The fight between religion and science in The Exorcism of Emily Rose is mirrored in the movie’s own struggle for respectability. Not content to be “just” a horror movie, the “Based on a True Story” credit is an attempt to legitimize it with a seriousness it doesn’t contain. The effect of applying horror tropes to real personal tragedy is more tasteless than this purportedly grownup scare flick would admit. A lawyer (Laura Linney) is defending a priest (Tom Wilkinson) charged with neglectfully killing college student Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), who he believed was in need of an exorcism. The movie plays too simply by not giving substantial time to Emily Rose’s life beyond her illness — reasonably argued by some as a combination of psychosis and epilepsy. The manifestation scenes have a dark power, but we spend the movie getting to know Emily as a demonic-voiced rag doll being tossed around. A scene of her A Nightmare On Elm Street—like classroom freak-out segues into her running deliriously through a rainstorm. But the horror never coalesces with the overriding courtroom drama. The question of the supernatural is manipulatively vindicated through making the priest a major character.
“Just bring yourself back,” cautions the wife of nerdy dental supplies salesman Andy (Eugene Levy) before his work trip to Detroit. There, he’s made the suspect/hostage (or “bitch,” as he’s told) of no-nonsense violent cop Derrick, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The mismatched pair in The Man couldn’t be more obvious. Levy is a comic emblem of clueless white America. Jackson’s screen history consists largely of slick, aggressive shysters. But amplifying racial prejudices doesn’t naturally make for interesting conflict. The Man’s pitch is fit for an awful sitcom: “A really white guy and a really black guy have to work together, but keep getting on each other’s nerves, cuz one’s so white and one’s so black.” Because neither Levy nor Jackson is playing more than stereotype profiles, the comic dynamic rarely allows empathy with them as people. Derrick’s extreme hatred of Andy has no circumstantial cause in the script. And Andy is so socially naive, it’s hard to believe he’s ever stepped off his front porch. When director Les Mayfield lands on a mildly amusing interplay, such as Andy instructing his ever-cursing partner how to change a swear into “fuuucgoodness sakes,” it’s because the characters’ absurdity is taken so far that the actors appear in on the joke. But the film’s pervading gunfight action isn’t excused by Jackson and Levy satirizing their movie personas. There’s an unchecked hostility to the picture. The bulk of the comedy just feels seething.
A Sound of Thunder
Within the first 10 minutes of A Sound of Thunder, a page of my pocket notepad was scrawled with “Is this movie for real?” It had to be asked, even if silently. A group of scientists are walking through a prehistoric forest that makes no effort to hide that it’s an small enclosed soundstage. One of the scientists keeps complaining that he can’t hear anything, even though the hidden jungle animals are turned up louder on the soundtrack than the human dialogue. The ground starts quaking — an effect easily accomplished by shaking the camera like an old Star Trek episode. From the trees emerges a dinosaur that is so poorly animated it wouldn’t have met the standards of Hercules the Legendary Journeys nine years ago. Complaining about production values is a touchy thing: There comes a point where you’re reviewing the budget instead of the movie. But this cost $80 million. If it sounds like a fun bad time, it’s actually quite sad. A Sound of Thunder offers B-movie level polish without B-movie subversions. The bottom line is that some investors got ripped off, and a Ray Bradbury classic got made into a bad film. Why take pleasure in that?
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