The Week in Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Smell-O-Vision

By , Columnist

This week at the movies brings audiences two types of films that have sadly dominated Hollywood over the last decade: sequels and remakes. With the summer movie season coming to a close, the tent pole productions have passed and now all that’s left are mid-budget moneymakers created purely for profit. It’s not a week of filmmaking that anyone would describe as being dedicated to art.

No, this is a week of pure movie commerce, but on the plus side it’s not all bad. While several of the movies are as bad as they look (Spy Kids 4) or maybe even a little worse (Conan The Barbarian), the Fright Night remake is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a sad state of affairs when the best thing coming out is a remake of an '80s horror movie that isn’t as bad as it could have been, but that’s where we’re at this week, people!

The Good: Fright Night

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While I’m as tired of the endless stream of horror remakes as anyone else and would gladly sign a petition or organize a “Million Man-Child March” to Hollywood to put a stop to the rehashed madness, I have to admit that this Fright Night reboot is pretty good. The problem with remaking '70s horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Dawn Of The Dead is that much of the strength of those films lies in the social context in which they were originally made.

But campy, tongue-in-cheek '80s horror like Fright Night? Aside from the bad hair and cheesy synthesizer scores, those movies have very little to do with their era. They are just simple concepts designed to feature as many latex makeup and gore effects as possible. It’s an approach perfectly suited to a remake. New filmmakers can take that simple concept, twist it into their own, and use it to set up as many makeup and CGI effects as possible.

So that’s what we get with the 2011 edition of Fright Night, a remake that actually works best the farther it gets away from the original. The concept of the teenager who thinks his neighbor is a vampire is the same, but the vampire is Colin Farrell and a far more slick individual determined to seduce the protagonist’s mother. While in the original the teenager sought out an aging horror TV star played by Roddy McDowall for help, the remake sees him seeking out a hilariously camp Criss Angel-style Vegas performer with a vampire-themed lounge act.

The humor of the original is more overt in the remake with McLovin’ himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, stealing scenes from a clever screenplay written by a former Buffy The Vampire Slayer writer (Marti Noxon) going for the same tongue-in-cheek teen drama tone as the cult TV series. The film isn’t a masterpiece, nor is it better than the cult classic original. However, it’s also probably the most purely fun vampire movie to emerge out of the recent vampire movie onslaught and is mercifully free of the weepy melodrama of Twilight. This is good old fashioned monster movie fun and a far better film than it has any right to be.

The Bad: Conan The Barbarian

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Speaking of unnecessary remakes that miss the point of the original films, say hello to Conan The Barbarian 2.0 from director Marcus Nispel (who specializes in terrible remakes, having previously crapped out the updates of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th). The best thing that can be said about his version of Conan is that it brings R-rated action back to the big screen after the genre’s unfortunate PG-13 hiatus. Blood and severed limbs fly towards the camera in 3D and boobies make an appearance from time to time.

Unfortunately when the best thing in a movie is the violence and nudity, something is definitely wrong. Skinemax worked out that formula long ago and no one ever claimed that those movies were art. With the exception of Rose McGowan’s hilariously campy witch, the performances are all softcore porn caliber. I guess that’s what happens when the main thing you look for in your cast is a willingness to act without wearing a shirt.

For those of you wondering, Baywatch veteran Jason Momoa is no Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has the physical frame of an action star, but none of the necessary charisma. This is probably destined to be the high point of his career though, something that Momoa seems acutely aware of given that he is currently writing a screenplay for a Conan The Barbarian sequel himself to try and extend his 15 minutes of fame to 30. Honestly, the only reason to see the movie is to support this shirtless boy’s dreams.

The Smell-O-Vision: Spy Kids 4D

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Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/caterer and all around good guy Robert Rodriguez always makes an appearance during summer movie season. Even though he likes to work independently from the studio system in Austin and does virtually every job on a production himself, the guy is a pop filmmaker. He strives to entertain the masses, he just does it on his own terms. Every summer Rodriguez returns with either some sort of R-rated spectacle or a G-rated CGI fantasy for his children. This summer we get the latter with Spy Kids 4 starring Jessica Alba as a new mommy/international spy.

These movies are pure bubble gum, but have also offered diminishing returns with each new installment. That doesn’t bode well for this fourth chapter that doesn’t even feature the cast of the previous films. In fact, the movie wasn’t screened for critics and given that the first two Spy Kids movies got a great deal of critical support, that’s not a good sign. Added to that, Rodriguez sneakily took a page out of '50s movie gimickery to sell Spy Kids 4 that he didn’t even tell the cast about while shooting. Rodriguez has brought back smell-o-vision, which means that everyone in the audience gets a scratch and sniff card that will allow them to breath in such lovely scents are diaper poo during the film.

Perhaps Rodriguez is mocking the gimmickery of 3D (he actually helped kick off the new digital 3D movement with Spy Kids 3D year ago), but I doubt it. It’s more likely a desperate hook to get people in the theater. The movie doesn’t look very good, but it’s innocuous and written for kids so there’s no need to be upset. Spy Kids IV does feature the voices of Elmo and Rickey Gervais, so it can’t be all bad, right? Yeah, you’re right. It most likely can be that bad. Sigh…

Also opening this week: The Last Circus (insane Spanish filmmaking at its finest), Griff The Invisible (Australian would-be superheroes finally come to the big screen), and One Day (the only place to see Anne Hathaway do a terrible English accent this week).

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