March 31st, 2008

21 (2008) ** ½

When I was in school our choices for extra curricular activities were Chess Club or sports.  Since I never made the baseball team or gave a shit about chess, I never joined any after school programs.  If my school offered an after school club like the one in this movie, I think I may have become a member. 


21 tells the story of a shady MIT professor (Kevin Spacey, who also produced) who holds secret after school seminars where he teaches his students to use their stellar mathematical skills to count cards so they can clean up at the blackjack table.  On weekends he takes his “team” out to Vegas where they parlay their talents into making bank.  Jim (Across the Universe) Sturgess is the new recruit who joins the team to make enough dough to pay his tuition to Harvard, but predictably he gets in over his head and gets a beat down by the casino security honcho (Laurence Fishburne) who cuts him a deal to turn the tables on his mentor. 


OK let me add up my own mathematical equation.  If you take 2/3 of The Perfect Score and add 1/3 of Rounders, what you would get would be 21. 


All of this is fairly entertaining, but it never truly sucks you in.  If there had been a seasoned professional behind the camera, 21 may have been a bit better, but since we’re stuck with the dude who directed Legally Blonde and Monster In-Law, what we get is what we get.  While he captures the glitzy allure of Vegas nicely, everything else he serves up has made for TV written all over it. 


Sturgess is excellent in the lead role and holds his own against the considerable acting chops of Spacey.  Kate Bosworth (in her third film with Spacey after Beyond the Sea and Superman Returns) is OK as the love interest, but none of the other supporting characters are quite fleshed out enough for you to really care about them.  (One dude is a klepto, one dude is an asshole, the other chick is… Asian.  That’s about it.)  It also loses major points for featuring a hideous techno remix of The Rolling Stones’ immortal “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” over the end credits. 


If the House didn’t stack up so many damn clichés against the audience, we may have walked out a big winner, but sadly as it is in Vegas, the House always wins. 


On a personal note:  I got married in Vegas and stayed at the Planet Hollywood Casino, which is featured prominently in the movie.  Whenever the plot slowed (which was often), I was able to keep myself entertained by spotting the overly familiar confines of the casino.  This probably bumped 21’s rating up a half star for me, so if you’ve never been to Vegas or stayed at the PH, this flick is strictly two star material. 


21 isn’t bad, but I definitely wouldn’t double down on it.  It’s ** ½ is good enough to land it in the Number Six spot on the 2008 Video Vacuum Top Ten, right below In the Name of the King:  A Dungeon Siege Tale and just above The Bank Job. 

FEAR (1981) **


Riccardo (The Horrible Doctor Hitchcock) Freda directed this muddled Italian giallo about an Italian method actor who along with some friends, goes to visit his sick mother who lives in a spooky mansion.  He often falls into a trance and has bizarre visions of his late father, “The Maestro” and pretty soon, his friends start dropping like flies.  Is he the one butchering his buddies, or is it his crazy as an Italian outhouse rat mama? 


I won’t lie to you.  This thing didn’t make a lick of sense to me.  I’ve never claimed to be the smartest tool in the shed (just the biggest), but I’ll be damned if this movie wasn’t confusing as all get out.  Freda throws in everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink on this one.  We get black magic, sacrifices, psychics, multiple flashbacks of the same incident from different perspectives, random ass bat attacks, and even incest, but it doesn’t add up to a whole lot. 


While Freda couldn’t hold the plot together if his life depended on it, at least he serves up the occasional exploitation goodie.  The gore is a bit random, but hey so is everything else in the movie, so you shouldn’t complain.  Freda delivers an excellent axe to the brain scene as well as a juicy chainsaw to the jugular bit.  Add this to the fact that most of the women in the cast, including such luscious ladies as Anita (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) Strindberg and Laura (Black Emanuelle) Gemser, like to parade around topless a lot.  That’s worth SOMETHING in my book.  I mean as confounding as most of the “plot” is, the fact that this flick features Gemser naked and a moderate amount of brains being splattered in slow motion is enough for me not to fully hate this movie too much.  Besides, any movie that has at least SIX alternate titles can’t be all bad, right?


AKA:  Delirium.  AKA:  Murder Obsession.  AKA:  Murder Syndrome.  AKA:  Satan’s Altar.  AKA:  The Wailing.  AKA:  Unconscious. 



Remember the Chinese Police Academy knock off Thunder Cops?  Neither did I.  Anyway, this is the sequel.  It’s all about four spaz police officers who along with four sexy police women get picked for a top secret assignment and report to a remote training facility.  Instead of training though, they mostly just sit around and drink, fool around and have a campfire.  Then one night they get bored, pull out an Ouiji board, and inadvertently summon up a vampire who slowly (and I do mean SLOWLY) turns them into vampires. 


Look, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if you’re Asian and you’re name isn’t Jackie Chan; you have no business being a comedian.  I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but Hong Kong comedies that don’t feature Wacky Jackie just aren’t funny.  The “humor” in this flick includes guys who don’t zip up their flies, guys who piss on themselves, and guys who get hickies.  Basically stuff that wouldn’t have cut it in a lame Police Academy sequel, let alone in a Chinese rip-off.   


If you thought the “comic relief” was bad though, wait until you get a load of the vampires.  These vamps are of the extremely LAME variety as they don’t bite anybody; rather they change their victims into vampires by shooting laser beams out of their eyes.  They also fly around on wires and aren’t scary in the least.  At one point they are actually REPELLED by a bucket of blood.  What kind of ass backwards vamps are they anyway?  It also doesn’t help when the vampires don’t show up until about 35 minutes into the movie and are on screen for about 93 seconds of the movie’s 93 minute running time. 


But the biggest problem I had with the movie was that most of the subtitles are so low on the screen that you can’t even read them.  If I could’ve actually read some of what was going on, it MAY have been funnier to me, but I highly doubt it.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the music was stolen from A Nightmare on Elm Street. 




Director Jean (Zombie Lake) Rollin knows two things:  How to film naked women and how to film naked vampires.  Although the chick in this film isn’t a vampire in the traditional sense of the word, she drinks blood, hates sunlight and gets naked, which is enough for me. 


In fact, it only takes ONE minute for us to see her fully disrobed.  Not bad at all.  When we first see her, she’s getting shot up with a bunch of Kool-Aid into her arm before being chased around by a bunch of weird dudes in animal masks before being gunned down in cold blood.  So far so good. 


A wealthy playboy witnesses her death and tries to get his father to call the police but the old man warns him not to meddle in other people’s affairs, especially people who wear giant chicken masks and sport long flowing robes.  He can’t get the girl out of his mind though and sneaks into an Eyes Wide Shut style party where he witnesses the newly reborn hottie drink blood on stage.  He then loses it and blows away several cult members before hightailing it out of there.  Eventually the hooded cult members catch up to our hero and predictably, we learn that his pops is none other than the leader of the cult.  In the end, the hero finds true love with his vampire on the beach while a cultist proclaims, “There were never any vampires, but there ARE mutants!”


One character asks, “Do you understand any of this?”  I had the same thought, but hey at least this movie features vampires in the nude, which almost makes it kinda worth it. 


Parts of The Nude Vampire seem like a silent surrealist movie.  There are long stretches of the film where nothing happens and no one says anything then something completely random will occur and it’ll make you go “HUH”?  While Rollin may lapse a half dozen times into dreary, artsy fartsy pretension, he keeps you watching with his trademark visual pizzazz, and of course, the copious amounts of female flesh on display.  Not only does the vampire get nude in this flick, but there are several other chicks who also drop their drawers too, like artist’s models, servant girls and strippers (although some of them wear pasties), which makes some of the film’s slower stretches seem downright forgivable.  Despite the presence of major boobage, this flick does move slower than a constipated turtle, so it’s highly recommended that you don’t watch this movie before you operate heavy machinery. 


The chick in this flick is a suitable prototype of the typical Rollin vampire.  She’s hot.  She drinks blood.  She wanders aimlessly around in see-thru lingerie like a lobotomy patient hopped up on Pop Rocks and Pepsi.  The movie itself is a lot like her character.  It’s totally vapid, but it’s nice to look at. 


The bland hero gets all the movie’s best lines like, “Who are the freaks who smile when they kill themselves?”


Suggested Drinking Game:  Take a shot every time someone fires a gun at an “immortal” cult member in vain. 


AKA:  The Naked Vampire.