As readers of "My Year Of Flops" know, I am fascinated by cinematic failure. I am particularly intrigued by a certain subset of cinematic disaster: the direct-to-DVD movie. With theatrical movies hope inevitably springs eternal. But with what are euphemistically called "DVD premieres"–why premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater when you can debut at Hollywood Video?–the question is less "will this be any good?" than "how bad will this be?" With that in mind I now bring you Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory, a monthly feature where I offer quick reviews of three red-hot straight-to-DVD joints that skipped the multiplexes en route to my DVD player. Look for these blog posts the first Monday of every month. Direct-to-DVD movies: I sees 'em so you don't have to.
Interstate 60 (2002)–As the co-screenwriter of Back To The Future,Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Bob Gale long played Andrew Ridgeley to writing partner Robert Zemeckis' world-conquering George Michael. Gale attempted to emerge from his more successful partner's outsized shadow with the intriguing but muddled 2002 multiple DVD Exclusive Award-winning sci-fi comedy Interstate 60, his answer to Ridgeley's ill-fated 1990 solo album Son Of Albert. A bland James Marsden stars as an aimless young man who encounters a mysterious supernatural trickster (Gary Oldman) with orange hair and Pee-Wee Herman's preference for bow ties and too-tight suits. Marsden then embarks on a highly allegorical journey through strange terrain, like a mysterious small town where sheriff Kurt Russell explains that the entire populace is controlled by a euphoric drug the government controls and distributes as a way of keeping down crime, and encounters strange characters like a dying businessman (Chris Cooper) fiendishly intent on making people live up to their words. Gale clearly called in all sorts of favors–in addition to Oldman, Cooper and Russell the film boasts appearances by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd–but a great cast, promising premise and all manner of metaphysical weirdness fail to overcome a stilted, meandering screenplay that plays like the misbegotten love child of Ayn Rand and Rod Serling. It's always a mixed proposition when a comedy boasts more ideas than jokes. Interstate 60 seems more interested in making heavy-handed philosophical points than scoring laughs. Interstate 60 travels a strange, singular road to mediocrity but ends up there all the same. How Bad Is It?: Not that bad, but not that good either. Easy Sex (2003)–Like most movie lovers I'm a big Robert Towne fan. Interviewing the white-haired, guru-like screenwriting legend was a highlight of my professional career. Is there any better way to honor the great screenwriter's formidable legacy than by ogling his daughter's boobs? I think not. 2003's Easy Sex is a modest vehicle for Katharine Towne, who plays a jaded Las Vegas hooker who stumbles into a strange affair with her old college professor, a melancholy Milton scholar out of step with the modern world and an academic ecosystem more interested in pandering to the whims of students than imparting knowledge. Julian Sands is cast against type as the love-struck academic, especially since the film plays like Leaving Las Vegas light. Vegas, of course, cast Sands as one of his signature Eurotrash lowlife scumbags. Towne has some nice moments, like when she very casually tells Sands she's really good at "doing" orgasms, and Sands is quite affecting as a myopic intellectual too naïve to realize that Towne's interest in him is largely professional. Easy Sex appealingly minor-key tone and bittersweet mood is destroyed however by the crazed over-acting of John Savage as Towne's horndog father, a knuckle-dragging cretin who goes ballistic once he finds out buddy Sands is sleeping with his daughter. If nothing else this a solid vehicle for Towne, whose career seems to have stalled despite boasting Robert Towne's genes and Leelee Sobieski's looks. Then again Leelee Sobieski's looks haven't exactly done too much for Sobieski either. How Bad Is It?: Not bad, just disappointing The Big Nothing (2006)–Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz star Simon Pegg takes a break from making funny, well-crafted, critically acclaimed movies with 2006's The Big Nothing, a self-satisfied Coen Brothers/Tarantino pastiche about a hapless sad sack (hangdog, mopey David Fucking Schwimmer, the maudlin Eeyore of contemporary actors) who is roped into a shadowy world of blackmail and intrigue by con man Pegg. The Big Nothing begins with a groaningly far-fetched scenario, then adds layer upon layer of implausibility, from a snuff-film ring to millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains to a mysterious/narratively convenient brain disease that is slowly emptying Schwimmer's memory. Maybe that's why Schwimmer is established as a PhD married to smoking-hot cop Natasha McElhone yet behaves like a guileless, easily manipulated moron throughout the film. To mask the plot holes littering the film director Jean Baptiste Andrea goes overboard with stylistic tricks, at one point breaking the frame into three split screens, one of which is animated. The Big Nothing is unlike Pegg's Edgar Wright films in that he didn't co-write the screenplay and it's not a genre spoof/homage. But mainly The Big Nothing stands apart from Pegg and Wright's collaborations in that it kinda sucks. How Bad Is It?: Pretty fucking bad