★ / ★★★★
First-time director Henry Jacobson wishes to tell a story about a monster hiding in plain sight in “Bloodline,” a psychological thriller so devoid of suspense, creativity, and drama that to say it is a Great Value version of the television series “Dexter” would be an insult to the brand—because the brand is meant to save us money while the film wastes our time. Nearly every second of its ninety-five minute running time feels like pulling teeth because no tension is accumulated; we are simply meant to sit through a series of would-be shocking events which almost always end up with a victim getting his or her throat sliced open. Cue the blood spatter on the killer’s face.
In the middle of it, I wondered if Seann William Scott actually read the screenplay before signing on for the project. He must have because it is obviously an independent film with limited budget—not at all a multimillion-dollar franchise in which an actor gets paid the big bucks. Did he owe someone a favor? Was he threatened to do the picture? Is this a two-part deal? In any case, his talent is wasted here. His character, a high school counselor who has a new baby at home, is not written with searing insight, great depth, and surprising details—strange because the intention of the work is for us to look at Mr. Cole and recognize eventually he is a portrait of evil. It is not enough to show him killing people that he thinks deserve to be punished; we must have an understanding of what makes a complex subject tick. What is/are his moral code(s)? Does he have any? Whatever the case, what makes this character worth looking into?
Mr. Cole’s penchant for killing stems from a traumatizing childhood event. (Aren’t they all?) These flashbacks lack control in terms of editing and how it is shot. They are presented to us randomly, perhaps when the subject becomes so stressed in his home life and/or while at work. The intention, I guess, is to show that he has such a flimsy grasp on reality that his mind must reach back into the past in order to cope. It is most unconvincing because the material also suggests that Mr. Cole is addicted to killing. It cannot be both because these are two different needs. There is a lack of both consistency and a basic understanding of abnormal psychology in Avra Fox-Lerne, Henry Jacobson, and Will Honley’s screenplay.
Strong debut pictures are usually propelled by great energy. At times first-time filmmakers wish to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their project—just in case they will not have another opportunity to make a second movie. In “Bloodline,” it is almost the exact opposite. There is no sense of desperation here channeled into something positive. It is lifeless, dour, and nearly every element feels constricted. Listen to the dialogue, for instance. It sounds like actors are reading from the script instead of simply being. Look at how scenes are shot indoors versus outdoors—there is little difference. It is no wonder the work is flat in look and feeling.
Even the relationship between husband and wife (Mariela Garriga) is most unconvincing. We are supposed to notice a difference in how their lifestyle changes as a couple once the adorable baby arrives—when it is not painfully apparent the performers are carrying or interacting with a doll—but there is nothing to sink our teeth into because minimal context is provided when it comes to how their lives are like before parenthood. It does not help that Scott and Garriga share no chemistry. When they are in bed together, it feels like a bad joke. We wait for the punchline.
Planet 51 (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“Planet 51” was about an astronaut (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) who landed on a planet with green people living it what it seemed like 1950s suburbia. What was neat about it was that it captured the times because an extraterrestrial paranoia was in the air–aliens were in the movies, the comic books and daily conversations. Unfortunately, this animated film, directed by Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad and Marcos Martínez, only really had one joke and it wasn’t enough to sustain its campiness, vivaciousness and cuteness until the end. It was sad because the premise had so much potential and it had so many jokes it could have pulled from. Too bad it got stuck with the whole issue involving the astronaut needing to return to his ship with the help of green creatures named Lem (Justin Long), Neera (Jessica Biel) and Skiff (Seann William Scott). While it was colorful and there were a lot of action scenes, it lacked tension and I wasn’t convinced that children (especially those who have short attention spans) would be able sit through it. After the thirty-minute mark, I was bored and I kept wishing that the writer, Joe Stillman, would inject something new to the screen other than throwing random pop culture references such as iPods, Facebook, and the macarena. I did, however, enjoy the references to alien pictures such as “War of the Worlds,” “Aliens,” “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” and the like. I thought those references and the small jokes that came with them worked because they had something to do with the universe where this animated movie was taking place. What “Planet 51” desperately needed was that sense of real danger during the action scenes to keep its audiences invested. Pixar movies, especially in “The Incredibles,” were good templates because although their movies are designed for children, they are not afraid to hint at the darkness and really put their characters in peril. In this movie, this feeling of everyone turning out to be safe at the end of the day was way too obvious. Sidequests such as the romance between Neera and Lem was a distracting appendage that didn’t really need to be there. Maybe younger children such as five- or six-year-olds might enjoy this flick but definitely not nine- or ten-year-olds. I was very disappointed because the trailer looked very promising.
The Curiosity of Chance (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Tad Hilgenbrink stars as Chance Marquis, an openly gay high school student in an international school somewhere in Europe with an interesting fashion sense. Since he sticks out in a negative way, he was ostacized by his peers and some of the soccer jocks (led by Maxim Maes) actively bullied him every day. At first I had a difficult time accepting that Hilgenbrink would be at the bottom of the high school food chain simply for being gay and dressing funny because of his model-like good looks which really reminded me of a fusion between James Marsden (Hilgenbrink played Cyclops in “Epic Movie”) and Seann William Scott (Hilgenbrink also played Stiffler in “American Pie Presents Band Camp”). But then I really got into his character because not only did he try so hard to be different by talking like he has a thesaurus next to him (which reminded me of how I talked sometimes in high school), he really did have problems that are painful with regards to his identity. This was highlighted during his scenes with his father (Chris Mulkey) who is in the military; even though they get along somewhat swimmingly, there was that wall between father and son that I desperately hoped would break by the time the film ended. Instead of the obligatory silly scenes such as sneaking into the principal’s office, I wish the Hilgenbrink and Mulkey had more scenes together even though the whole strained father-son relationship had been explored too many times in LGBT movies. I also liked the (non-romantic) relationship between the lead character and one of the nicer soccer jocks (Brett Chuckerman). He was a foil for Chance’ character because he was socially accepted but he was also struggling to find his own identity regarding sports versus music. There were also some genuinely funny scenes with Hilgenbrink’s friends played by the sarcastic/scathing Aldevina Da Silva and the naive/nerdy Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyze. They needed more character development instead of merely being stereotypes but considering what they were given to play, I think they did a good job. “The Curiosity of Chance,” written and directed by Russell P. Marleau, reminded me of a weaker version of “Get Real” (the whole bit about the homosexual and the friendly jock minus the romance) and it had enough wit and daring scenes (involving drag queens) to get me to recommend it. It’s not perfect by any means because I thought it needed to spend more time in the editing room, but I definitely laughed with it. I loved Chance’ fantasy scenes; I can’t help but smile just thinking about them.
Role Models (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I thought I would enjoy this comedy a lot more because my friends highly recommended it. Directed by David Wain, “Role Models” stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two energy drink salesmen who go to various school to preach that drugs are bad. I liked the humor of the first half more than the second half because the former deals with Rudd’s frustration with his brainless job. His perception of the world contrasts with Scott because Scott actually enjoys his job. When Rudd finally lost it after his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) dumps him after he made a spontaneous (if not ill-timed) wedding proposal, the two are sent to a mentoring center (jail was the alternative) which was led by the fantastically scary, on-the-edge ex-convict played by Jane Lynch. I also liked the dynamics between Rudd and Christopher Mintz-Plasse because the two of them have this inner geekiness that made me smile; while Scott and Bobb’e J. Thompson share a crude sense of humor that made me laugh out loud. What didn’t work for me was the whole thing about the medieval battles that pervaded the second half. I was bored out of my mind because I felt like Rudd and Scott were pushed aside instead of staying on the foreground and do what they do best: providing the audiences jokes that are witty and dirty (sometimes both at the same time). Instead of staying rude and crude, it somewhat took the safer route toward the end. I almost wished that it didn’t have a heart and embraced the dark comedy genre instead. At least that way, the film wouldn’t feel as though it was holding back in order to achieve some commercial success. It’s a shame because it does have funny material and enthusiastic actors but it didn’t quite push through in order to get to the next level. I say only see it if one has nothing better to do.
The Promotion (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This indie comedy had the power to be something more but it held back so it didn’t quite have that extra punch. I understand why people think that this is a slow-moving movie because it takes its time developing the two main characters (played by Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly) via showing us how they deal with certain situations–basically what makes them a qualified person vs. deserving for the promotion they are applying for. The interesting thing is that they don’t quite compete in front of each other. For the sake of appearances, Scott and Reilly smile and converse with each other but when they’re alone with their thoughts, they start feeling the pressure and they think of ways to sabotage one another, which interestingly enough, often backfires. They then have to clean up the mess they’ve created but half of the time they dig themselves into a deeper hole. I think that rings true to most individuals so I was instantly hooked. Even though these characters are miserable, it’s amusing to us because we feel like if we were them, we could’ve handled the situation better. I think what most moviegoers will have trouble getting is the deadpan, dry comedy of each character and situation. It’s a different kind of comedy and sometimes I don’t get it either. Even though Scott and Reilly find ways to torture each other, they are not bad people. They do the things they do because they simply want to lead a better life for their families. The one quote that sums up the film is “We’re all just out here trying to get some food… Sometimes, we bump into each other.” That’s integral to the story because it’s a connection that we have with the characters. The film begs the question between who is more qualified for the promotion and who really deserves and/or need the promotion. I love that the answer lies in the gray area so it really depends on the justifications of the person who is watching the film. Aside from Scott and Reilly, this picture has a nice supporting role played by Jenna Fischer, not to mention small but really funny appearances by Jason Bateman and Masi Oka. This may seem silly on the outside but the implications it has about the nature of competition, I think, reflects American thinking. Most people will not describe this film as subtle, but it will reward those who try to see below the surface.