This week at the movies may as well be called “Attack of the Bs.” With the start of summer blockbuster season mere weeks away, this week offers a collection of medium budget B-movies that studios cranked out alongside the $100 million moneymakers. The good news is all three major releases offer good, old-fashioned, trashy fun.
First up, there’s a new meta-horror classic in Cabin in the Woods that should have a cult fan base by Monday. Then there’s the latest trashy Luc Besson action flick Lockout that’s just as good/bad as explosion-loving audiences will want. Finally, if you like your on-screen violence a little more silly and focused on the groin, then the slapstick-loving Farrelly brothers have whipped up an update of The Three Stooges that is far better than it has any right to be.
As long as you aren’t expecting more the B-grade fun, it’s hard to imagine you won’t have a good time at the theater with one of these options. Your brain won’t be tested much, but if you’re looking for mindless escape, you’re all set.
The Good: Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is an incredibly hard movie to review, because it’s one of the rare recent films to slip onto screens without a trailer spoiling every surprise. Even the first scene is completely unexpected and promises a different film than most people should suspect when entering the theater.
Yes, the main plot thread involves a collection of 20-something horror movie archetypes (the jock, the ditz, the stoner, the prude, etc) marching out to certain doom in a rural cabin, but that’s only half of what the film is about. There’s another element that cleverly allows co-writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon (longtime collaborators stretching back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to cleverly examine and poke fun at the horror movie clichés they gleefully employ in the A plot.
Yeah, I know that’s a very vague description, but honestly, this is a movie that benefits from knowing as little as possible in advance. You will get all the grisly fun expected from a “cabin in the woods” horror movie, but presented in a smartly tongue-in-cheek manner that is absolutely hilarious. Quite honestly, this is easily one of the finest horror movies released in the last decade and one that should please genre fans as well as people who don’t generally like horror movies. Goddard proves to be an expert wielder of suspense, gore, and jump scares as well as a movie geek smartypants capable of film school deconstruction and gut-busting belly laughs.
The flick was sadly caught up in MGM’s collapse and sat on the shelf for two years, generating a mythical status amongst horror fans who wondered if they’re ever get to see it. The good news is that the hype is justified and the movie is worth the wait. Now, let’s just hope that audiences can tear themselves away from The Hunger Games long enough to make Cabin in the Woods a box office hit.
We need more smart genre movies like this and talented filmmakers like Goddard need to rake in actual cash money rather than just cult appeal to keep working. If you only see one movie this week, make it Cabin in the Woods. I know this review didn’t exactly offer many details as to why that’s the case, but trust me. Once you’ve experienced the bizarre surprises for yourself, you’ll thank me for keeping the secrets.
The Bad: Lockout
Speaking of smart genre movies that attempt to revitalize the genre, here’s a project that couldn’t be farther away from achieving that goal. Lockout is an action movie you’ve seen before in countless iterations. It takes the “one man vs insurmountable odds” conceit from action classics like Die Hard and plays it out to the letter. Specifically, the film is an unofficial remake of Escape from New York, only in space.
The president’s daughter is trapped in a futuristic space station prison that has been taken over by the particularly violent and insane inmates. Only one man could possibly save her, a recent police captive named Snow who speaks entirely in one-liners and is involved with some sort of government conspiracy that requires a chat with one of the space prisoners to sort out. So Snow is shot into space to save the president's daughter. Do you think he’ll succeed? Have you seen an action movie before?
Lockout comes from the French action movie factory run by Luc Besson. The guy directed some bona fide action movie masterpieces in the '80s and '90s like La Femme Nikita and The Professional, but over the last 10-15 years he’s given up on directing. Now he merely comes up with action movie concepts, hands them off to cheap 'n' inexperienced writers/directors, hires a B-level celebrity to star, and collects the profits. That’s the good ol’ Roger Corman school of exploitation filmmaking and certainly Besson’s Eurotrash action movies can always be counted on for lurid entertainment, occasionally producing a gem (District B13) and often shitting out swill (From Paris with Love).
Besson’s Lockout at least boasts slick production values, an amusing lead performance from Guy Pearce, and moves along at a frenetic pace. However, it’s also pure paint-by-numbers action filmmaking offering no surprises, a terribly wooden performance from lady lead Maggie Grace, and some of the worst sub-sitcom one-liners you’ll ever hear. Simply put, it’s forgettable B-movie trash. Now, that’s what most action movies are and the flick definitely delivers on the meager promises of the premise and poster. If you go in with suitably low expectations, you at least won’t be bored. It’s just that nothing about the movie makes it distinct enough to stick in your memory for longer than five consecutive seconds.
If you’re looking for an action film that will forcibly shut down your brain for 90 minutes and blow things up real good, I suppose Lookout is enjoyable enough. It’s just not original, interesting or even particularly well made. But then few action flicks are, I suppose.
The Stooges: The Three Stooges
In theory a Three Stooges reboot shouldn’t work. In fact, it should be an embarrassment. Yet with the folks who filled Cameron Diaz’s hair with semen and gave Jeff Daniels explosive diarrhea in charge, it’s undeniably hilarious. The Farrelly Brothers have been nursing this Stooges update along for almost a decade as their dream project.
While it would have been nice to see what the hell it would have been like to have Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn, and Jim Carrey in the iconic roles as was once rumored, the impressions by Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso are so mind-bogglingly perfect, it’s hard to complain. A lot of love clearly went into this project about three grown men smacking each other silly (it’s even broken up into three shorts with title cards like the good old days) and fans of the Stooges should giggle with delight while everyone else will remain as confused by their appeal as ever.
The threadbare plot sees Larry, Curly, and Moe try to save their childhood orphanage by raising $800,000 and end up in the midst of an absurd murder plot. It’s completely disposable, but then the Stooges were never exactly known for tight plotting. The Farrellys also surround the three leads with some big comedy talent like Larry David and Jane Lynch (both amusingly playing nuns) and everyone involved embraces the sweet tone and cartoon exaggeration of the film.
A few current pop culture references fall flat and reek of studio interference (and the prominent placement of those gags in the trailer confirms that and was a big mistake), but enough of the slapstick gags hit hard enough to make up for the comedy whiffs. This is easily the best thing the Farrellys have made in years, ditching their desire to match a love story with gross-out gags that ruined many of their movies in the 2000s. It’s all infantile and idiotic, but at least unapologetic about it.
This is 90 minutes of bad taste comedy violence at its finest, guaranteed to make anyone with a guilty love of bathroom humor and the “man-fall-down-go-boom” school of comedy keel over in hysterics. If you’ve long dreamed of seeing a dolphin spit a peanut out of its blowhole straight into a lion’s nutsack, your prayers have been answered.