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F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story (2019)

Notorious German director Uwe Boll hasn’t made a movie since 2016 and says he is done, retired, and not turning back to movies. What’s somebody like me, who has spilled thousands upon thousands of words on the man, to do? Why watch a feature documentary on the man and his unorthodox methods. F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story is potentially the “last” Boll film, so it felt right to review it for my ongoing Boll retrospective and as a sendoff for a man I’ve chronicled for fourteen years.

The documentary also confirmed for me several speculative questions I’ve posed over the long course of my reviewing of his catalogue of hits and misses and misses. There is a reason he gets bigger name actors like Ben Kingsley and Jason Statham, or at least did for a while, and that’s because he doesn’t cast his movies until a few weeks before they are set to shoot. Then he asks for actors that are available his shooting dates and offers a check, and it’s sudden but it can work. Even he admits it’s a crazy process because the actors have no rehearsal time, you might not even get people right for the roles, but it’s only a problem if one cares about that sort of thing, and then he laughs knowingly. I’ve also suspected for some time that the screenplays for Boll movies are incomplete or heavily rewritten on the spot, and this is confirmed as well. Guinevere Turner is a fine writer, having worked on several Mary Harron movies including American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, and the recently released Charlie Says. She is also the sole credited writer to Bloodrayne. To say this movie is below her standards is an understatement. As she details, only twenty percent resembles her original script. But, she notes, Boll paid in full. If you’re going to be relegated to schlock cinema, at least get paid for it. In general, Boll flashes disdain for what he feels are the excesses of filmmaking, wasted time to work on nuance or camera setups for dynamic shooting. The cast say they rarely get more than two takes even if they beg for more. Sometimes Boll won’t even be looking at the monitor as a scene plays out. His producer instincts dominate his writer/director instincts, and it becomes a product to mash out.

Perhaps the most insane example of this was in 2010 when Boll elected to shoot three films simultaneously. He got a budget for the third Bloodrayne movie, which was finally set during the time period of the video game, Nazi Germany. Boll says he secured financing by promising two movies for the price of one, shooting the specific parody Blubberella on the same sets, with the same actors, and following the same plot. Actress Lindsay Hollister was on set and scribbling joke ideas with the Bloodrayne 3 screenplay. When it came time to writing the script for Blubberella, she assumed an actual writer would be utilized. When she sat down for a read through, she was shocked to discover the Blubberrella “shooting script” was merely her copy of the Bloodrayne script with her notes in the margins. The Bloodrayne movie was the priority and had to look the best, so it got the majority of the time, and then according to Hollister they would get a take or two to film the Blubberella version and just go with it. It didn’t matter if the movie didn’t make sense. It only mattered that it was made (“I just have to get it to 77 minutes,” Boll candidly told Hollister). On top of this insane setup, several weeks into production Boll added a third film, live-action recreations for Auschwitz, detailing the horrors of the gas chambers. He had to keep track of three separate film productions simultaneously making use of the same schedules. It’s not a surprise that the films didn’t turn out well, but just imagine juggling tone, going from a cheesy genre movie, to a goofy satire of that cheesy genre movie, to a deadly serious Holocaust recount. That would make my head explode and I only watched all three movies.

As a documentary, F*** You All seems too conflicted with resurrecting Boll’s image. The real ammunition this story has are the crazy, juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes that should spill from baffled actors. There are a few but this currency is too quickly depleted. Instead writer/director Sean Patrick Shaul (who worked on Boll’s 2013 film, Assault on Wall Street) is trying to break open the contradictions of Boll, the man who seems to love being a director but not actually directing, who seems to love making movies but doesn’t want to put that much effort into making them better. That’s fine territory but too often Shaul seems to mitigate the director’s own bad behavior as simply his interpersonal style. He provokes outrage and has no filter and thrives on making people uncomfortable, but he doesn’t know when to quit. There’s one gross moment where Boll is bullying and belittling actress Natassia Malthe (the replacement Rayne for the sequels) for not going naked in his movie. He presses her that she’s done nudity before and should be volunteering to expose herself again. He says the audience comes to his movies for “blood and boobs,” and Malthe concurs with him, recognizing what kind of movie she is starring in, but that doesn’t give him entitlement over her body. We’re repeatedly reminded by cast that they would work again with Boll in a heartbeat or genuinely enjoy him (Malthe is not interviewed) because he’s direct and gets things done, albeit not always the best of things. It feels a bit like trying to convince your skeptical pals that your drunk, obnoxious friend is really a good guy if you just got to know him. Boll is an interesting subject. I just wish the filmmaker had probed further to better examine those contradictions that make him who he is.

Boll lives for publicity stunts and perhaps none was bigger than when he challenged four of his critics to a public boxing match. It’s hard to think of any other situation where a much-derided filmmaker was literally challenging his critics to a physical fight and they miraculously took him up on it. Apparently, the critics thought it was going to be a silly joust and more a stunt. Oh no. Boll had been practicing for months, taking breaks on sets to get in a 5K run, and he’d been an amateur boxer for most of his life. He pummeled the out-of-shape film critics (Sam Peckinpah would be proud). Was he seeking vengeance against his tormentors or was it all a stunt? It’s hard to say. The legend of Uwe Boll and the actual man get blurry, as Boll would lean into his infamy as the “worst filmmaker ever” to gather further worldwide attention and further funding.

Boll has successfully transitioned into the restaurant industry, forming one of the most acclaimed dining establishments in all of Canada. He’s even stated how if a dish needs three days to be properly prepared, then that’s what it takes, which seems like the opposite of his approach to filmmaking. Perhaps that’s a sign that his passion has transferred from film to food and that his would-be retirement will keep. He talks about how the rise in streaming platforms has mitigated the DVD and home video markets, directly siphoning away the funds that he would take advantage of for his slate of movies. He says filmmaking is no longer a good investment and thus he cannot continue. This might be true specifically for Boll’s avenues for cash flow, but it sure hasn’t stopped the influx of genre and exploitation indies. Take a look at Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding site and they’re inundated with low-budget horror productions (I’ve supported a few myself). I do think Boll could find a market if he desired, even if his Kickstarter for Rampage 3 failed to meet its target. I also don’t think Boll will stick with his retirement. Much like Kevin Smith and Steven Soderbergh, other filmmakers who swore retirement, I think this period will be but a breath, a pause until Boll finds something that inspires him.

However, if this is his final stamp on the world of filmmaking, I feel like some summation is in order. I’ve been watching and reviewing this man’s movies for over fourteen years, specifically seeking out each new release to add to what amounts to a would-be Master’s thesis of criticism about one of the most reviled directors to ever work in Hollywood. Is Uwe Boll the worst filmmaker of all time? I can answer decisively…. no, he is not. For all the vitriol he provokes, some of his own doing, he has a competency that others cannot even hope to achieve, like Neil Breen or Mark Region (After Last Season might be the most painful movie I’ve seen). Boll definitely has his shortcomings as a writer and director, which his own cast and crew will agree, but I would love to have the man as a producer. He’s a born hustler and his ability to gather necessary resources and money is what kept him in business for decades. He could be a modern-day Roger Corman. If this is the end of Uwe Boll, Director, then it’s been a long, strange journey, and one that has given me reflection on my own relationship to filmmaking and film criticism. To quote, of all people, the band Fall Out Boy, thanks for the memories, Uwe, even if they weren’t so good.
See you again?

Nate’s Grade: C

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Rampage: President Down (2016)

rampage-president-down_poster_goldposter_com_1-jpg0o_0l_800w_80qIn the close for my review of the awful 2014 hostage thriller Rampage: Capital Punishment, I was fairly prescient with a concern that sat in the pit of my stomach:

“I fear Uwe Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk.”

Flash to 2015, and Boll and Fletcher are pushing a Kickstarter to raise funds in order to make a third (and final?) Rampage movie that will be guaranteed to be “the film we want to make, and you will want to see.” It seems that the requested $56,000 was to fund a climactic action sequence that would “leave the streets of Washington ruined, in a sequence more explosive than anything scene before in the Rampage trilogy.” It did not meet its target goal, and Boll’s response was titled, “F you all.” Those discerning folks of the Internet couldn’t stop Boll and his ridiculously misapplied love and devotion to the Rampage series, and so my dire warning has come true. The only good thing about Rampage: President Down is it might be the merciful end of this merciless franchise.

003f5364Bill Williamson (Fletcher) has come out of hiding and made big news. He assassinates the United States’ president, vice president, and Secretary of Defense, and inexplicably goes back into hiding in the woods. FBI agents Vincent Jones (Ryan McDonell), James Molokai (Steve Baran), and Murray (Scott Patey) are on the hunt to find out who is responsible, and they’re shocked to discover Bill is alive and well. Not only that he’s a new father, sneaking in visits with his child and baby mama (Crystal Lowe, a Boll acting reappearance stretching all the way back to 2000’s Sanctuary). Bill is making one final stand and has deadly plans for the government agents looking to bring him to justice.

As much as the subtitle was misleading from 2014’s Capital Punishment, with a picture of the U.S. Capitol building that was never featured, this one may prove to be even more of a misleading promise. President Down makes it sound like the president is under immediate threat, and he was, at the ten-minute mark. At that point Bill has taken out the president, the vice president, and even the secretary of defense, which means they must have had the absolute least qualifies team of Secret Service agents. It’s never explained how exactly he accomplishes this feat or whether suspicions creep toward the Speaker of the House (line of succession, folks). You would expect the entire nation to be on high alert, that a manhunt would be under full swing with every agency utilizing very even means to capture the culprit and bring them to justice. If you worried about the NSA spying on people and the defense department’s predilection for of drone warfare, just imagine after a wave of high-profile assassinations at the top of the executive branch. And yet the frantic world of political instability is manifested by two or three mediocre FBI agents who then, when successfully identifying THE U.S. PRESIDENT’S KILLER, go at it alone and miserably. This world lacks any sense of urgency and any sense of reality. The only reason a writer would bump off the U.S. president in the story is to deal with the consequences, and weirdly the consequences almost feel entirely unrelated. The FBI is tracking Bill but they could have been doing that already after he murdered over 100 people. Oh, I’m sorry, he was so remarkably clever that he faked his own death. There is no real chaos at least as it pertains to the movie’s plot. We hear offhand news broadcasts about the world spiraling out of control, possibly nuclear attacks on ISIS. It’s all pretty vague. However, our characters just go about their duty like it was a boring Tuesday. What’s the point of toppling the president if it isn’t significant to the story?

The movie suffers from a plot that struggles to fill out a feature-length running time, stretching this manhunt and then providing a climactic confrontation that doesn’t so much feel climactic as it does a relief from the prior crushing monotony. The first hour is built around the FBI agents getting tracking down Bill but there’s no reason this manhunt even needs to be as long as it is, and that’s because of the contrivance of the magic facial recognition software. If you’re going to through in that device, it might as well find him immediately rather than stretch out this storyline and have to reboot the system to reach the inevitable recognition. It’s delaying what everyone already anticipates, so why wait? The manhunt isn’t even that interesting because it’s watching three stock FBI characters stare at computer screens and occasionally engage in their own political debate. I think one of them might have been a mole who was sympathetic to Bill, but I can’t say for certain because the copy I watched had German subtitles for the onscreen texts. If this is the case, and it might not be, then revealing this mole at the half-hour mark is far too early and robs the film of greater mystery and suspense. This isn’t The Departed. There’s far too little that happens for the first hour. Finally, once the FBI agents raid Bill’s cabin, something does happen, and it’s slow-mo combat and explosions. Why did only two agents try and take down America’s most prolific murderer? Why does the FBI not send out a drone and just blow up the entire area? The ensuing action is pretty pointless. Boll also opens the movie with a flash-forward of this cabin assault, which confuses the timeline of events but also pads out his otherwise meager running time. There’s not enough plot here to justify a feature film and adding more Bill rants is not the answer.

The biggest problem with this series has been twofold: the empty void of its central protagonist and the lack of cohesive or, at times, even existent commentary. I reiterate what I said in my Capital Punishment review: “Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous.” Boll thinks he’s really saying deep things through his mouthpiece but his sputtering diatribes lack direction and articulation. It’s like making a trilogy of movies about the guy who yells at passing cars. Bill chastises the media and his online followers for losing sight: “You’re obsessed with violence. You focus on my body count rather than what I was telling you.” Gee, has there ever been a spree killer that enacted radical social change? I’m fairly certain Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t gunning down innocent people for trivial crimes as practicing yoga (that freaking happened in Capital Punishment! — not the MLK part).

Bill is an attention-seeking hypocrite with a healthy martyr complex and an oversized ego, but where is he really fails is that he’s boring. There’s not one interesting thing about this guy even after three full movies. Boll tries to give him depth through the hackneyed addition of Bill becoming a father with a… fan? It’s not really explained, and Bill does fall into what comedian Paul F. Tompkins dubbed “new dad” sotto voice. Does having a child in this world cause him to reflect? Does it change his perspective? Does it make him think of the hundreds of fathers and mothers that he took from this Earth? There are no insights provided at all except that he occasionally cries. The entire baby mama storyline is a pathetic attempt to humanize a remorseless killer, but it’s even more pathetic as a last-ditch attempt to inject some semblance of life into this empty vessel.

The other major issue that goes directly back to the start of this terrible film franchise is that the violence lacks any sort of relevant commentary. The movie isn’t bereft of social commentary but it’s a messy shotgun blast without a clear direction. Boll has a lot of anger directed at government overreach with modern surveillance and he also takes time to re-litigate the Iraq War and ethically murky War on Terror. There are points to be made here, relevant, searing, and eye-opening points, but Boll cannot focus his thoughts beyond ire and brimstone. I think he wants Bill to be a wake-up call but for what exactly? He points to vague things about income inequality and the rights of the people being taken away, but there’s a dangerous opaque quality to these charges, especially when the end result is that The People are stirred to take up arms and become spree killers. Is random murder of innocent human beings the solution to income inequality? At the conclusion of the movie, a news anchor informs us that George W. Bush, the CEOs of Microsoft, GE, and Facebook have been murdered by The People, along with the likes of singers Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears (hey girl, you still got it). Regardless of what you think about their music, do these people deserve to be the first against the wall in a revolution? That seems pretty petty and a wasted grievance.

1106Boll’s misguided view of his lead character can best be summarized by Bill’s baby mama. She’s tear-stricken to discover news that her man has been declared dead by authorities, and she takes great umbrage at their choice of vocabulary: “He wasn’t a terrorist! He was just doing what needed to be done!” It’s fortunate I wasn’t drinking something at the time of this dialogue line because it would have been spat all over my computer screen. What an immensely asinine rationalization. Of course this dude is a terrorist! He literally terrorizes the nation, mowing down dozens and dozens of innocent people, rising in infamy with a record-breaking body count of wreckage. This guy is a definition of a terrorist, although I guess he’s not Middle Eastern of Muslim and so might not fit the profile for some. The revolution was only one yoga-practitioner away from being realized, we just never knew about it before (non-terrorist) St. Bill.

I’ll never understand why Boll hitched his wagon to such a depraved and empty central figure. With the first Rampage film I wondered if Boll was trying to understand the disaffected angry male voice out there, to try and put the audience in the shoes of a human being who would commit horrifying acts of butchery as a means of lashing out against a system that made him feel inconsequential. That wasn’t Rampage, a nihilistic and tiresome exercise in shock value that was mistaken as commentary. The 2014 sequel only reinforced the flaws of Bill and his rise-up manifesto, and once again Boll’s story dawdled with contrived false tension until an explosive climax that lingered on the violence, celebrating the carnage. If Bill wants to complain about the people’s love of violence he might want to direct his fury at his own director. With President Down, Bill is dead and his message has inspired the populace to take control of their lives via the conduit of indiscriminate murder and terrorism. I think the message may have gotten a tad lost along the way. The Rampage films were never good movies but they were even worse intellectual exercises, and I worry about people who charitably refer to them as the “good Boll movies.” They’re not, and as one of the world’s foremost experts on the catalogue of Boll, I can legitimately say he has made some almost-good movies (Attack on Wall Street and Tunnel Rats). I beg audiences not to give Boll an easy pass. If this is the end of the franchise, it goes out with a whimper and no lasting impression beyond angry, misplaced rhetoric and violent nihilism masquerading as social commentary. Follow the lead of the Kickstarter folks and steer clear of this mighty mess.

Nate’s Grade: D

Rampage: Capital Punishment (2014)

MV5BMTA3MjEzMzI0ODheQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg0NzI4NTIx._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_Rampage was one of the better-received films from director Uwe Boll, with several critics and members of the public declaring it his best work, something that could actually be qualified as “good.” Despite tracking Boll from the beginning, I could not count myself amongst their numbers. I found Rampage to be a rather empty exercise in shock violence that grew tedious and misguided as it continued. A sequel to an intellectually empty and violent film minus meaningful subtext or commentary was not exactly what I would have requested.

Years after his murderous spree in a small town, Bill (Brendan Fletcher) is back with another “important” message to deliver to the masses. He storms a TV news station, rounds u a number of hostages after murdered an equal number, and appoints egotistical anchor Chip (Lochlyn Munro) as his go-between with the police. He insists his message must be heard. You can guess already whether it’s worth the fuss.

brenden-fletcher-mediumRampage 2: Capital Punishment is an exercise in testing your patience with its aimless nihilism. It’s a formless diatribe against all the world’s evils. Topics include the NSA and spying, the war in Iraq, Bush’s status as a war criminal, oil companies, drone strikes, Edward Snowden, Obamacare, the media, reality TV, global warming, Wall Street, and just about every other political target you can think of from an angry reactionary with a healthy sense of outrage. It’s not that these topics are beyond scrutinizing or that Bill might have some legitimate points as he’s skipping around from subject to subject, but he’s too scatterbrained, inarticulate, and just a poor mouthpiece for the revolution he wants to inspire. Bill is no different than your garden-variety college freshman that thinks they have suddenly come across amazing psychic insights into the rotten core of humanity after one political science class. I do find Bill’s moral championing of stricter gun control laws to be somewhat comically disingenuous. This is the problem with Bill as a character and his ongoing rampages. He’s all sputtering outrage without a filter and direction, without honing his fury. It’s easy to tune this guy out because he sounds no more particularly articulate than any other person who legitimately uses the word “manifesto” in daily life. Chances are if anyone in your life refers to something they wrote, un-ironically, as a “manifesto,” get a new friend pronto.

Here’s an example of the overall aimlessness of Bill’s indignation. One of his hostages is quivering in yoga pants. He asks if she does yoga and she nods her head. He demands she perform some yoga poses at gunpoint. “Yoga is not good for the world. It is gymnastics for the egocentric,” he argues. Then he shoots her. He shoots this woman just because she does yoga. Huh? It’s not like this character was going to have any semblance of a moral high ground considering he’s coming off a spree killing with over 100 victims in his wake, but it makes any political points he may attempt null and void. Want one more example of just how incoherently rambling Bill’s diatribes are? Amongst his targets is the 2012 film Lincoln and Steven Spielberg himself (really!). He declares that, “You think the Civil War happened to free the slaves and billionaire Spielberg makes you dumber. The reality is every war is about money, and the stupid people must die because the elite decided it.” I cannot believe this guy has the number of online devotee he has because he’s not charismatic, he’s not articulate, and he’s definitely not insightful. I got bored listening to him. Sadly, that’s what a good majority of the film ends up being: listening to this guy endlessly complain. It’s like the guy who yells on the street corner just got a bigger stage but his act is the same.

One of my major criticisms with Boll’s first Rampage was that it was too limited and without providing any relevant commentary to go with its violence. The sequel doesn’t make much progress. Every victim that Ben shoots has to be given a tighter slow-mo shot so we can better soak up the squib hit of his or her chest exploding with blood. At least Ben’s violence is channeled to a single source rather than unleashing it against the denizens of an entire town, but his message is a messy shotgun blast of social ills. It’s angry and nihilistic but without anything to add. If there is a cogent message it flies completely under the radar and gets lost in all the rambling rhetoric and macho posturing.

Let’s talk about the bait and switch nature of the movie’s title as well as the DVD cover advertising. When you see a masked gunman standing next to a burning Capital building and the title proclaims “Capital Punishment,” I think 99 out of 100 people would correctly assume the majority of the action takes place in D.C. and would be directed at elected officials. Oh how wrong those 99 people would be (the 100th was just dumb luck, so don’t get too smug). The entire plot revolves around Bill holding a TV station hostage. That’s it. No government building, no government officials, nothing even remotely related to Washington D.C., especially when the local gas stations are for “Canada Petrol.” Before viewing, I assumed that Rampage 2 was going to be a combination of the first film and Boll’s nearly good Assault on Wall Street, bringing a populist fury to the lawmakers in Washington. It seems like the next step on Boll’s populist journey. Instead, most of the film is a series of ugly vignettes of Bill terrorizing the frightened station employees by gunpoint, demanding his interview and an airing of his nihilistic rhetoric. Even at a little over 85 minutes, the film feels laboriously padded out and stretched thin. At one point, Chip accidentally breaks the DVD Bill demanded be broadcast. The movie literally spends almost eight minutes on this subject, like it’s a great uptick in suspense. “I’m sure he’s got another one,” a SWAT officer says. “He will not shoot you, trust me,” he says, unhelpfully. Lo and behold, he does have an additional DVD copy. “Always have a duplicate,” he says. Wasn’t that worth spending valuable time on?

f0RcIK5rvwYeJ1EbqWd6M0BvZs1Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) returns to the completely underwritten role of Bill, more uncontrollable mouthpiece than anything resembling a person. He’s effectively peeved but he still doesn’t come across as that threatening a screen presence, which is saying something considered he’s carrying high-powered assault weapons. Munro (Scary Movie) feels like he just got the call minutes before filming. He seems like he’s constantly judging what he should be doing in every scene; perhaps that’s a beneficial sign of his performance since his man is playing it on the fly in a hostage situation. His long speech to the camera as a news anchor is tiresome, circuitous philosophical vomit, which also summarizes most of the dialogue. The one amusing aspect from casting is that Boll himself plays Chip’s advantageous and morally unscrupulous news director. He’s thrilled with the ratings and attention the station is getting. You decide if this is some sort of meta commentary on Boll and his penchant for rolling with the punches.

I fear Boll thinks that there is a level of audience attachment to his spree killer that simply doesn’t exist. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s not even an engaging character by any generous metric and that’s because he’s just a stand-in for tedious ideology. He’s a mouth and a trigger finger, and that’s all Bill is, in no compelling manner. I worry that Boll will continue to insert Bill into new settings, have him round up some innocent people, and then we’ll watch him sputter for an hour about whatever cultural and political misdeeds are currently bugging Boll. I worry that the promise of “Capital Punishment” inherent in the title will really just lead to a third Rampage film with this promise actually, finally, followed through. Generally, I just worry that the world will have to suffer more abuse from further appearances by Bill, the world’s most irritating psychopath who loves to hear himself talk. The scariest part is that some people will actually think this is good. You might want to reconsider your friendship with these people too, especially if they also use the word “manifesto.”

Nate’s Grade: D

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2011)

It took five years and three movies, but notorious film director Uwe Boll has finally gotten to the original time period of the Bloodrayne video game. The popular game concerns a lithe, redheaded half-vampiric lass killing nefarious Nazis in World War II. You would have thought that would make for a decent starting point. But Boll instead took his time, possibly always envisioning a trilogy to due the character and his storytelling ambition proper service. Or it was just a way to make more money. So after stops in 18th-century Romania and the Wild West, Rayne comes home, so to speak in Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. What if somebody was adapting the Grand Theft Auto franchise into a film and took Boll’s dawdling approach? The first film would probably start with horses and buggies.

Rayne (Natassia Malthe), our favorite dhampir, is back at slaying them dead. She teams up with Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher) and his band of resistance fighters on the Eastern front. They rescue one train filled with prisoners and get into a shootout with Commandant Ekhart Brand (Michael Paré). But Rayne makes the unfortunate mistake of biting the Commandant before impaling the guy. She has unknowingly turned the Nazi officer into a vampire like her, one that can walk in daylight. You would think after 200 years of existence she would have a handle on this. The Commandant is educated in the ways of the vampire by a mad scientist, Dr. Mangler (Clint Howard), who enjoys torturing human and vampire alike for science. At one point the doc says, while slicing up a living body,” Vampires no longer have any bonds to the moral laws of man.” That seems like a pot/kettle situation to me. The Commandant assembles his own undead army of vampire soldiers. Rayne feels responsible for this ugly mess and vows to kill the Commandant again and to a satisfying degree of dead this time.

For a while, Bloodrayne III looks like it might be the best in the trilogy, admittedly a dubious honor. Despite all my misgivings, Bloodrayne III almost works on its own lowered-expectation exploitation genre level. Almost. The campy combination of Nazis and vampires is a wild premise, though hardly original, and should reap some ripe and schlocky exploitation entertainment. The locations in Croatia are terrific and add just enough authenticity for a story about a vampire lady killing Nazis. In fact one sequence plays like Boll’s take on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, involving a tavern showdown where people play a tense game of secret identities. There are moments that work, little bursts of promise, but they get reaped all too quickly. Boll’s action choreography is sadly limited in scope and editing. He sticks too close to his characters, never allowing for complicated tussles or expanding the scope of the action. There are a few serviceable explosions, some minor gore effects, but Boll does nobody any favor when the action is too brief and brittle. Everything feels pared down so most of the fights involve minimal players and the sequences themselves mostly give way to redundant posturing.

The failings of Bloodrayne III are roughly the same failings that dogged Bloodrayne II: Boll does not embrace his film’s inherent cheesiness. I wrote about 2007’s Bloodrayne: Deliverance: “Boll seems uneasy about embracing its supernaturally campy potential. Bloodrayne II has little blood, zero gore, no nudity, no sex, and a pitifully scant amount of action. In other words, it’s missing all of the exploitation elements that make a movie like Bloodrayne II worth watching.” While Boll has seen fit to correct the absence of certain genre elements, notably blood and boobs, he still cannot seize the pulpy premise into Grand Guignol. Nazi vampires, an immortal Hitler, a 200-year-old ass-kicking woman with signature arm-blades AND Clint Howard as a mad Nazi scientist and this is the best you can do? That’s unacceptable. The supernatural potential is wasted here. Rayne’s vampire side is barely utilized. She bites people, she jumps high once, but there’s nothing really vampiric about her beside one scene where she complains about having to drink pig’s blood. She might as well be anything else if you’re not going to take advantage of what makes a vampire a vampire. At one point, the Commandant turns his best tracker into a vampire for the purposes of finding Rayne (her secret hideout turns out to be a not very discreet large castle). That idea had great promise, all things considered, but like most of the other fights, it’s one-and-done. Rayne takes out the guy and we move along. Rayne is betrayed by one of the brothel girls who has her eyes set on running the business (“You’re a cocksucking entrepreneur,” someone declares, though I wouldn’t put that exact terminology on a resume). She gets turned into a vampire too. All right, she could work as a character that could get close to Rayne. But then she too is dispatched with mercurial swiftness. Why the hurry? Bloodrayne III runs a total 72 minutes before end credits. The film could have used a lot more fleshing out, and it could have benefited from being less serious with something so flatly ridiculous.

It wouldn’t be a Boll movie without the whiplash-inducing shifts in tone. One second we’re dwelling on the campy idea of Herr Hitler becoming a powerful vampire (there’s even a goofy dream sequence where Rayne is terrorized by Adolph with fangs) and the next minute the film descends into soft-core porn territory. Rayne visits a brothel to get an oiled massage, because apparently being a centuries-old undead slayer of evil can really cause some killer knots that only hookers are properly trained to knead away. Anyway, Rayne saves one of the brothel girls from an abusive Nazi john, and the women of the brothel wish to show their gratitude via some sex “on the house.” We’re then treated to a solid four minutes of heavy breathing and gauzy soft-focus shots of hands, nipples, and crevices. To Boll’s credit, it’s on par with most soft-core porn productions. When Rayne is beating the Nazi john she becomes a feminist mouthpiece: “I can’t punish you for the legions of women who have been brutalized by men, but I’ll give it my best shot.” If Sucker Punch proved anything, it’s hard to stand on a feminist soapbox when your characters are pure male fantasy figures. The onscreen lesbian tryst would fit the context of the film better if Boll kept a continuity of tawdry sensuality. I don’t recall any other lesbian leanings in previous entries but I suppose spontaneous lesbians/opportune bisexuality just goes with direct-to-DVD territory. The only other element of sexuality occurs late in Bloodrayne III, like ten minutes to credits. Rayne and Nathaniel decide it’s time to get it on. Oh, did I mention that they come to this decision while in the back of a German transport truck on the way to Berlin. Nonetheless, an awkward and deeply unerotic sex scene follows before their rescue. They appear to be making the most of their time, though curiously both participants leave their fingerless gloves on while they copulate. I call it “hobo lovemaking.”

Boll doesn’t seem to understand what a truly juicy concept vampire Nazis are so we are treated to a lot of talking. But it’s not talking that really establishes character, setting, or plot; it’s mostly a jumble of self-aggrandizing, hyperbolic asides as heroes and villains are constantly reconfirming the stakes. Vampire Nazis. Trust us, we get it. But alas, the Commandant keeps gripping his fists and speaking about being “power incarnate” and how everyone shall bow to his power and how he’s “the prodigal son of the Third Reich,” which I don’t think is the proper analogy to apply. Dr. Mangler (too on-the-nose or an attempt to reference Dr. Mengele? You be the judge) will not let any situation to bray about the obvious go to waste, sometimes with peculiar anachronisms. Over the course of the film, this talkative evil scientist will reference Shakespeare, say “the world is your oyster,” and even, “The times they are a changin’, gyspy.” He even slams the father of penicillin, saying, “Alexander Fleming had his fungi. I have [Rayne].” But the worst offenders have to be Rayne and Nathaniel. At one point they bellow, “He’s not just a vampire! He’s a vampire with an entire German army behind him!” You know, in case you couldn’t grasp the subtleties of the narrative. Rayne is given to long passages of voice over where we get to listen to her wax poetic about man’s inhumanity to man, the cycle of violence, and other hilarious grasps at being mistaken as having, you know, depth or thoughts. This is the same character who ends the film saying, “Guten tach, mother fuckers!” Yeah, this one’s a regular Rodin.

The film is populated entirely with Boll’s stock players, so you know the acting returns will be fairly diminished. Malthe (Elektra) returns for her second go-round as the titular half-vampire half-human heroine. For what reason, I could not say. Perhaps the former Maxim model had a large gas bill one winter. Malthe hasn’t advanced much as an actress in the layover between sequels. She fills out a bodice heavenly, but her acting is about as emotionless and dryly ineffectual as a corpse. Speaking of, Malthe looks deathly pale in the film with alabaster skin. Apparently in the 60 years since the events of Bloodrayne II, she decided to keep the cleavage-accentuated fighting outfits but lose her skin tone and her heretofore signature red hair. But fear not video game aficionados because this Rayne has streaks of bright red amongst her otherwise jet black tresses. I suppose she found the one Hot Topic open on the Eastern front. Malthe is a fine-looking woman who will look the part, no matter what improbable form-fitting outfit she chooses to slay evil in, until she opens her mouth and destroys the illusion. There’s a reason not too many Maxim models have transitioned over into being award-winning actresses. To be fair, the Rayne character is mostly defined by costuming and weaponry. Don’t believe me? Read the user reviews by fanboys and see what they quibble over most.

It wouldn’t be a Boll film without his lucky charm, Paré (11 Boll film appearances!). The plainspoken actor was actually a fine fit in Bloodrayne II as a cowpoke. He’s not so well a good fit as an evil Nazi officer. Paré is never truly threatening in any capacity as a Nazi or a vampire. That’s pretty sad. He’s given tough guy things to say, and he bites people, but he never comes across as menacing. He’s letting the uniform do the acting for him. Likewise, Howard (first Boll appearance since 2003’s House of the Dead) gets lost in the broad generalization of his character. Howard always seems like he’s on the verge of breaking into third person. He seems lost in a daze too often. Howard comes across as more Igor than mad scientist. He’s definitely not going to be one the scientists other countries offer asylum for at war’s end.

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich could have been a ridiculously yet enjoyably campy B-movie that knew how to play to its strengths – vampire Nazis, attractive woman killing vampire Nazis. You would think that salaciously junky concept would write itself. The problem is that Boll seems to have made a movie that seemed like it would write itself. It’s not enough to just have a handful of genre elements (vampires, Hitler, lesbians!), you have to present those elements in an appealing manner. The premise is workable but the plot, characters, action, and tone are not given necessary attention. I never thought I would say this, but there’s just not enough holding together a movie about vampire Nazis. The dialogue is mostly characters talking in circles, rehashing what should be obvious, explaining why the bad guys should be threats when they fail to be credible onscreen. The film might be the best of the ongoing trilogy, but what exactly is that saying? Barely covering 75 minutes, with negligible action and an overall rushed pace, Bloodrayne III is a sterling example of disposable entertainment that hasn’t even been given the necessary components to be “entertainment.” Instead it’s just eminently disposable. The saddest part is knowing it’s only so long before this character gets resurrected for a fourth movie. Perhaps by then Boll will have figured out what to do with his vampire-killing hottie. Fourth time’s the charm, right?

Nate’s Grade: C-

Rampage (2009)

When I heard that Uwe Boll was writing and directing a movie called Rampage, my thoughts immediately went to the 1980s arcade game of the same name. In the game you played as one of various classic movie monsters, like King Kong or Godzilla, and the mission was to obliterate a city building by building and avoid the military forces trying to take you down (edit: later turned into a 2018 movie starring The Rock). At first I thought there was no way that Boll could raise a budget big enough for a giant monster movie, then I paid closer attention to Boll’s Rampage and discovered it only had one cost-effective monster — man. Boll’s film revolves around a single man massacring a small town. Most surprising of all, Rampage is actually earning Boll a full slate of positive reviews. Critics have mostly taken a shine to this violent shoot-em-up, going so far as to all it Boll’s best film to date. I suppose Boll’s recent upgrade in ability he showcased with Stoic and The Final Storm raised my expectations that the prospect of a “good Uwe Boll movie” is actually a concept not just in the theoretical realms any longer. It could happen. I can honestly say that Rampage is not it.

Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher) is just a regular dude living at home with his parents and bouncing from dead-end job to dead-end job. That’s all about to change. Bill seems to have taken a cue from his friend Evan (Shaun Sipos), who has advocated radical measures be taken to make the world a better place. Bill has been building a bundle of arms and body armor for one mission — to kill as many people as possible in a day.

I think the movie’s main weakness is that it’s too insular. We can never free ourselves from Bill Williamson’s head (really, Boll? William Williamson? Are you even trying?). I understand that Boll tries to drop us into the psychosis of a seemingly ordinary 23-year-old burnout that snaps. To that end, Boll effectively fills the background with an mélange of chatter; short news radio bursts are strung together noting the ails of the global ails of the world. It feels like an actual peak into the anxiety-riddled skull of the main character. But this guy just isn’t that interesting. We’re never given any real insight into his thought process because Boll holds back whatever Bill really thinks until the very end, which means for the majority of the movie we’re just watching a nut in body armor. A far majority of the movie is tagging along on Bill’s killing spree, watching person after person gunned down. Is this entertainment and for whom?

Boll assembles a better thesis about what makes people grab guns and lash out than he did in 2003’s school shooter rumpus, Heart of America, which also starred Fletcher as a chief bully. But that doesn’t mean that the pieces fit together any better. Bill’s rationale is that the world is overpopulated and could use a good pruning. So everybody goes. This is a pretty weak justification, especially when you consider that he’s slaughtering the denizens of a SMALL TOWN who has plenty of room for growth. Will purposely goes out of his way to gun down the servers who irritated him the day before, thus he seeks vengeance not ideological purity. Boll at least switches spree motivations late into something a tad more consumerist, but by then it’s too late. We need outside perspectives for this story to become more than a horror highlight reel of death. This movie could have worked from a Falling Down-esque narrative divided between the man on the rampage and the man in hot pursuit. That dynamic would provide for more thrills as well as a natural good guy and bad guy designation. But Boll doesn’t want any such designation. He wants us to be uncomfortable from beginning to end, to empathize with Bill early on and become horrified about what this says about all of us. A radio broadcaster says, without a hint of irony: “I don’t know how this could happen here or anywhere?” You’re uncomfortable but not because of what Bill is doing. You never empathize with the guy because he’s a loser and pretty hotheaded. It’s because the movie is bereft of commentary that makes it uncomfortable because then the violence becomes celebratory.

Rampage is set in a small town for some sort of ham-handed message about the unpredictability of violence, but could something of this magnitude truly go down in today’s technologically saturated world (for extra sledgehammer irony, the town is called Tenderville)? I will even give some leeway that a small town has a limited number of police officers and Bill blows up the police station as his first goal, but then where are all the neighboring cops? When we live in a world where everybody owns a cell phone, and every cell phone owner is an amateur journalist, it’s somewhat preposterous that news of this magnitude would remain so isolated for so long. As soon as a crazy guy walked down the center of town and murdering everybody, you better believe that CNN would have some cell phone video up in a manner of minutes. Surely the barrage of 911 calls would have informed emergency technicians that the police station was bombed and the killer is still on the loose. Where are the neighboring communities’ police officers? Where are the helicopters? In the age of information, nobody seems able to communicate anything. And why do people have trouble locking and barricading their doors? As Bill goes window-shopping for victims all the store doors remain unlocked, allowing him easy access to blow away customers. If Rampage was set in a violence-torn area that had become eerily accustomed to the sound of gunfire then perhaps people’s initial indifference to gunfire could be explained. But remember, this is a small town for maximum intentional dramatic impact. They should be extremely responsive to the sound of continual gunfire. And these people should be packing too.

The scheme of Bill’s coalesces in the last ten minutes of the movie, attempting to offer clarity and advance the material. Beware gentle reader, spoilers will follow, but you’ve already come this far. In the end, Bill has planned his killing spree with the intent of framing his only friend, Evan. Bill has made sure all his mail-order purchases were delivered to Evan’s home, Evan is the one with the long YouTube rants about overpopulation and people standing up to make change, and Evan’s father is a former radical from the 1960s who justified violence in the name of good causes. Of course we only learn that last bit in the film’s closing seconds because why would something like that be relevant to know beforehand, right? Bill meets his buddy in the woods for their scheduled paintball date, tazes the bastard, then stuffs a gun in Evan’s hand and has him pull the trigger to fulfill his role as patsy. The cops will think Evan has killed himself after being pursued into the woods. This is why Bill had to come back and brutally gun down an entire salon of women because he took his mask off and exposed his real face. Bill then disappears with the money.

As you expect, there are more holes to this plot than Swiss cheese. First off, there’s a noticeable height difference between Evan and Bill (Fletcher is only 5’4″ tall). Take into account different boot sizes, massive amounts of security camera footage, the registration for the cars that Bill turned into suicide bombs, the fact that the stolen bank money would now be marked, an autopsy report that would discover the stun gun wound and the awkward position for the self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the eye witnesses that must have seen Bill roaming around his neighborhood head-to-toe in his armor, never mind the fact that a massacre of this size practically guarantees the FBI’s involvement, and you’ve got so many areas for this master plan to unravel. That’s probably why Rampage ends with a post-script informing us Bill took off and has yet to be caught because somehow he’s a criminal genius.

This is Fletcher’s (Freddy vs. Jason, HBO’s The Pacific) movie and he pretty much hides behind his character’s literal and figurative mask. It’s not too hard to glower and walk with purpose, which is what Bill does for most of the movie. He doesn’t come across as overtly threatening, which is probably the point, but nor does Fletcher ever show insight into Bill’s dark recesses. He just seems like an irritable child with guns who wants to settle some scores from a bruised ego. Fletcher has acting ability but his assimilation into the Boll Players should worry anybody who wants to see that ability again (four Boll films and counting). Curiously, Katherine Isabelle, the star of the clever teen-girl-werewolf Canadian horror series Ginger Snaps, has a near cameo appearance as one of the salon workers who gets murdered. Having an actress like her play such a small character with brief screen time seems bizarre. Maybe Fletcher, as the film’s co-producer, called in a favor from his Freddy vs. Jason co-star.

Boll’s direction pretty much gets swallowed whole by the void of his main character. Every decision seems made to suit some kind of allegorical message that never seems to materialize. The camerawork is self-consciously shaky; there’s no reason a simple family conversation over the breakfast table should look like a 9.8 earthquake is going on simultaneously. The film also has the annoying habit of jumping forwards and backwards in time for split-second edits. I couldn’t tell if these flash edits were mere foreshadowing peaks at what was to come, trying to sate a bloodthirsty audience getting antsy, or if they were small fantasies playing out inside Bill’s head, showing his violent tendencies and delicate hold on reality. Well, they were just previews for the main attraction, which makes their use hard to fathom. If Boll wanted an audience to be shocked by what was to come, why give them previews? The film would have worked better without the non-linear quirks. Boll makes sure his camera is never far away from Bill, and during stretches the camera is pinned on Bill’s face as he huffs and puffs and kills people off screen. It’s Boll’s one somewhat interesting moment of artistic restraint. Boll is improving as an action director in certain regards. Rampage has some nice stunt work and some pretty well executed explosions.

Don’t believe the steady stream of good press for Rampage. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to write these words … but Rampage does not live up to the hype. It is not Boll’s first successful movie; I’d argue that his Vietnam movie Tunnel Rats came much closer to being a good and entertaining movie. Rampage is a rather empty vehicle to watch innocents get massacred. It lacks subtext and commentary, so the violence becomes gratuitous and meaningless, which is much more uncomfortable than anything Boll intends with his narrative. Obviously, Boll has modeled his story after recent incidents like the Virginia Tech gunman in 2007. Sadly, there is no shortage of crazed gunman stories in the news to pick from. If Boll attempted to squeeze some subtext into the various proceedings, satirizing the sensationalistic media turning people into fragile, potentially-lethal time bombs, or perhaps even the allure of fame through whatever costs, even the most infamous, then maybe watching countless people get shot would at least offer some meaning. I wasn’t expecting a Funny Games dissection level of violence and voyeurism and the participation of the viewer, but I expected more than watching a dude in a suit of armor kill fleeing civilians for an hour. If that’s your idea of entertainment than perhaps you should go play a video game that rewards such behavior. Don’t worry; it’s only a matter of time before Boll transforms that into a movie next.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Alone in the Dark (2005)

Edward Camby (Christian Slater) is a paranormal investigator trying to rediscover what happened in his past. He was apart of 20 orphans taken by Fischer (Frank C. Turner), your basic mad scientist type. Camby was the only child to escape Fischer’s poking and prodding. The other orphans have become sleeper agents/zombies to assist him in opening a dimensional gate to another world, a world with bloodthirsty creatures that live in darkness. This world and its creatures were first discovered by an ancient Native American tribe who mysteriously vanished. But before doing so, they thoughtfully broke the dimensional key and hid the pieces all over North America. Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid) is a scientist/archeologist that specializes in this Native American tribe and its artifacts. She teams up with her old flame, Camby, to help stop the mad doctor. Monitoring the whole situation is Commander Burke (Stephen Dorff), the man in charge of the United States government’s bureau of the paranormal. He leads his no-nonsense super troopers to the location of the dimensional gateway, which just happens to be underneath Camby’s childhood orphanage.

Alone in the Dark is a good film for people that felt House of the Dead was too intellectual. It should be obvious after reading the plot synopsis, but Alone in the Dark is a movie of unparalleled stupidity. What was the point of making orphans sleeper agents/zombies? They’re very easily disposed of and not very effective. I don’t know whether or not this is because they didn’t have a mom and dad growing up. What does this mad doctor hope to achieve by opening the door to creepy crawly monsters? I guess he thinks the monsters will be grateful and give him some kind of bureaucratic job, instead of, you know, gutting him and drinking his blood. I’ll never understand why villains align themselves with creatures whose only purpose is killing. How does Camby end up having a childhood flashback from a perspective that isn’t his own? The plot of Alone in the Dark is a gigantic mess. What other film in recent memory fits together ancient Native American tribes, monsters from an alternate dimension, government agencies, orphanages, zombies, and Tara Reid? You know you’re in bad hands when they open the film with a ten paragraph scrawl to explain what the film, by itself, cannot. And then they add narration because they don’t trust their audience to read.

The film is called Alone in the Dark and tells us that killer creatures lurk where we cannot see them. This is a fine platform to engineer some good scares; really stir the audience into fearing what they cannot see. As always, nothing will be scarier than a person’s mind at work. Boll doesn’t agree. He doesn’t even toy with the idea of hiding his creatures and building tension gradually. Boll prefers to show you his monsters immediately and often, therefore eliminating any attempts at suspense. Now the characters aren’t running away from what they can’t see; they’re running away from lame CGI rat/alligator creatures. The monsters look laughable and should have staid in the shadows for as long as possible. It’s hard to spook an audience once they see what they’re supposed to be afraid of. Boll’s impatience for suspense and his love of cheesy special effects cripple Alone in the Dark.

Alone in the Dark has no pulse when it comes to action. Boll stages his action sequences like different stations on a game show. Characters (contestants) run from station to station, picking up weapons and shooting at whatever, and then advancing to another stage with a different weapon. Much of the action just comes out of nowhere and ends in its own confused way. Boll likes to season his poorly choreographed action sequences by cranking up loud rock music and mixing in excessive, gimmicky special effects. For no reason, Camby and Aline and the soldiers will be shooting and Boll just all of sudden decides this scene should be in a strobe light. Or he’ll shove in a cheap slow-mo follow-the-bullet effect. Boll likes testing out different effects that serve little purpose other than to call attention to itself. Boll has confused this with style.

Speaking of action coming out of nowhere, Boll manages to squeeze in an out-of-the-blue sex scene. Aline visits Camby in the morning, sees him sleeping, and decides on the spot to crawl into bed and have sex with him. Would she really keep her bra on the whole time? Reid and Slater have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s like watching water buffalos go at it. Then the sex is never referred to again. This is just another pristine example of how carelessly Uwe Boll handles plot and characters. Rarely does Boll even bother with a transition scene to explain how a character got from Point A to Point B.

Boll’s direction is lazy and derivative. There are scenes that openly ape superior movies, like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starship Troopers, and even Boll’s own House of the Dead for crissakes. The plot is a cut-and-paste job of the series finale of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both deal with an army of creatures living under an everyday school building and involve a special key to unlock the gateway. And like in Buffy, some noble individual sacrifices himself to destroy the gateway’s underground entrance. No, scratch that. The plot itself is virtually a copy of Super Mario Brothers, the first video game based movie. Both films involve some magical key needed to unlock two alternate dimensions of creatures. No, scratch that. This is one big rip-off of Darkness Falls, since both involve crazy creatures that can only attack from the dark. Whatever it is, Alone in the Dark is Boll’s opportunity to showcase his unoriginality. That is, if you can pry him away from inserting more pointless slow-mo bullet effects.

The acting is wildly all over the map. I wonder if Boll will ever be able to direct actors. The line delivery is terrible all around. Slater is subdued and permanently cranky. Maybe somewhere inside that Jack Nicholson grin he’s realized he’s slumming it. Reid acts like an irritable child playing dress-up. Dorff seems to be the only actor having any fun, though I don’t know how intimidating this diminutive actor comes across as a military man. The actors of Alone in the Dark confuse loud with emotional.

Let’s take some time out to spotlight Reid and her character. The way Alone in the Dark convinces us that Reid is a scientist is by giving her some black rimmed glasses and putting her hair in a pony tail. Reid with hair down and no glasses? Party girl. Reid with hair up and glasses? Respected member of the scientific community. It’s just that easy, folks. For a scientist, Reid has an awful lot of halter-tops. Maybe she’s that lone scientist that likes to go out for margaritas after getting her hands dirty with the scientific method. Apparently being a scientist didn’t help Reid with her geography; she pronounces Newfoundland “New-FOUND-land” (the correct pronunciation is “New-fin-lan”).

The dialogue reeks of poorly concealed exposition. A chatty security guard serves as the writer’s sloppy conduit to establish back story: “You don’t know about the Indians? Let me explain,” “You don’t know who Aline Cedrac is? Let me explain,” “How’s your boooooyfriend, Aline Cedrac?” Alone in the Dark relies on gobs of thick exposition to cover up its insurmountable plot holes. The movie thinks it’s like a cool detective noir. It’s not. You never heard Sam Spade say, “Fear is what protects you from the things you don’t believe in.” Huh? Does that make any sense?

Alone in the Dark
is symptomatic of all of Boll’s directorial flaws. He has no feel for tone, he has no control over actors, he makes bad stylistic decisions that detract from the film, and he has no time for subtlety. Boll spoils all of his surprise by showing the monsters up and front instead of letting the human mind fill in the blanks for terror. This is a brain-dead action film that doesn’t even trust its audience to read. Alone in the Dark is a film so incompetent, so ridiculous, so convoluted, and so moronic that it must bend the laws of space and time simply to exist. This makes House of the Dead look well thought out. If this is indicative of what Boll has in store for his video game adaptations, then you can expect many duds yet to come on Boll’s path to eventual audience oblivion. If anyone dared venture to a theater to see this movie, they’d find themselves alone in the dark all right. And shamed. Deeply, deeply shamed.

Nate’s Grade: F

Homeroom: Heart of America (2003)

The film spans one morning of a “normal” high school in Oregon (it looks like the school is a three-story motel). It’s the last day of school and everyone is ready to jump into the real world. The storylines are rife with every high school cliché that can be found. Drum roll please, and they are:

1) Good Virgin (Stefanie MacGillivray) is dumped by Jerky Jock (Will Sanderson) because she refuses to put out. The majority of this storyline takes place in the guy’s car where he sadistically tells her all the details of the many other girls he was “forced” to sleep with (“The whole school f***s. Everybody except you.”). One of these girls is the transient High Girl (Elisabeth Rosen), who has fallen in love with Jerky Jock over the course of him using her for sex.

2) High Girl has no parental involvement and lots of free time. She thusly gets high a lot and trips out for most of the movie. Dealer Dude spends all day implausibly hanging around the high school with sacks of drugs to sell. He’s stopped by Idealist Guidance Counselor (Maria Conchita Alonso) who wants to make a difference.

3) Good Student apparently wasn’t good at contraceptive planning because she’s pregnant. She wants an abortion and her life back. She’s also really snotty to her Boyfriend who wants to keep the baby and support her but is also willing to support whatever decision she makes. Man, he’s such a jerk. Way jerkier than Jerky Jock.

4) Mean Creative Writing Teacher (Michael Paré) gets a good talking-to by the school principal (Jurgen Prochnow). The teacher is struggling with his own writing and taking out his frustrations by being overly critical of his students’ works. His grades appear to be unfair and unprofessional. One of his students is High Girl.

5) A team of bullies regularly beat up and humiliates Barry (Michael Belyea) and Daniel, who masterminds a plot for revenge. Daniel (Kett Turton) is tormented by his abusive father (Clint Howard) who just laughs when he sees bruises and black eyes on his son. The bullies are lead by King Bully (Brendan Fletcher) who is visited by his older brother, Former King Bully (Steve Byers), who reminisces about the good ole days of beating people up because they were different. These storylines mix and match until our inevitable shoot-em-up conclusion.

Heart of America
is based on a story by Boll and written by Robert Dean Klein (Blackwoods). The plot structure is competent and the film is mildly entertaining, which was a great surprise for me. The cinematography is above average for its budget and the score is quiet and reflective. Heart of America, with all its shortcomings, is still a better movie than Gus van Sant’s school shooter opus, Elephant (I dread to see this statement on the front of a re-released DVD).

Despite all of its simplicity, Heart of America makes some boneheaded decisions. It closes with lengthy text detailing other school shooters in the previous years. The text takes away from the drama and has no significant purpose other than to say, “You’ve just watched kids shoot up their school. Here’s how some other kids did it. If you’d like to learn more, visit your local library.” Heart of America also lacks subtlety; every item that is meant to carry a message of significance is hit so hard you’ll wonder if a gong is rattling. Then again, Boll isn’t well known for subtlety. This should explain Heart of America’s aches and pains with revealing its twists and revelations.

For two acts we’re led to believe that Daniel and Barry are the ones who are going to shoot up their school. Daniel IM’s his co-conspirator and reminds them not to “punk out on him.” Then minutes before the bloodbath it’s revealed that his co-conspirator is . . . another person! It’s High Girl, who takes a gun and gladly goes about killing classmates. Heart of America intentionally teases the viewer whether Barry will not follow through and this twist is intended to be something of a surprise. Trouble is someone should have told that to the DVD manufacturing folks. On the Heart of America DVD cover (as you can see for yourselves above) are the faces of Daniel and High Girl side-by-side. Superimposed over them is a list of school shooting locations that have been crossed out (it’s little wonder that Boll held back from the final one saying, “Anytown, U.S.A.”). Below all of these images is another picture of High Girl, this time standing in class and pointing an accusatory finger at some unforeseen figure. Any person intending to watch Heart of America will instantly associate High Girl with Daniel and already be thinking they’re Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t have a twist when you’re advertising it on the front cover of your DVD. Would The Sixth Sense have been as effective if the poster had Bruce Willis walking through walls like Ghost Dad (no respect to Ghost Dad intended)?

The most disturbing moment in Heart of America doesn’t even take place around the school. It involves a story Big Brother tells his bully clan about his greatest accomplishments. One of these is inviting a mentally challenged girl into his basement, getting her drunk, and then gang-banging her. At first I thought it was rather unwarranted and unethical to have flashbacks of Big Bro’s story so that we can actually see the rape. Then it hit a slightly interesting juxtaposition, as Big Bro’s positive recount of his victim’s experience doesn’t exactly match what we see happening. So I was willing to let it slide until the film hit a deplorable low – a gratuitous nude scene of the mentally challenged girl (dubbed “Slow White”). You can tell it’s gratuitous too because most of the scene isn’t even shot at angles that expose the breasts. It’s disturbing on the level that Boll was knowingly trying to shoehorn in some nudity and elicit titillation. The decision actually detracts from the power of the scene because it feels so tackily gratuitous. Is it too much to ask that if we have a mentally challenged girl being raped that we don’t also have a needless nude scene? This whole moment is egregiously disgusting because it’s done for titillation.

Once the end credits start to roll, the casual viewer will think two things: 1) What is that awful, tonally inappropriate pop song playing that actually has the lyrics, “The roads you made are the ones you pave,” and 2) what the hell was the message of Heart of America? In the first ten minutes or so we see teens on drugs, teens on medication, teens with no parental involvement, teens with parental abuse, and teens bullying to feel better about themselves. Do any of these things cause school violence, or is it some kind of magic combination? I never expected Heart of America to fashion a thesis on why kids grab guns and shoot up their schools but the ending feels ridiculously, artlessly devoid of meaning.

To further get into this point of discussion I will be spoiling all of the major plot lines of the movie, so in the rare instance anyone is remotely interested in watching Heart of America and/or its sick mentally challenged nude scene, scroll down. You won’t be missing much, trust me.

As expected, Daniel and High Girl get revenge primarily upon their tormentors. What I don’t get is that before High Girl sweeps into her classroom for her vengeance, she tells Dealer Dude, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Huh? Does she mean she wouldn’t have gone to these lengths had she not be high? Or is this statement farther reaching, like blaming Dealer Dude for being apart of a system that has turned her into a degenerate drug user? I have no idea, but High Girl struts into class and kills Creative Writing Teacher, who had made fun of her and forced her to read her poetry aloud. Got it. But then she aims her pistol at Jerky Jock, whispers “I love you,” and then shoots Good Virgin to death. Apparently High Girl did not catch the news that Jerky Jock had dumped her minutes earlier. So what is the point of Good Virgin’s storyline? The only thing I can surmise is that if you don’t have sex you will be killed. If Good Virgin had given up her goodly virginity then Jerky Jock wouldn’t have been on the prowl, and he wouldn’t have used High Girl for throwaway sex, and then she wouldn’t have shot Good Virgin in jealousy. You see how this works? It’s the exact opposite of a horror movie. Daniel also shoots and kills Good Student’s boyfriend/father of her baby. What is that saying? Is it some kind of ironic statement on abortion? Why couldn’t any of the shooters have clipped Patrick Muldoon’s nails-on-the-chalkboard horndog sex ed teacher? It seems Boll has a soapbox but he has nothing understandable to say.

Heart of America makes the audience not only side with the school shooters but also practically roots for them. Daniel and Barry undergo constant bullying from the get go. The film, in its simplistic approach, plays the bullies as irredeemable assholes and Daniel and Barry are the hapless victims. Heart of America practically justifies its characters resorting to violence. Sure some innocent people get caught in the fray, but then aren’t they all to blame somehow? Again, I have no idea what Boll is trying to say.

Despite Boll having no command with actors (Muldoon is a constant reminder of this), the younger actors in Heart of America give pretty good performances. Turton (Saved!, Walking Tall) really festers with anger and discontent but also gives insights into a fragile kid just wanting to live. Belyea really works his nervous indecision to a nub, going so far as to hide his mother’s car keys so she won’t chance going to his school. Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) is a grinning monster as a bully but, in the film’s lone turn at character depth, also shows how uncomfortable he is being a bully. It seems that he too is just doing it to fit in. Fletcher’s pained and awkward reactions are a welcome sign of humanity, though it seems to be too little too late when we the climax hits. Rosen seems decidedly disconnected and dead-eyed scary.

It’s puzzling that the top listed actors in Heart of America’s credits are as follows; Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Paré, Patrick Muldoon, and Maria Conchita Alonso. All four of those actors amount to about ten minutes of total screen time; Muldoon essentially has a grating cameo. Why are the kids not credited as the rightful stars of the show? The adults give terrible performances (seriously, I cannot overstate how creepy Muldoon is) but the kids are all right. The most shocking fact about the cast is that somewhere in this mix is Emmy-nominated Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss. Look for her in here somewhere as “Robin Walters.”

Heart of America works with paint-by-numbers characters and Boll only doles out one color. The jock is a jerk. The virgin is good. The bullies are mean. The stoners are high. Very seldom does the film delve any deeper than these cursory characterizations. Because of this simplicity Heart of America strains credibility during its more unrealistic moments. At one point, King Bully and his posse force Daniel and Barry to eat dog poop and the moment is played as a defining point of drama. Does this stuff really happen? If it does then it certainly doesn’t happen often enough to be included in Boll’s depiction of a “normal” school. Then again, Boll’s idea of a normal American educational environment also involves raping mentally challenged girls. The name of the movie itself indicates how typical everything is supposed to seem.

This is a thought-provoking film, with the main thought being “What the hell is the movie trying to say?” Heart of America wades in a kiddy pool of high school clichés. The characters are paint-by-numbers and lack definition beyond their social title (Virgin, Jock, Bully, etc.). This film is awash in unresolved statements and stacks the deck so the audience will practically root for the school shooters. With no help from Uwe Boll, the younger actors are the movie’s stars and give good performances despite the limited range of their characters. You won’t know anything deeper after watching Heart of America. It’s Boll’s Big Statement Film but your guess is as good as mine as to whatever that is. Violence breeds violence? Parents need to spend more time with their kids? Don’t force kids to eat poo if they’re not ready? Heart of America is unrealistic, strained, unfocused, shallow and clumsy, and it’s also Boll’s best work to date.

Nate’s Grade: C

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