nannies (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle) already having been used as psycho-next-door fodder, Misbegotten features a relatively novel villain: the sperm-donor from hell. Kevin Dillon plays the aforementioned evil sperm donor, in this case a car-jacking mass-murderer who takes over the identity of a reclusive composer and begins to terrorize both the woman who is the unwitting recipient of his sperm (Lysette Anthony) and her insecure husband (Nick Mancuso). While Misbegotten never transcends the derivativeness of its formula, for the most part it's a well-crafted, pleasantly nasty little thriller. The film's principal assets are the performances of Anthony and Mancuso, who are convincing as a longtime couple for whom artificial insemination brings to the fore long-standing resentments and insecurities. But the film is hampered by the shoddiness of its exposition: The manner in which Dillon fakes his way into becoming Anthony's sperm donor is so deeply implausible—the sperm bank doesn't check IDs and allows potential donors to apply through the mail—that everything that follows it seems unconvincing. The film does, however, have a nicely misanthropic ending that almost redeems its convoluted first half-hour.

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