The teaser trailer for Todd Phillips’ The Hangover (Warner Bros., June 5) is online, and it succeeds in imparting testosteronized laughs, coming across as a frat-approved mash-up of wild hijinks somewhere between Old School, Very Bad Things and that episode of The Simpsons where Homer and Ned Flanders end up marrying cocktail waitresses in a drunken haze. From the unexpected Mike Tyson cameo to the fact that apparently Ed Helms spends a good portion of the movie suffering the effects of a knocked out tooth (I generally love when movies handle violence with actual consequences, be it horrific or comedic), I can get on board with the vicarious thrill of some bad decision making.
The red-band trailer for Bruno (Universal, May 15), Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat follow-up, is now online, and it promises another wild, semi-improvisational in-character romp into America’s hearts of darkness, as well as perhaps an answer to the age-old question: “How do you defend yourself against a man with two dildos?” The adopted black baby bit is provocative, to be sure, and the O.J. reference understandably gets a big reaction; it’ll be interesting to see if that’s a single throwaway line, or something mined for further comedy of uncomfortability.
The feature film directorial debut of R.W. Goodwin, who cut his teeth on The X-Files, Alien Trespass fancies itself a Matinee-style spoof of the old sci-fi films that featured rubber alien suits and other cheesy special effects. Stripped free of any subtextual significance, however, and lacking the breezy wit or clever execution that might otherwise provide a firm reason for its own standalone existence, the film, rather than coming off as fun and lighthearted, instead just feels sludgy, pointless and wearying.
Set in 1957, Alien Trespass opens with a bizarre framing device that provides an additional, needless scrim of separation from the material. The rest of the movie chronicles a fiery object from space that crashes into a mountaintop on the outskirts of the dusty California desert town of Mojave, bringing the threat of disaster to Earth. Out of this flying saucer escapes a murderous if humorously rendered creature — the Ghota, a tentacled blob bent on destroying all life forms on the planet. Seeking to track down this creature, a benevolent alien marshal from the same spaceship, Urp, possesses the body of local astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack), which leads to several confused encounters with Ted’s wife Lana (va-voomish, period perfect Jody Thompson).
Teenage sweethearts Dick (Andrew Dunbar) and Penny (Sarah Smyth) glimpse the Ghota and, along with their friend Cody (Aaron Brooks), try to warn the authorities. However, the local police, in the form of Officer Vernon (Robert Patrick) and
Chief Dawson (Dan Lauria), are by varying degrees disinterested skeptics and
mocking hornballs; nothing good can come from their involvement in the situation. With the help, then, of Tammy (Jenni Baird, above center), a waitress from the local diner, Urp/Ted sets out to save mankind, all while dealing with the curious low-grade electrical hum of sexual attraction that the erection in his pants keeps intermittently producing.
Working from a script by Steven Fisher, and a story by Fisher and James Swift, Goodwin trades in many of the production tricks of the era (rear projection, off-screen vaporizations and other action), and also uses a spectral-synth score to nice effect. But there’s no firm point of reference for the material — it’s not played straight enough to be purely a slice of nostalgic homage, nor is it arch enough to be a rib-nudging, good-natured spoof. The film is designed and shot in relatively realistic, if spare, fashion, but the Ghota, for instance, looks entirely silly — kind of like the mouth-foaming alien creatures from The Simpsons. This gap in tonal presentation would work if Alien Trespass were more loose-limbed, or ironic. But it’s not.
Furthermore, there’s nothing driving the movie palpably forward; Chief Dawson very much doesn’t want to investigate any of this alien nonsense (to the point that you keep half-expecting some sort of twist pay-off as to why, which never arrives), and the Ted/Urp character is abandoned for entirely too long during crucial stretches of the film. Myriad small details are off, too. At one point, after barking that, “This is official police business!,” Chief Dawson lets Lana jump in the front of his police cruiser as they peel off in final pursuit of Ted; also, Penny, who’s been reticent the entire movie, suddenly gets the urge to vocalize the idea of trailing folks, and ostensibly jumping right in harm’s way. It’s OK, I suppose, to just shrug and admire the slicked-back hair and creased khakis of the period, but nothing about this putative genre send-up is smart, starched or interesting. Like its stupid Ghota, it just sits there, like a blob. (Roadside Attractions, PG, 88 minutes)
The latest on the leaked digital online version of Wolverine, from The Wrap, is that it’s a month-old work print. The FBI is involved, along with the Motion Picture Association of America. And of course the studio itself has several of its own investigators working the beat, too — unsavory arm-twisting types, if they’re smart. All are hunkered down, chasing what is being called “at least a half dozen leads.” So they’ll collar someone, eventually. And the excuse will be how the movie was initially only copied for friends, and not meant to be shared, blah blah blah. If the person is in a position to cough up major money (not likely), they’ll be sued for that; otherwise, I like to imagine it’ll be like The Net, with Rupert Murdoch‘s tech Gestapo destroying the offending party’s online profiles, wiping out bank accounts and changing any and all annotations regarding their drug allergies. And yet…
There’s a part of me that… I don’t want to say identifies with, but maybe silently roots for the criminal underdog in a situation like this? I have to think I’m not alone in this regard. I know piracy is a huge problem and concern for the industry I cover (though the shakedowns over cell phones without cameras at all-media screenings three days before a film’s release have, mercifully, slowed), and I’m not daft enough to fail to recognize its impact on studios’ bottom lines. But with industry aligned against them, and all their marshaled resources, I guess I admire the anarchic, open-source, tech warrior spirit of those that would still try to enact massive duplication-for-profit schemes, because there’s clearly an element of fuck-you, catch-me-if-you-can competition to their endeavors. Hollywood makes all kinds of movies glamorizing master swindlers (Ocean’s Thirteen, Duplicity, et al), but when something like this is pulled on them they always turn to the feds, and start pulling all the strings that will assist them in future favorable protective legislation.
I guess I’d call it the Terry Benedict factor; in livelihood crimes of this type (i.e., no gunplay, kidnapping or violence, but clearly for profit), when the details are removed and they’re boiled down to their barest essence, there’s typically a hungry, entrepreneurial mover/schemer on one side and on the other someone who’s kind of a douche, or at least a rube. In this equation, Hollywood studios are the latter, plain and simple. And it’s not just a rich guy/poor guy thing; it has something to do with the fact that they haven’t instilled a proper cultural respect for what they do, and their products.