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Reindeer Games (2000)

John Frankenheimer comes off from the heels of the incredibly exciting ‘Ronin’ with one of the best car chases ever to direct a muddled holiday thriller that should’ve checked its release date sooner on the calendar. Affleck plays a car thief mistaken for his prison cell mate and hijacked to teach a band of greasy diner clowns the ins and outs or casino theivin’. The performances are all adequate, though Gary Sinise as the bad trucker seems a little too Deliverance to me at times. The movie permeates with the feeling all the way through that something interesting is building and will pay off, and then it just gives up and goes for a ridiculous and cheap twist ending. Ehren Kruger, the man who threw pot holes of twists in Arlington Road and less effectively in Scream 3, writes like someone finishing a deadline paper for a college class – less about characters and conflicts and more about topsy-turvy twists and double crossings. There are some brief encounters with suspense and excitement (and forgive me but the Santa imagery is kinda’ nifty) but Reindeer Games can never build toward whatever potential it flashed.

Nate’s Grade: C

Scream 3 (2000)

Master of the macabre Wes Craven returns to the most anticipated and secretive horror series in recent memory. The Scream saga opened the doors for the teen proliferation of all that is commercial, and now the same people come back to close the book on what they started. At least that’s what the idea was.

Craven proves his directing credentials even more so with this vapidly dull sequel to the sequel about horror sequels. Even when the story is dragging, and it will, he wrings some amount of tension and excitement that I’m sure would likely be absent from any other director’s hands.

The void of teen powerhouse scribe Kevin Williamson is distinguishing, but newbie Miramax goldenboy Ehren Kruger walks the walk effectively. What is sadly absent are the touches of irony and intrigue that Williamson dabbled through like a French chef. Ghostface loses the edge it had in the earlier flicks where the deaths would all be unusually related to the topic at hand in some clever way. But in Scream 3 the irony is left behind at the Williamson offices and killer-man-guy just hacks people away. No interesting approaches or set-ups, just unrelenting running and slashing.

Scream 3‘s biggest drawback may be the lack of the central mystery the first two exhibited so well. ‘Scream 3’ introduces about 15 different characters, but then quickly enough kills off about 14 of them. Face it kids, if Scream 3 is your first Scream flick you ain’t making it to the end credits. Kruger lays no clues or red herrings for the audience to gape and trip over in wondering who is behind the killer’s mask. More time is spent needlessly killing needless characters than creatively playing the audience along an intricate guessing game that would have made the movie more enjoyable.

It may sound like I’m coming down hard on Scream 3 but, on the contrary, I had a huge amount of fun with it. Parker Posey is wonderful. I was laughing often and was usually entertained even though I could sense the franchise losing its steam. Besides a lame ending (two in a row), Scream 3 is good popcorn fun but nothing more promising than that.

Ladies and gentlemen the Scream horror series has finally degenerated into the very thing it’s making fun of. Except with this installment it seems not to know that the joke is on them.

Nate’s Grade: C+

 

Arlington Road (1999)

Psychological thrillers are always much harder to pull off than the standard Hollywood action flicks. Bullets and explosions are replaced with taut mental games and psychological grips played with reluctant victims. Though harder to pull off, the spoils can be fruitful. Arlington Road tries to bridge the gap since the last great psychological movie (a little something called Silence of the Lambs) and has lofty intentions. But its efforts fall short.

The movie moves at a snail’s pace and has the feel of a novel instead of a screenplay. Mark Pellington, the director most known for the Pearl Jam video “Jeremy,” is completely wrong for this picture. His blurs, camera swirls, exaggerated close-ups and poor lighting makes you wonder if they forgot to take off the lens cap and seem entirely out of place. Scenes go on forever with no real connection to one other.

Sure, the movie has a boatload of stars. Tim Robbins wondrously pulls off the menacing feel that his creepy neighbor character needs to seem dangerous. Joan Cusack is the standout with her devilish take on suburban motherhood and her never-ending evil grin. But while the acting is good, the movie is devoid of suspense and tension for the most part.

The movie does pack suspense into the last ten minutes. The ending is haunting and will linger with you for some time after you exit the theater. But even a terrific ending doesn’t make up for what the audience has been made to suffer through to get to that point.

Arlington Road tries to reach for the sky with its idea that terror doesn’t come from overseas, but from our own backyards. The idea is ripe with potential, but Arlington Road never lives up to it. I guess the public will have to wait for the next great psychological thriller. But Arlington Road gives me hope for what the future may bring.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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