There’s almost always a scene in a bad thriller in which somebody is threatened by a gun pointed to his head, only to have the bullet forestalled when he says to the would-be killer, “Wait a minute” (and the gunman complies), or a third party intervenes with a similarly successful plea. It’s an insult to the word “cliché” to call this hackneyed moment one.
What should one then say about Joel Schumacher’s latest cinematic blunder, “Trespass,” in which the gun-to-the-head business occurs not one or twice, but twenty or thirty times (I confess I lost count)? It would be different if the home-invasion picture were intended as a satire of an oversubscribed genre, but it’s not. It really wants to unsettle and shock. But if, by the time characters resort to nail guns and gasoline cans to confront the villains, you’re not laughing uncontrollably (at least under your breath), you might be charged with having no sense of humor at all. It may be the most unintentionally funny would-be thriller since the infamous “Whispers in the Dark” of 1992.
But it certainly attracted big-name leads. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman are Kyle and Sarah Miller, a wealthy couple living with their rebellious teen daughter Avery (Liana Liberato) in an opulent modernist house in the remote woods that’s still a work in process. He’s a fast-talker trader in precious gems who’s constantly on the road or the phone, barking out deals. She’s the svelte, decorative wife nonplussed by his frequent absences. And, as it turns out, they make a perfect target for thieves. A masked gang bursts in one night disguised as guards from their security service, and demands that Kyle open the safe they believe is filled with diamonds.
What follows is a prolonged cat-and-mouse game, not only between the family and the intruders, voluble leader Elias (Ben Mendelsohn), younger Jonah (Cam Gigandet), hulking Ty (Dash Minok) and spaced-out Petal (Jordana Spiro), but within the gang as well. There are plenty of twists and reversals—too many, in fact—including flashbacks to incidents involving gang members and one of their number and Sarah. And a great deal of time is devoted to Kyle’s verbal maneuvers to undercut Elias’ confidence and save his wife and daughter, if not himself. And though the swerves reach astronomical levels, in the final analysis the way things turn out is all too predictable.
Cage tries to energize this overly familiar material with a manic performance, but in the end comes across as desperate as the character he’s playing. Kidman is more restrained but no less ineffectual, and both Mendelsohn (who was so scary in “Animal Kingdom”) and Gigandet (who was awful in “The Roommate”) chew the scenery to little effect. Speaking of which, the Miller house is a striking setting (for which production designer Nathan Amondson, set designers Patricia Klawonn and William Law III, and art director William Budge are presumably responsible), used skillfully by cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak.
But despite Schumacher’s frenetic direction and the strenuous efforts of all his cast and crew, Karl Gajdusek’s script remains just too silly to work. “Trespass” is opening in a limited number of theatres while appearing simultaneously on DVD and pay-per-view. They probably should have left the theatres out of the equation.