Wrestling promoter Vince McMahon’s name might not appear in the credits of “Freddy Vs. Jason,” but the spirit of the WWE entrepreneur hovers over this effort to blend the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises by setting up a no-holds-barred battle between the series’ two blade-wielding maniacs. Unfortunately, when the bout eventually arrives after an awful lot of tedium-inducing exposition, it carries about as much surprise and excitement as one of McMahon’s pay-per-view extravaganzas.
Just to offer a bit of background, the “Nightmare” series that Wes Craven initiated in 1984 had a pretty clever premise, and at least in the early installments the execution was quite effective, too; and in the loquacious, sleazy Freddy Krueger it boasted a memorable villain. Sean Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th” flicks, on the other hand, were just junky “Halloween” ripoffs, mindless snuff-fests featuring the mute, machete-wielding, mask-wearing Jason. Both franchises petered out as repetition set in and the imagination of filmmakers in devising ever-gorier and more baroque modes of dispatching victims flagged; if one has an optimistic streak, he might also hope that audience tastes have shifted away from mere bloodletting to more subtle forms of spookiness in the quest for cinematic shivers. Whatever might be the case, the idea of resuscitating the two oft-”killed” bad-guys for a showdown turns out not to have been a terribly inspired one, particularly when you consider that scores of writers spent a full decade trying to concoct a scenario for their duel. In the event, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have come up with a laboriously farfetched premise, according to which Freddy (as Krueger explains to us at length in a prologue which includes snippets from previous “Nightmare” flicks) is unhappy in hell because he can no longer inflict mayhem in Springwood. The town’s adults have, through the use of drugs and asylums, eradicated the memory of the killer by suppressing their offsprings’ dreams, thereby closing the route by which the killer attacks his victims. To change the situation, Freddy awakens Jason from his slumber and incites him to begin slaughtering a few of Elm Street’s randy teens, believing that the deaths will be blamed on him and his name will once again become a watchword in the community, giving him the strength he needs to resume his good work on his own. The plot succeeds: Jason dispatches a couple of dopey high school guys (along with the father of one of them), and later attacks a rave being held in a cornfield, of all places. (Didn’t “Children of the Corn” teach filmmakers that the venue doesn’t generate many thrills?) But once he’s started up, Jason–like the Energizer Bunny–just won’t quit. Freddy is compelled to stop his Frankenjason monster from killing all “his” kids so that he can have the pleasure himself. Meanwhile a group of surviving Springwood teens are trying to devise a means whereby the two nasty fellows will destroy one another. The upshot is a couple of CGI-enhanced slugfests between the title dudes, the first set in Freddy’s metal-basement dreamworld and the second on the familiar shores of Crystal Lake. They hack at one another with abandon, slicing off limbs and sending gushers of blood into the air, pausing occasionally to take aim at the teens still milling about on the periphery of the action. But all the mayhem doesn’t mean much because–after all–these are fellows who’ve died innumerable times before, though without lasting effect.
There are a few decent elements to “Freddy vs. Jason.” Robert Englund takes up his old role as Krueger with considerable panache, and the writers have provided him with a few nicely gruesome one-liners and a witty final gesture. Ronny Yu choreographs the action scenes efficiently enough, even if they never achieve the excitement of the Hong Kong material he once churned out. And the technical side of things is a rung above what one usually finds in slasher fare. The widescreen cinematography is good, and one CGI sequence, in which a guy who looks like a junior-league Silent Bob but sounds more like Jay (Kyle Labine) is confronted by a hookah-puffing caterpillar out of Lewis Carroll, has a pleasant touch of whimsy to it.
But the rest is pretty tepid stuff. Ken Kirzinger can do nothing but lumber about as the impassive Jason, and with the exception of Labine the teens are a distinctly colorless bunch (except for the red they periodically exude). The adults are no better: the only one you might recognize is Lochlyn Munro as an unlucky cop. But the major problem is the script, which requires entirely too much explanation and never manages to keep the convolutions clear. (There’s a particularly ludicrous moment when one of the youngsters, the hero played by Jason Ritter, suddenly blurts out the entire rationale behind Freddy’s raising of Jason, despite the fact that there’s no basis at all for his declaration.)
The most serious flaw, however, is an insuperable one, given the raison d’etre of the picture: namely, that both of the participants in the final brawl have been shown time and time again to be indestructible. As a result, it’s just as impossible to generate any real interest about the outcome here as it is in any of Mr. McMahon’s highly scripted matches; you can sit back and admire the moves, if you have a taste for that sort of thing, but there’s nothing at stake. If “Freddy vs. Jason” brings in the bucks, you can bet there will be a rematch, no matter who appears to win or go down for the count in this installment. And so while Krueger and Voorhees may be the combatants here, it’s the viewer who loses. This is a picture that’s made only for the most rabid fans of the two series. Are there any of you still out there?