Tag Archives: F

FRIEND REQUEST

Producer: Max Wiedemann and Quirin Berg
Director: Simon Verhoeven
Writer: Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch and Simon Verhoeven
Stars: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers, Shasgawnee Hall and Nicholas Pauling
Studio: Freestyle Releasing

F

Simon Verhoeven’s horror movie starts out on the wrong foot, employing a social media device that already seems passé. Its premise is that today’s college students remain gaga over Facebook, obsessively using it practically every waking hour. Actually, acquaintance with them suggests that young people are jettisoning Facebook at a fairly rapid rate, leaving it to older folks who want to tell one another what they’ve had for lunch.

But that’s the least of the problems of “Friend Request” (a title changed from “Unfriend,” which was probably dumped because of similarity to the earlier “Unfriended”). Apart from using a generic Facebook imitation rather than the real thing—no doubt something mandated by copyright concerns—its dependence on the social media gimmick is merely a desperate attempt to breathe some life into a plot that’s about as hoary as it gets—desperate and unsuccessful.

The scenario is a simple one. Popular, ongoing collegian Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) has everything: a great apartment, supportive roomies Olivia and Isabel (Brit Morgan and Brooke Markham), hunky boyfriend (and med student) Tyler (William Moseley), a cool computer geek chum, Kobe (Connor Paolo) and—perhaps more important—well over eight hundred Facebook (sorry, Facebook imitation) friends.

Then disaster strikes. Laura acts pleasant to new student Marina (Liesl Ahlers), a gloomy Goth type who wears a hoodie and shows up in Laura’s Psych class. Marina follows up with a friend request and despite the fact that her profile is filled with unsettling photos and videos and shows her having zero friends, Laura accepts it. Marina immediately becomes a clingy stalker, and when Laura fails to invite her to her birthday party, she goes ballistic, causing a scene in the campus cafeteria. Shortly afterward she commits suicide in a video she sends to Laura and forwards to all her friends. Somehow the deceased also prevents Laura from deleting it or even closing down her account. (Every time she tries to do either, she gets that dreaded error message.) All of which makes Laura increasingly persona non grata not only to her online “friends” (who unfriend her, but apparently not until after watching the video, which they inform her is “disgusting”) but to the college administrators, who threaten to suspend her.

But Marina isn’t finished. Though dead, she announces that she’ll show Laura what it’s like to be lonely, and pledges to slaughter her pals seriatim, beginning with Isabel’s boyfriend (Sean Marquette), whom she films bashing himself to death in an elevator—a video she posts on Laura’s page, increasing the rage of her dwindling “friends.” Of course, she can’t delete it, either. The death also introduces a couple of blundering cops to the case, which is soon expanded as further “suicides” occur.

Trapped by the ethereal Marina, Laura investigates the girl’s past, and finds a horrible childhood in an orphanage, with more than a touch of witchery (as well as swarms of wasps) attached. Kobe reluctantly assists in her quest, which devolves toward the close into pretty standard damsel-in-distress formula as Laura is pursued through subterranean hallways not by a ghost but by someone with other motives.

“Friend Request” is obviously dumb, but it is also poorly produced. Apart from a succession of jump scares choreographed by Verhoeven and cinematographer Jo Heim (and telegraphed by Gary Go and Martin Todsharow’s score), the picture generates little suspense, and even the gory death scenes seem rote. The acting is indifferent across the board, with Debnam-Carey coming across as bland and Ahlers as faintly ridiculous.

The obvious response to a movie this bad is to press “Delete” and hope you don’t get an error message.

THE HOUSE

Producer:  Andrew Jay Cohen, Joseph Drake, Jessica Elbaum, Nathan Kahane, Brendan O’Brien, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen
Writer: Brendan O'Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen
Stars: Will Ferrell Amy Poehler, Jeremy Renner, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Ryan Simpkins, Rob Huebel, Allison Tolman, Michaela Watkins, Cedric Yarbrough, Andy Buckley, Andrea Savage, Lennon Parham and Alexandra Daddario
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

F

Despite the old adage about the house always winning, this Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy is a complete loser, so excruciatingly bad that it makes you cringe while watching it. Any picture that encourages you look forward to “Daddy’s Home 2” to provide a respite must be beyond the pale.

The idiotic premise concocted by “Neighbors” writers Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Jay Cohen (the latter also serving as director this time around, flaccidly) has Ferrell and Poehler playing Scott and Kate Johansen, a dumb-as-nails suburban couple who smother their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) with affection and are determined that she should attend the college of her choice—Bucknell (a distinguished institution that should be embarrassed at allowing its name to be used in this context).

When their crooked town councilman (Nick Kroll) cuts the scholarship money they’d been planning on from the town budget, they have to scramble to replace the funds on their own. Their solution is to transform the nearby home of their dissolute friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) into an underground gambling den, a Los Vegas lite establishment that will rake in scads of cash in a matter of weeks from the town’s residents, who apparently have nothing better to do than toss away everything they have (which seems, on the basis of this telling, to be a great deal) on slot machines and craps.

That last word is especially appropriate given what follows. The movie soon turns to such unlikely sources of mirth as staged fights between antagonistic neighbors on which players can place bets. (The one involving Lennon Parham and Andrea Savage as dueling housewives seems to go on forever, and is utterly repulsive.)

Even those bouts seem positively benign, however, beside such scenes as the one in which Poehler debases herself by squatting in the hedges to urinate, or the moments that involve bodily injury. In one case, Ferrell uses an axe to chop off a guy’s finger, leading to a fountain of fake blood, and in another a crime boss played by Jeremy Renner (a good actor presumably paying off some terrible debt) has his arm chopped off (more gushing blood) and then is actually burnt up. What could be funnier?

The level of miscalculation in “The House”—a word used quite deliberately, since one of the mirthless notions in the script is that Scott is totally inept with numbers—is really astronomical. Scott and Kate are so stupid that the obvious joke, that their level-headed daughter is the real adult of the family, is undercut (a single-cell organism would be smarter than they are). Frank is such a repugnant character (much is made of the fact that his wife, played by Michaela Watkins, has dumped him, and one can easily understand why)—and Mantzoukas so frantic in his attempt to get laughs—that a viewer might be forgiven for averting his eyes whenever he appears.

The ancillary figures are no better. Kroll is forced into unconscionable mugging as the sleazy councilman, and one feels sorry for Allison Tolman, who must confront the fact that the reactions of her character—the co-worker he’s having an affair with—veer so radically from scene to scene that they make her seem emotionally schizophrenic. The same might be said of Rob Huebel as the top cop, a clueless dolt who in the end helps to engineer a happy resolution in which Scott and Kate suffer no consequences for their multiple felonies and Frank and his wife reconcile with dreams of insurance fraud dancing in their heads.

After suffering through “The House”—which is ugly visually as well as narratively (Clayton Hartley was production designer and Jas Shelton the DP)—you might scratch your head trying to think of one even remotely pleasant moment in it. You’ll come up empty. Oh, wait—there is the moment that “The End” appears on the screen. Unfortunately, the words are followed by a series of blooper out-takes that are no better than the movie that’s preceded them.