thefinaldestinationThe Final Destination (The Final Destination? The Final Destination?), reportedly the last entry in the nearly decade old horror franchise, is easily the least of the series and a pretty poor wrap up, if it is indeed the final film. The plot is the same as the other three films: The main character saves his friends and others via a premonition of impending disaster (this time at a car race), which they are able to avoid, but then he finds everyone is dying, anyway, in the order they should have died in the first place. If there’s anything vaguely original about this film, it’s that the filmmakers have taken what might be seen as a bold approach: They’ve made a direct to video style movie, which they’ve chosen to shoot in theatrical 3D. This insures that the only worthwhile aspect of the movie is the 3D, and that’s really barely enough to justify a matinee ticket. Yes, there are lots of people dying increasingly outlandish deaths, and there’s a lot of computer generated gore thrown about, but after a hospital scene in the final stretch of the movie, The Final Destination crosses the line from total absurdity to complete tedium. It’s a shame because the movie’s opening sequence is promising enough, but it’s downhill from there, way downhill.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR REAPER MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

terminatorsalvation

REVIEW ASSUMES YOU’VE SEEN AT LEAST ONE OF THE TERMINATOR MOVIES

The first half of Terminator Salvation, the fourth and latest cinematic attempt to revive the Terminator franchise, is fast paced, gritty fun, with plenty of man vs. robot mayhem, depicted with some pretty dazzling special effects. It’s set in 2018, before John Connor (Christian Bale, occasionally slipping into his Batman growl) has ascended to leadership of the resistance against Skynet, which has devastated the earth with nuclear attacks. Instead, Connor seems to be a respected but still marginalized figure in the resistance, though he has the support of “the people,” as it were. The resistance is on the verge of a major strike against Skynet headquarters in San Francisco, which Connor has misgivings about, but is overrided. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a death row prisoner named Marcus (Sam Worthington) executed 15 years before, wakes to find himself in the midst of a post-apocalyptic United States, and soon finds his way to a ruined Los Angeles, meeting up with two youths, one of whom is named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), future father of Connor. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the filmmakers came up with a decent set up, but didn’t bother to come up with a satisfactory conclusion. Instead, the second half, in particular the climax, settles for rehashing the climax of Terminator 2, minus any suspense whatsoever though with maximum (albeit PG-13) violence and destruction. This is pretty disappointing considering the time and expense, reportedly $200 million, that went into the making of Terminator Salvation. And you’re expecting any sort of story resolution, well, forget it, since this is a reboot, remember, and meant to be an entry way into one or more sequels. It raises more questions than it ultimately answers, though my central question after seeing the movie was this: Why do the trailers and even the toys for this movie give away a major plot twist involving one of the main characters? I imagine audiences would have guessed the twist, anyway, but the twist is revealed much later in the film than one would have been led to believe from the trailers. Plus, it’s treated as a big surprise in the movie, coming complete with a “Nooooooo!” The ending of the movie also had me rolling my eyes, as it felt more suitable to Terminator fan fiction than a official sequel. Oh, well, cool robots, anyway.

MONKEY RATING: THREE TERMINATOR MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

residentevildegenerationFirst full length CG rendered Resident Evil inspired movie is designed for fans of the series of games rather than the trio of films starring Milla Jovovich, with which it has no connection. Instead, it’s billed by the filmmakers as “Resident Evil 4.5,” a new story that takes place after the events of the fourth entry in the video game franchise, and stars Leon and Clare, characters from Resident Evil 2. Judged on its own merits, it’s an entertaining action horror movie, head and shoulders above the last two Resident Evil movies and most zombie movies in general, truth be told. The animation is pretty impressive for the most part, though the human characters still look notably strange and disorienting, especially compared to the borderline photorealistic representations of buildings, vehicles and backgrounds, not to mention the vivid renderings of the various monsters that pop up from time to time. If you’re new to the Resident Evil universe, some of the plot points will be lost on you, but basically all you need to know the zombies and monsters are the result of corporate developed viruses that have been unleashed on the public. Violence and general mayhem ensue. Some of the action gets a bit silly towards the very end, but in general, Resident Evil: Degeneration is a fun if non-essential ride, recommended mostly for fans of either the games or the films, or people jonesing for a zombie movie that doesn’t totally suck.

MONKEY RATING: TWO CG MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

punisherwarzoneThough it can be said that Lexi Alexander, director of Punisher: War Zone, has a flair for staging gory, hard-R action, it cannot be said this is enough to overcome an almost stupefyingly bad script. I saw it based on some positive early Internet buzz, but the lesson learned was: Don’t trust early positive Internet buzz. This is the third time the Punisher, a Marvel comic book character, has merited a movie, the first attempt being in 1989 with Dolph Lundgren, the second in 2004 with Thomas Jane and now in 2008 with Ray Stevenson. I can’t tell you how faithful or unfaithful it is to its comic book origins, but I can tell what this movie really reminds me of is yet another Death Wish movie. It features a main character whose family is destroyed (like in Death Wish), becomes a vigilante (like in Death Wish) and kills bad guys in brutal, yet creative ways (like in Death Wish). It’s also like Death Wish, well, at least like Death Wish 3, 4 and 5, in that it features absurdly over the top, grotesquely stereotyped 80’s style villains who appear to have wandered in Punisher: War Zone directly from the aforementioned films. In fact, the whole enterprise has a retro 80’s action picture feel, and that is by no means a compliment. The only reason this movie escapes my worst Monkey Rating is owing to some grimly amusing action scenes. Minus those, Punisher: War Zone is pretty punishing.

MONKEY RATING: FOUR VIGILANTE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

returntosleepawaycampRobert Hiltzik’s Return To Sleepaway Camp is a direct sequel to his 1983 movie Sleepaway Camp, one of the many, many summer camp slasher movies that followed in the wake of the original Friday The 13th, released in 1980. I’m pretty sure I deliberately skipped the original when it was first released to theatres, as by then I’d seen enough Friday The 13th knock-offs, but Sleepaway Camp has since developed a cult following mostly owing to its admittedly unforgettable ending. That said, Sleepaway Camp is certainly no model slasher film, being light years away from the original Halloween, the movie Friday The 13th was attempting to cash in on to begin with, but it’s reasonably entertaining for a low budget 80’s horror flick, and it’s almost a must see for horror film fans just for that strange ending. Return To Sleepaway Camp is set at the same summer camp a couple of decades later, and is soon plagued by a series of elaborately staged murders. What almost completely sinks this very tardy sequel, which is unrelated to the 80’s sequels, is the introduction of an overweight, obnoxious, bullying, seemingly mentally ill slob of a camper, Alan (Michael Gibney), who is so gross, cruel and over the top that it seems totally absurd and wrongheaded that the movie then decides you should have sympathy for him when campers and counselors alike begin to torment him in return. It’s also afflicted by one of the least surprising “surprise endings” I’ve seen in some time. For those looking for gore, there’s some third act violence and mayhem, but you’ll have to wade through a middle section where not much of anything seems to happen. It’s not really worth it. Issac Hayes has his last film role as “the Chef,” natch, though he only appears for a couple of scenes and then disappears before the bodies begin to pile up. I guess if you’re a fan of the original movie, and/or the two sequels that followed it (which I haven’t seen), then maybe Return To Sleepaway Camp will be worth a watch, provided your expectations aren’t very high. For all others, you may be better off saving your slasher movie dollars for the upcoming remakes of Friday The 13th and My Bloody Valentine (in 3-D, no less!).

MONKEY RATING: FOUR CAMPING MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MONKEY REVIEW: Saw V

October 26, 2008

Usually by the time a horror franchise has reached its fifth entry, it’s taking place in space, but Saw V takes place in the same grungy warehouse it seems to have been taking place in since the first movie. The original film was a effective thriller that worked up the kind of suspense that most modern so-called thrillers almost completely lack. I thought the second film was more of a retread, but the third one was surprisingly good, so I went to the midnight showing of last year’s Saw IV, which was ruined by inept execution (no pun intended). So now there’s Saw V, and…it’s not bad. It’s less gory than previous entries, and it seems to have been made with fanboys in mind, so there’s a lot of backstory, so much so that this almost qualifies as Saw: The Beginning. I suppose the other way to look at the latter quality is that the filmmakers are working diligently to fill in the numerous plot holes contained in the previous Saw movies, while finding ways to keep Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the serial killer who designs elaborate traps to “rehabilitate” other evil-doers and who in fact died in Saw III, involved somehow. Bell created a memorable horror character in the first few films, but he now appears exclusively in flashbacks, serving mostly to fill in the aforementioned plot holes while passing the baton on to a police detective, Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), whom Jigsaw has been grooming to continue his work. Mandylor, who can otherwise be engaging and charismatic, hasn’t been given much to work with so far in the series, so Hoffman isn’t nearly as interesting as Jigsaw. Mostly Hoffman and Jigsaw exchange a copious amount of dramatically whispered dialogue. The filmmakers need a more compelling character to carry on the series (yes, Virginia, there will be a Saw VI), or else the Saw movies will be dead in the water, even for diehard fans, enough of whom showed up this weekend to make it $30 million. It was not the number one movie, however, as another horror movie, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, beat it out this time. Also worth mentioning: Julie Benz, one of my favorite character actors of late and one of the reasons I paid to see Saw V, stars as Brit, one of Jigsaw’s victims, and she elevates the movie every time she appears.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

As far as sequel ideas go, putting stoner comedy duo Harold and Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn), who are Korean and Indian, respectively, in Guantanamo Bay after they are mistaken for terrorists on a flight to Amsterdam seemed like it could result in some comedy gold. It doesn’t, however, as its satirical jabs at culture and race in post-9/11 America are surprisingly, well, blunted, but it’s frequently very funny, and its main characters are amiable enough to pull audiences through what is a very spotty movie indeed. It gets a good deal of its requisite gross-out humor out of the way in its first few minutes, thankfully, and the rest of the movie is basically a series of misadventures, some funnier than others, as Harold and Kumar, post-escape, try to make it to Texas, where they hope a well-connected friend will help them clear their names. As with the first film, Neil Patrick Harris playing “Neil Patrick Harris,” a drug-addled, hard drinking version of himself is a comic highlight. I’m giving this three monkeys only because the overall mood of the movie is so good-natured and because it does contain some pretty funny moments, but if you were not a fan of the first movie, you will probably want to lower the rating down another monkey.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)