Tag Archives: F

BAD SANTA 2

Producer: Geyer Kosinski and Andrew Gunn
Director: Mark Waters
Writer: Shauna Cross and Johnny Rosenthal
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, Jenny Zigrino, Jeff Skowron and Octavia Spencer
Studio: Broad Green Pictures

F

“Bad Santa 2” follows what is now a tradition of long-delayed sequels by being terrible, and does the others one better: it’s the worst. And while it may be tradition to serve fowl for Thanksgiving, this year audiences are getting something foul instead.

Not that Terry Zwigoff’s original 2003 “Bad Santa” was a comedic masterpiece, but at the time its venomous attitude and nasty language felt transgressive rather than simply gross. This time around, the stream of obscenity and coarseness just seems rote and tired.

As to story, there isn’t much. Willie Stoke (Billy Bob Thornton) is in Phoenix and in desperate straits (one might say “at his wit’s end,” if any wit were involved), and decides to end it all. Unfortunately, his attempts at suicide are interrupted by the arrival of his would-be “son,” the creepily deadpan Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who also delivers an invitation from Willie’s erstwhile comrade-in-theft Marcus (Tony Cox) to join him for a lucrative heist in Chicago. Stokes takes off, leaving the clueless Thurman behind.

Arriving in the Windy City, Willie finds that the job involves robbing a charity run by the obviously slimy Regent (Ryan Hansen) and his sincere wife Diane (Christina Hendricks). Unfortunately, the mastermind of the heist is Willie’s hated, foul-mouthed mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). Initially reluctant, Stokes finally agrees to participate. They’ll all case the joint as volunteers—Willie of course in a Santa suit and Marcus as an elf—before robbing the safe during a children’s Christmas concert. Naturally things go awry, especially after Thurman unexpectedly shows up.

Thornton gets to do some of the old shtick in his Santa guise, both when raising money on the street and grimacing as kids sit on his lap and ask for presents. But far too much of the movie consists of him, Cox and Bates just sitting around flinging vulgar insults at one another, which comes down to little more than a game of “Can you top this?” The result is rarely worth even a chuckle. The sexual stuff is even worse, especially the plot thread about Diane and Willie hooking up in the crudest possible fashion, though another involving Jenny Zigrino as a lustful security guard comes close. Of course Thurman is always around for another round of obtuseness, though, as in the first picture, he’s also the occasion for the script to develop a soft-hearted streak in the last act (he even sings a solo at that concert), though it’s buried in the continuing avalanche of bad taste. The topper is a photo montage involving Willie and Marcus that’s the absolute pits.

While Bates and Cox tear into their lines with manic gusto, Thornton is throughout so phlegmatic that he simply seems disengaged—which is probably the right attitude to take with material this awful. Kelly is again unsettlingly convincing as dim-bulb Thurman, and one expects that Hendricks will try hard to erase this from her resume. Jeff Skowron has been enlisted to play a role similar to the one the late John Ritter took in the first picture—here a security man trying to dig up dirt on the larcenous trio—and tries unsuccessfully to maintain his dignity. Worst of all, Octavia Spencer shows up as a hooker Willie hires to service the still-virginal Thurman. One can only speculate about what sort of bet she lost to embarrass herself to this extent.

There are tons of establishing shots of Chicago streets and buildings to convince us that the movie was shot where it is set, along with scads of posters on buildings and lampposts advertising Windy City events. It’s always nice to see the Hancock Building, the Chicago Theatre and other landmarks, but the movie was actually filmed in Montreal. But that’s not the only imposture here: the movie pretends to be a comedy. The only question is whether it’s more rancid or putrid. Decisions, decisions.

BLAIR WITCH

Producer: Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Keith Calder and Jess Calder
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry
Studio: Lionsgate

F

However accomplished it might be technically, no sequel or remake of “The Blair Witch Project” could hope to equal the impact of the original. Not only has the “found footage” format become tired and cliched, but the sense of surprise about what’s going on has long since evaporated; and the incredible marketing campaign that vaunted the 1999 cheapie (reportedly made for just $60,000) into the cult stratosphere could never be replicated. So it should come as no shock that despite the involvement of a talented director and a bigger budget, the chills generated by Adam Wingard’s part sequel, part remake are as attenuated as the title. The surprise is how absolutely awful “Blair Witch” is, not just by comparison to the first picture but to horror movies in general.

The plot is just a rehash of the first picture, except that the leader of the expedition into the supposedly haunted Maryland woods this time is James (James Allen McCune), the brother of Heather (Heather Donahue), the girl who disappeared in the initial installment. Wanting to search for her, he enlists his girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a film school freak who thinks the jaunt will be a great subject for her class project and so brings along an array of cameras, one even affixed to a drone (a new touch of which nothing is made). They’re accompanied by James’s childhood pal Peter (Brandon Scott), the skeptical one, and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid). They’re also forced to add two more people to their number—local witch-heads Lance (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), whose help they need to locate the spot where Heather’s famous footage of her trek was found.

It’s not long into the journey before spooky things start happening, first strange sounds and then those little stick figures dangling from trees. One of the hikers injures a foot, and it starts getting infected—or worse. Camaraderie breaks down and the sextet splits into smaller groups. Everybody gets lost and starts walking around in circles, and an inexplicable time swerve keeps the sun from rising. Finally the hikers stumble upon that dilapidated house where the first film ended, and where this one does too, but only after some protracted running around.

“Blair Witch” suffers from all sorts of fatal flaws—the acting is atrocious across the board, the dialogue, which largely consists of characters yelling out one another’s names when they get separated, sounds badly improvised (why screenwriter Simon Barrett would want to take credit for it is beyond comprehension), and—most debilitating of all—the visuals are horrible. Yes, the idea is that all the footage is shot by the hikers via little cameras mounted on their persons, but the result is so fuzzy, slipshod and sloppily edited that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s going on half the time. (It’s equally incomprehensible why DP Robby Baumgartner and editor Louis Cioffi would want to put this on their resumes.) Quite simply, despite an absence of graphic gore (that infected foot wound is about as bad as things get), this is one of the ugliest movies you’ll ever see; and the amazing thing is that the makers probably spent millions ensuring it would look every bit as crappy as the sixty-grand 1999 picture did.

The result is a decided setback for Wingard, who made the clever horror parody “The Guest”—it has far less in common with that picture than its predecessor, the formulaic home-invasion slasher opus “You’re Next.” The one area in which he excels here is aural rather than visual: he composed the synthesizer score which, in combination with the sound design (and heard over the good speaker system) is the one element of the movie that works, delivering whatever jolts it has to offer, as cheap as they might be.

When it comes to whether or not one should plunk down cash to see “Blair Witch,” perhaps James offers the best critical comment when he simply says to Lisa toward the close, “Don’t Look.” With a movie as bad as this one, that’s sage advice indeed.