We kicked off April with Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. Now, “Monster Slayer” is one of those occupations that looks cooler on a business card than it actually is. It’s thankless, highly dangerous, and it’s not entirely clear what the pay grade is. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue for Jack, as he accepts payment for his plumbing services in eggrolls and A grades in college classes. Later, once he graduates to full-time monster slayer, the film doesn’t delve into how an African village intends to compensate him for his time.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. As a kid, Jack Brooks witnessed the murder of his entire family by a monster of unexplained origins. He ran away (at the urging of his doomed father) to save himself and has lived with that regret his whole life. This pain manifests itself in Jack’s anger management issues (classmates and car radios beware). One of the film’s flaws is that it spends way too much time focusing on this aspect of Jack’s personality. His verbal diatribes seem to be played for laughs but they are fundamentally unfunny and it really drags down the front half of the film. When Jack decides to go back and save the day during the climax, it’s a triumphant moment for the formerly traumatized child… but it has nothing to do with anger management. This is where the movie fails most.
A second problem is that they landed Robert “Freddy Kreuger” Englund, and damn it, they gotta use him. Giving the name brand actor something to do leads to some tedious scenes in the classroom (he plays Jack’s teacher) and at his home, where he and Jack accidentally unleash the evil force that drives most of the film. Later, Englund chews the scenery as he (slowly)undergoes the transformation from man to monster. It’s funnier than an angry guy yelling at his therapist, but at this point, we’re the ones yelling for the movie to get on with it already.
Thankfully, the action does finally pick up in the last third of the film. Englund morphs into the hideous love child of Slimer and Jabba the Hutt and begins eating people or transforming them into zombies by grabbing them with his many slippery tentacles and forcing them to deepthroat his evil vomit tube. It all looks so cheesy that my 11 year old daughter walked in, started watching and declared it not scary at all.
The classmates turned zombies seem a little more aware than the usual brainless zombie, which leads to some decent fight scenes. Jack fighting the zombies in the hallway of the school is easily the best part. Jack turning into a monster slaying action hero is good fun, but not enough fun for me to ever want to sit through the first half of the film again. I might watch a sequel, however… Grade: C+
Next up was Devil’s Playground. Think 28 Days Later, only in Great Britain. Wait, um, okay, so it’s a rip-off. But rip-offs can still be good. At the very least, the budget was there to make a sleek looking production. Even some of the actors were familiar faces, like one of the guys from Doghouse and Dexter’s crazy mistress from Season 2 of Dexter.
A drug trial has gone horribly wrong and 29,999 of the 30,000 participants have turned into pumped-up super zombies who run and jump. The jumping is actually one of the film’s problems as it really kills my suspension of disbelief when zombies start springboarding off walls and forward flipping through car windows and over fences. Running zombies, I can deal with. Zombies preparing for the London Olympic Games is too much.
The one woman who hasn’t turned could be the key to it all and a power struggle develops between Cole, the hired muscle who works for the drug company and is tasked with bringing her in and Joe, the woman’s disgraced cop boyfriend, who doesn’t want her to become a lab rat. Ultimately, the latter seems like an unbelievable selfishness that only exists so that the conflict can exist. Worse still, the characters are all good ideas (even if not terribly original) on paper, but it just doesn’t translate on screen. Even with decent actors, there’s just something about the whole film that falls flat. The poignant scenes feel unearned and I just never really found anyone I felt like rooting for. Part of it maybe is that Cole, the conflicted villain, is actually in the right in this case. The woman should go with him and try to save the world. Her supposedly sympathetic boyfriend is a whiny jerk.
I give this one a C+ as well, partly based on production values. Looks good but it’s an ultimately empty experience. I imnagine in a year, it will be way down in our rankings and I’ll be like, “”Devil’s Playground”? what the hell was that again?”