Neil Breen is the closest thing we have today to a living Ed Wood, a filmmaker so determined to ell his stories without a clue how to accomplish this feat, routinely finding new and astounding ways to transform the medium of film into an incomprehensible experience that can only be best appreciated through the howls of incredulous laughter. In 2013, Neil Breen came to attention among a certain select audience seeking the pleasures of a so-bad-it’s-good movie, and I count myself chief among this nation. I was fascinated by Fateful Findings and have since sought out Breen’s other films, using them as the main attraction for a gathering of like-minded friends and adult beverages. He may not be the next Tommy Wiseau or produce an accidental masterpiece like The Room (I don’t think an Oscar-nominee will be playing Breen in any biopic, though I pick Eric Roberts). Breen is taking advantage of the pocketbooks of eager midnight movie enthusiasts but he refuses to see his movies in that derisive light. To him, and God bless him, they are legitimate pieces of art and he personally disallows any marketing of them as “midnight” or “cult” movies (I saw portions of his actual contract he sent to our local art house theater playing his newest picture). His latest is Twisted Pair, a “psychological thriller” with double the onscreen Breen. It may not rise to the craptacular heights of Fateful Findings, but Twisted Pair is a worthy and hilarious entry in the ever-expanding yet mordantly redundant Neil Breen cinematic universe.
To explain the premise or story is almost superfluous, like trying to find a logical interpretation in a David Lynch movie or a Jackson Pollack splotchy painting. I’ll try. Cade and Cale Altaire (Breen) are twins who were… abducted by aliens… and given supernatural powers thanks to… A.I. technology? Back on Earth, Cade (or Cale?) has a wife (Sara Meritt) and plant bombs in the buildings of evil corporations, I think. Cale (or Cade?) is addicted to drugs (maybe?), has an addict girlfriend, and abducts corrupt CEOs, politicians, and authority figures and chains them in a murder dungeon where he lectures them and occasionally shoots them casually in the kneecap or shoulder. There’s also a conspiracy about trying to… do nefarious things with a cutting-edge A.I. virtual reality program… that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Cade (or Cale?) must stop these evil forces from doing… evil things… by blowing them up? Also, his wife may be a spy.
If the above sounds like pure insanity straight from the cuckoo source, then you have read it clearly. Twisted Pair doesn’t abide by any traditional standards of film or storytelling.There isn’t so much a plot with a beginning, middle, and end as there are a jumble of scenes that could have been placed in any order whatsoever and lost nothing. With Neil Breen as writer and director, we typically get a lot of visual repetition; whatever info can be imparted in one moment Breen decides to impart in five. On the other side, storylines and characters will be summarily dropped or introduced with little context. Take for instance the villain who, as best I can tell, speaks with a voice modulated tone in real life. It’s not like he’s holding some mask to his mouth or anything that would alter his voice to that super deep register. Apparently he just speaks this way normally, and it’s hard to understand half of what he says, and it’s hilarious. Does this character matter in the scheme of things? Not really. He’s there to be another face to a vaguely defined conspiracy of forces that Breen is determined to thwart. The villainous character just happens to fondle dollar-store costume jewelry as a side bonus.
As another sign of repetition, Neil Breen obviously bought a package of special effects, and he is determined to get all his money’s worth. Thanks to the alien A.I. (I think), Cade and Cale are gifted with super powers but these only seem to involve jumping. Cade will form a Super Mario Bros.-esque jumping pose, or spread out onto the ground like Spider-Man, and then magically leap fifty feet in the air. It’s a cheesy effect that looked more realistic on the Six-Million Dollar Man in the 1970s, but Breen is going to make sure you become familiar with it again and again. Sometimes the jumping seems more trouble than it’s worth, as Breen’s character could have more easily take a flight of stairs. A similar effects package must have been explosions, so you’ll see the same fiery effect over and over across a variety of surfaces, though never impacting those surfaces or leaving anything resembling debris. You may become ore familiar with this oft-repeated explosion than the faces of your own relatives. There’s also a strange addition where whenever Cade touches a presumably locked door a little light goes on, as if to communicate he is unlocking it. This happens a lot. The last scene of the movie, Cade addresses the camera directly, touches his heart with two fingers that glow, and says without a hint or irony, “I’ll be right here.” He has to know he’s ripping off E.T., right? By the rules clearly established, does this mean he’s unlocking his own heart?
The side storyline with the twin could have been cut entirely (not that there’s much that genuinely serves a larger story). I was expecting more interaction between the two Breens and for each to reflect some sort of dichotomy between good and evil. Nope. The second Breen, Cale, is a vengeful vigilante in a hooded sweatshirt and a gloriously fake beard. He shouts questions like, “Who am I? What am I?” but doesn’t seem that torn up. He kidnaps some corrupt officials and promises to hold them an undetermined period of time, occasionally shooting or beating them. Then the screen starts to have other images of other chained officials superimpose while an eerie soundtrack kicks in, seemingly implying the sheer numbers of Cale’s victims. At no point are we meant to see Cale as a wayward figure succumbed to his darker impulses. In fact, Cale and Cade aren’t that different at all; both of them destroy the apparatus of corruption and take human life. The prisoners have a hilarious moment that feels like an improv run amok as they try and top one another with all the bad things they have been committing. They almost run over each other in their carefree confessions of moral decay. Yet these missing people, presumably important enough to attract the attention of the police and investigators, never impact the larger plot. You would think only naturally that an identical twin kidnapping people would have some direct mistaken identity complications. Either the bad guys come after Cade or the authorities do, thinking he’s the other brother. Nope. Strangely, the brothers only interact in dreams and brief flashbacks.
There’s a distinct reason that Neil Breen’s onscreen characters are always lionized as heroes. It’s filmmaking as therapy session, and as I wrote for my Fateful Findings review: “Assessing the film, it sure comes across like Breen’s attempt to bolster his sense of self. In every scenario, people treat him as a treasured human being, he’s at the center of a diabolical conspiracy, he’s gifted with magic powers that separate him from normal men, all women want to seduce him, and then in the end he’s the one who makes the world a better place by exposing corruption. It sounds like a hero complex to me. Even acts that deserve harsh scrutiny, like his enabling of his wife’s addiction or his blasé attitude about carrying on an affair, are ignored. In this universe, [Breen] is always right, always desired, always respected, and always special.” This may be why even his “twisted pair” is spared any sort of scrutiny for their own bad behavior.
There are numerous sequences that just make you shake your head. My favorites include an interlude with a slow-motion hawk that Breen nuzzles up next to. Seriously, there is a lot of green screen work throughout the film including a Wiseau-style fixation on things that shouldn’t need green screen. Why green screen the exterior of a building? Could Neil Breen not find one building exterior in all of his home state of Nevada? There’s a sequence where a woman materializes and literally turns on another Neil Breen movie, firmly establishing the connected universe theory. This same woman leads a man inside a literally red-lit abode (more on lighting below) and you suspect someone will be killed, either the woman or the mysterious john you never see above the neck. Nothing comes of it. Occasionally we’ll get a wide shot and watch Cade or Cale walking… for thirty seconds, and sometimes a tree will obstruct our view and we’ll wait for him to appear on the other side of the tree…. but instead he’ll be in the tree! Aha, you weren’t suspecting that, were you, complacent audience member? I would estimate a solid 80 percent of the movie’s dialogue is Breen’s voice over stating the obvious or the preposterous. In consecutive lines of voice over he says, “I miss my brother,” and, “I miss what I never knew.” But you knew your brother; we’ve seen footage of you two together.
The relationship with Cade’s wife is baffling. It begins with Cade running into a woman and profusely apologizing and declaring he will make it up with dinner. She is not interested in the slightest but he doesn’t acknowledge her discomfort at all and persists. He then FOLLOWS her home. He then BREAKS INTO her home. He then ATTACKS her and ostensibly tries to rape her while calling her a “bitch.” This awkward moment then transitions into the eventual revelation that it was all one big role-play. What? Neil Breen purposely staged his character attempting rape and made it into a sex game for he and his ever-accommodating wife? That’s so weird and off-putting. I don’t think Neil Breen is the kind of artist to attempt something approaching Elle.
The technical specs are spotty, especially the lighting. There seems to be two prevalent styles of lighting a scene: 1) overblown to hell, casting harsh shadows, and 2) with a small diagonal sliver. This sliver approach happens in numerous scenes and always seems to find the faces of the actors in the scene, or Breen or whoever will use it as a mark, walking into that small sliver of light and exposing their face. It happened so often that my rowdy theatrical audience turned it into a game, loudly cheering whenever a character “met their mark” and was highlighted by that available strand of light. I think this is what Breen thinks makes a professional looking movie or a film noir.
The acting hasn’t gotten any better over time. As I wrote about Breen’s performance in Fateful Findings: “Let’s start with Breen himself, who is fairly listless and deadpan throughout. He raises his voice but rarely does he change how he’s responding. He’s aloof and strikingly self-serious at the same time.” Since there are two Breens, consider this observation even more fitting. The rest of the actors don’t have much to work with. There isn’t a natural performance in the film. Often the delivery is stilted or overemphasized, pausing at weird points or simply raising the volume for effect. At least with previous Breen outings there was another actor or two to single out, usually not in a positive way mind you. With Twisted Pair, it’s all Breen, all the time, for better or worse.
So ultimately where does Twisted Pair fall on the curve of so-bad-it’s-good cinema? It is a hoot, a misguided and poorly executed sci-fi thriller with baffling and repetitious plot turns, characterization, and puzzling decisions at nearly every level of filmmaking. Having digested five Breen movies (and lived to tell the tale) I can attest that there are patterns that emerge in each one of his films. He’s always going to be portrayed as a crusading hero against the corrupt forces out there bewildering the little guy, he’ll have a dash of supernatural elements that will never be adequately explained, his idea of romance is comically chaste and usually involves women face down and topless, and he’ll gift the audience with head-smacking redundancy of scenes, motifs, messages. If you have to skip out to the bathroom at any point, whatever you miss will be covered again. Twisted Pair is mid-range Breen, no quite as high as his crowning achievement, Fateful Findings. It runs out of steam in the final fifteen minutes and even my rowdy midnight-movie crowd sensed the drop-off. The movie is playing one-night-only screenings across the country. If you get a chance, and love the weird world of sincerely made bad movies, then I highly recommend gathering a group of friends and checking out Twisted Pair and doing your best to make sense of it during and after the film.
Nate’s Grade: F
Entertainment Value: A-
Ever since the ascent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room atop the dung heap mountain of midnight movie fare, the world has been avidly searching for the next so-bad-it’s-amazing film. There have been several contenders over the years, most of which were amusing, such as Troll 2 or the original Birdemic, but some of which made you consider the value of life itself, such as 2009’s After Last Season. Oh, that one still makes me wince. Don’t even see that one. But as a lifelong lover of all things cinematically terrible, thanks in part to growing up on a healthy appetite of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I am compelled to seek out the worst of the worst. The Room is one of my favorite movies of all time; my love for it knows no heavenly bounds. I have to sniff out anything that comes remotely close to replicating that wonderful experience.
Enter Las Vegas realtor and architect Neil Breen. According to a Deadline Hollywood report from October 2013, Breen wrote/directed/produced/starred/edited/and just about everything else a little bundle of love called Fateful Findings. He sent it out blindly to distributors looking for any takers. It just so happens one bit, and now Fateful Findings is gearing up for a nationwide release specifically targeted at the midnight movie crowd that made The Room the sizeable cultural hit it is. Like Wiseau’s accidental masterpiece of cinematic miscalculation, Breen’s film is awash with bizarre directing choices, curious line readings, painful acting, subplots that come and go as they please, a lack of resolution, characters that behave more like aliens than human beings, odd camera framing and compositions, and, naturally, an ending that must be seen to be believed. For fans of woefully bad cinema, there’s a lot to dig in and I’ve got my knife and fork. First, I want to describe four of my favorite things about Fateful Findings and Breen.
The film opens with an eight-year-old boy and girl waking through the woods, coming across a magic mushroom (not that kind). The mushroom disappears, revealing a jewelry box, and inside is a black rock. “It must mean something,” young Dylan lets the audience know. Young Leah then says, twice, “It’s a magical day!” Oh, but if that wasn’t made abundantly clear, she also writes it in a notebook and shows it to the audience. But this opening scene isn’t done with its magic. We flash forward many years to an adult Dylan (Breen), who looks at least ten years older than the adult version of Leah (Jennifer Autry). Prepare for the sudden time jump shock. Anyway, Dylan and Leah never saw each other again after that magical summer that is… until she’s invited to a family barbeque. Why is this stranger, and her then fiancé, invited to a limited family engagement? Anyway, the way that these two people reconnect is that adult Leah bumps into adult Dylan and drops, what for it, the SAME notebook. It falls magically open to the SAME page, revealing the SAME message: “It’s a magical day!” Apparently she still carries that notebook around everywhere she goes and has never written in it since that fateful day. Who doesn’t bring a 30-year-old notebook with them to a barbeque?
2) “It was the Rolls Royce that hit ‘em. I saw it. I’m a witness.”
Also in the first ten minutes, we watch adult Dylan get creamed by a Rolls Royce. The speeded-up sequence itself is just hilarious to watch, especially since the car appears to be going rather slowly in the previous shot. Anyway, Dylan recovers in a hospital thanks to the black rock reviving him (make note when the EMTs arrive and their lagging sense of urgency). The collection of rubberneckers gathers at the accident scene, including one gentleman who, God bless him, foolishly attempts a British accent out of the blue, reciting the above line. I’m sure it would have been in question since the one car resting right next to the injured man is covered in his blood (how much did that cost to rent and splatter a car like that?). It’s at the hospital where Dylan unknowingly meets the adult Leah for the first time. She’s a doctor and pronounces Dylan “semi-comatose.” How is that a thing; can you be semi-pregnant? After his miraculous revival, Dylan leaves the hospital and re-enters his home, taking a shower. His wife, Emily (Klara Landrat, a former model), steps into the shower with him and happily embraces her man. Except beforehand we see a shot of his feet in the shower and blood is profusely streaming down his leg. Remember, all this is from a head wound, so how much does his head have to be bleeding to get down his leg? The shower is filled with blood, Dylan’s bandages are blotted red, and she steps inside. Gross. What kicks this entire sequence even higher in hilarity is that Dylan’s facial bandages actually cover his ENTIRE mouth and nose with no indentations for him to breathe out. When he detaches the oxygen mask, you’ll see there’s nowhere for him to actually breathe. Damn you, Obamacare!
Once home, we learn that Dylan has a Master’s degree in computer science but became a successful novelist, a fact he seems almost disdainful about. This dichotomy is illustrated by the fact that Dylan has four laptops out at all times, none of which are ever really turned on. Why four? Why not? He pounds away, literally, trying to complete his next book, but when his temper arises, he almost always takes it out on the poor laptops. This is a very abusive film when it comes to laptops. My favorite moment is when Dylan is holding a cup of coffee and it looks like he’s going to spill it on that laptop. It’s a ten-second sequence that leaves you on the edge of your seat, finally ending in an even greater comic punchline. At another point, Dylan throws two books into two laptops before holding back his incalculable rage onto a third laptop. The only way people communicate is by throwing things in this film. You could turn Dylan’s tortured mistreatment of laptops into a drinking game.
4) “I can’t believe you killed yourself. I cannot believe you killed yourself. I can’t help you out of this one.”
I won’t go into detail about the context of this quote, to spare some spoilers, but it illustrates the habit of actors repeating lines of dialogue ad nasuem. The dialogue itself is rather plain, so it’s weird that Breen and company feel the need to keep repeating themselves, as if we’re missing some deeper hidden meaning. We’re not.
Breen has described his film in interviews as a genre-bending psychological thriller, and while some of those elements may be present in the faintest, most diluted distillation, the man’s movie is really the long story of two marriages coming apart. Dylan’s marriage with Emily hits the skids when she gets addicted to his pain medication, but neither person seems to treat this as the serious development it is; what makes this worse is that Dylan enables her addiction. He keeps getting her the meds when he clearly no longer needs them. It seems once his childhood sweetheart re-enters his life, Dylan just forgets he has a wife. The other marriage consists of Dylan’s bickering neighbors, Amy (Victoria Valene) and Jim (David Silva), and they really have no impact on the greater plot whatsoever, and yet Breen’s film wastes so much time on their story. They’re unhappy. He wants sex. She doesn’t. Eventually in the heat of the moment Amy does something impulsive and very criminal, and the movie treats it like any nominal plot moment. A vital witness to this crime doesn’t bother speaking up until fifteen minutes later in the film, as if they just had some nagging chores to do before alerting others about a serious crime. Perhaps Jim and Amy are, in some twisted perspective, Breen’s idea of comic relief (Jim’s exaggerated “drunk” movement, throwing drinks on one another, etc.), but for a movie that is nonstop comic blunders, what difference does it make?
And then there’s the supernatural story that permeates the edges of the film, popping in from time to time to remind you during the marital discord that, oh yeah, there’s a mysterious ghost or something or other. The supernatural stuff begins muddled and unexplained and never really clarifies. It’s thanks to the black rock, which Dylan refers to as a cube, that he’s able to survive being hit by the car. If that’s the case, then I don’t think I’d ever let that sucker out of my pocket. I’d glue it to my hand. Inexplicably, the rock also gives Dylan the ability to transport himself through walls, though he only does this once and never explains how he knew. The way we know something “magical” is happening is when a little puff of grey vapor appears onscreen. Is it a spirit, a malevolent force? Does it have anything to do with this stupid book that keeps haunting Dylan? I feel like Breen is patterning himself after the work of David Lynch, except that Lynch’s films, which can consist of weirdness for weird’s sake, have cohesion, a vision. Fateful Findings has the occasional supernatural entity, but it’s rarely examined, and then we’re off to the next subplot as if spinning a board game wheel. Then the supernatural angle, which is only barely toyed with, and with such peculiar indifference, is abandoned and the movie wholly chases after another storyline.
The movie’s final focus is on Dylan’s super secret hacking uncovering all sorts of vague secrets and corruption from governments and corporations (“As president of… The Bank…”). Throughout the film, Dylan keeps mentioning this but it never seems terribly significant, at least judging by the characters’ actions. It isn’t until the very end where Breen spends more than a passing interest in this subplot, because we have more important storylines to feature, like Ally (Danielle Andrade), his neighbor’s teen daughter, inexplicably trying to seduce him. It comes out of nowhere and is just as quickly pushed aside (I also wonder how old Ally is supposed to be). Allow me to thread an analytical narrative to make sense of these dispirit storylines. Assessing the film, it sure comes across like Breen’s attempt to bolster his sense of self. In every scenario, people treat him as a treasured human being, he’s at the center of a diabolical conspiracy, he’s gifted with magic powers that separate him from normal men, all women want to seduce him, and then in the end he’s the one who makes the world a better place by exposing corruption. It sounds like a hero complex to me. Even acts that deserve harsh scrutiny, like his enabling of his wife’s addiction or his blasé attitude about carrying on an affair, are ignored. In this universe, Dylan is always right, always desired, always respected, and always special.
The production has a hard time hiding its obvious shortcomings, sometimes hilariously so. It becomes clear very early that most of the film was likely shot in Breen’s home, which is fine except it also unsuccessfully doubles as other locations (the blinds are the big giveaway). The worst is the hospital room, which mostly consists of a bed and three oxygen canisters. What hospital room is going to have carpet? So much of the movie takes place in Dylan’s home office, with that plethora of laptops, that you’ll start to memorize the home layout. In the opening, with Dylan and Leah as kids, we’re shown modern-day vehicles and then flash forward at least 35 years. Could Breen not have shot the scene with some older vehicles? Then there are Dylan’s two therapist’s offices. The first one is the guy who keeps prescribing pain meds. Perhaps to communicate his overall incompetence as a doctor, Breen stages all of the therapy scenes in a conference room with both men sitting as far apart, at either end of the long conference table. What better way to foster patient intimacy? He also magically switches jackets in the middle of one session. The second therapist operates in what looks like a closet, and the only thing we see are two folding chairs. She may not really exist, or was in on the unexplained supernatural conspiracy, so perhaps the old lady therapist didn’t feel like putting that much effort into decoration.
The technical abilities of the Fateful Findings crew are, to be expected, less than stellar. The editing is another clumsy detraction, namely that Breen and his TWO other editors let their scenes meander several seconds longer than where they should have cut, giving the film a loping feeling. It’s like each person is counting mentally when to respond to the dialogue, and when one person finishes the film holds, counts as well, and then cuts. There are slow pans that add nothing to the film but space in between lines of dialogue. I don’t need rapid-fire cuts for what is essentially a domestic drama, but why the hesitant editing? Is it just a sneaky way of inflating the film’s running time? Even Breen’s staging of the camera can often be confounding. For whatever reason, the film often features camera shots of people’s feet or people very carefully cut off at the head, meaning their heads are not visible. It happens enough and for such nonessential scenes that I started to wonder if Breen found himself an Ed Wood-esque solution for not having his same actors for the scenes he needed them for. Beyond a Tarantino-size foot fetish, I don’t know why there are so many shots of feet. At least Breen is not as inept in his visual staging as the makers of After Last Season, a movie so bad it’s just bad beyond measure. Breen knows enough to adequately stage his scenes, which makes his choices all the more curious.
The acting is generally terrible across the board, occasionally breathtakingly bad. Let’s start with Breen himself, who is fairly listless and deadpan throughout. He raises his voice but rarely does he change how he’s responding. He’s aloof and strikingly self-serious at the same time. Breen’s command of his actors is limited to directing them to just ham it up. Most of the actors will exaggerate facial expressions and physical movements, providing more drama. Landrat is trapped by her storyline too early, and so she succumbs to the screaming wife with an Eastern European accent. Autry does no better, looking uncomfortable in every moment onscreen. The worst actor in the movie, easily, is Valene, who squawks in the same pained sing-songy manner with every line with nasally incredulity. The best performance in the film may belong to the mysterious old lady therapist who may not really exist. And yet, she’s the most grounded.
Making the film seem even more alien is Breen’s chaste sense of human sensuality. One of the adjectives on the poster describing the film is “passionate,” but you have to wonder if Breen was just too uncomfortable, or perhaps his female actresses were, to make the onscreen passion a bit more palpable. The very way people kiss in this movie is so chaste. They lean in, pecking each other slightly on the lips, as if one was kissing their grandmother goodbye rather than engaging in uncontrollable passions. They were doing hotter fake kissing in 1940s Hayes code era Hollywood (check out Hitchcock’s Notorious and tell me that Cary Grant-Ingrid Bergman kiss still isn’t hot today). Breen’s passions are so modest and contained. Take for instance a scene of passion directly following a spat between Dylan and Emily, one where she threatens to leave him. Apparently that revved up their engines because they start tearing apart one another’s clothes and doing their chicken peck kissing. Breen, as is his usually fashion by this point, knocks over several laptops and throws papers into the air for what feels like a solid minute. Whenever disrobing one of the actresses, be it tearing of clothes or the more gentlemanly “unbuttoning” method, he always stops above his ladies bosoms, allowing a hint more cleavage but nothing beyond. It happens enough that it starts to become a noticeable artistic choice, as is his consistent framing of topless women sleeping face down on their beds. It gives just enough of a glimpse of partial nudity without revealing more (all four main actresses will go partially nude at some point in the film). This puzzled me because I was certain the only reason these actresses were selected is because they likely accepted a part where they would eventually display their physical assets. They’re not here because they can act, that’s for sure.
In fact, the only nudity in the entire movie belongs to Breen himself as he bares his behind while stumbling out of his carpeted hospital room. If you dare look closer, you’ll see the end of his gown catches the end of the hospital bed just so, allowing the flap to stretch and display Breen’s posterior. Either this was a one-time thing and Breen said, “why not?” or, and I think, given the nature of hero complex evidenced, this is more likely, that they kept shooting the scene until the flap caught and proudly displayed Breen’s rump. I suppose in the Garbage Bag Room (a reoccurring dream/nightmare in a space literally lined with garbage bags), there is a nude woman accompanying him, but she’s tastefully composed and likely a body double for Autry. For a man who looks visibly uncomfortable even kissing women, let alone disrobing them, it defies logic that Breen would acquiesce to his own nudity in his own film.
But the question that must be asked of all craptacular movies is whether it is the right kind of bad, the kind made with sincerity in equal measure with its incompetence. It’s one thing to make a bad movie and another to make it purposefully, chasing after the ever-hungry midnight movie crowd, looking to cash in with some canny filmmaking ineptitude (Birdemic 2, people). From everything I’ve gathered via Breen’s interviews, he’s legit. He even has previous movies to his name and I can only hope those will see a wider release. Breen’s film hits that so-bad-it’s-good sweet spot of derisive entertainment enjoyment. I was laughing just as many times as I was shaking my head. However, as a connoisseur of crap cinema, I must say that The Room maintains its throne. Breen’s film is a bit too lackadaisical in its nonsensical plotting and starts to feel redundant, and I’m not just talking about the oft-repeated dialogue. There is a finite level of bad to this film whereas The Room is a thousand brushstrokes of terrible. Breen’s film marvels but it may also test your patience at turns, unless you’ve been drinking heavily.
Fateful Findings is awash in terrible decision-making, to the world’s benefit. Breen and his team have put together a movie that is baffling, ridiculous, and greatly entertaining. From the dropped subplots, repeated laptop abuse, inauthentic human behavior, hazy plotting, laughable special effects, chaste human interaction, strange feet-heavy framing, and that ending, oh the ending is just comedy gold; there’s a little something here for every discerning ironic viewer of bad movies, though the film does lag and repeat its offenses enough that it feels stretched and redundant. I’d say, amongst the spectrum of recent bad midnight movie fare, it’s probably just below Birdemic. I don’t know what the repeat value will be for Breen’s film, or whether it will catch on with audiences like Wiseau’s unexpected success. I can’t even say whether I really want to watch it again, but I will, and with a gathering of friends, and likely with the added benefit of some adult beverages. If Fateful Findings is playing at a theater near you, by means see it and bring your pals along for the fateful experience. It will make you think. Mostly about laptops.
Nate’s Grade: F
Entertainment value: A-
Being an ardent fan of crappy cinema, I wanted to like this documentary a lot more than I did. Best Worst Movie is a documentary exploring the cult following of Troll 2, a bizarre 1990 horror sequel (that had nothing to do with the original) universally regarded as one of the worst films of all time. It’s all about killer vegetarian goblins that turn people into plants, among other things. Michael Stephenson, a child actor who starred in Troll 2 and got a hard life lesson, directs the documentary. He tracks down other cast members and reminisces about the strange shoot in Utah and their strange Italian director. I expected more colorful anecdotes and analysis, but Best Worst Movie is too navel-gazing. It focuses on the cult movement that has embraced the film and how the actors have found some merit of appreciative fans. Clearly Stephenson is trying to fashion validation for himself and his cast mates. The main figure of focus is George Hardy, a gregarious Alabama dentist who got his first, and only, acting job with Troll 2. He clearly hungers for the spotlight but at the same time dismisses the cult fans as being too “weird.” The best moments of Best Worst Movie are when we peel away the ironic veneer and catch the glimpses of personal joy people find from Troll 2. Whether it’s the audiences in bafflement, or the actors finding a modicum of relief and appreciation, an indescribably bad movie can link people into a loving community. For my money, The Room is the better trashy midnight movie experience.
Nate’s Grade: B
Ever since the organic, years-in-the-making cult ascent of The Room, every blogger and journalist has been trying to scour the world of inept cinema to crown the next great worst movie of all time. We all want to be kingmakers of camp. In the summer of 2009, After Last Season mystified audiences and seemed like it could be an excellent camp candidate, until people actually saw the film and discovered that it was more painful awful than pleasurable awful. Then a few months ago a new contender emerged — Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The extremely low-budget ($10,000) film, curiously dubbed a “romantic thriller,” is the THIRD film from writer/director/former software engineer James Nguyen. The Sundance Film Festival rejected his aviary masterpiece in 2009 but that didn’t stop Nguyen. He took a van, decorated it with (fake) dead birds, drove around promoting the film with the aid of screeching eagle cries, enticing people to come inside and watch the movie (sounds like the first reel of a serial killer film to me). The magic mixture of romance and eco terror has captured the interest of major media outlets like The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, USA Today, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News and ABC News, and the collective sugar-high rush to judgment says that Birdemic is “the worst film of all time.” Naturally, I had to see anything that vies for that hallowed honor.
For a movie citing the shock and terror of birds, it may be something of a shock that, short of a poorly rendered CGI dead bird on the beach, the first 40 minutes of this movie are absent the titular winged creatures. The first half of this movie is a mostly boring yet hugely personally eventful week for Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Whitney Moore), our witless leads. Rod scores million dollar sales at his software company, which leads to Oracle buying the company for a billion dollars. He also successfully finds a venture capitalist to invest $10 million in his own solar panel startup. Nathalie, Rod’s high school classmate, is an underwear model. She goes from a photo shoot –in a one hour photo store in a strip mall!– to the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. They meet at a diner and then go on a series of dull dates, culminating in Rod responding to a goodnight kiss on the cheek with the request of going upstairs in her apartment (total misread of the signs). Regardless, Nathalie tells her mother that Rod is a special guy who’s not just interested in one thing, conveniently ignoring the end of the date. He meets mom and then after a night of hilariously, uncoordinated Caucasian dancing at a vacant bar, the two decide to consummate the relationship in the most romantic fashion possible — a seedy motel bedroom. And yes, they both have homes. It was at this point that I checked my watch and yelled, “Where the hell are the birds already?!”
It is after the off-screen lovemaking that the birdemic finally strikes. The next morning, for no discernable reason, birds turn into kamikaze agents and dive-bomb gas stations, cars, homes, and whatever else, causing explosions citywide. Rod and Nathalie team up with another motel pair, Ramsey (Adam Sessa) and Becky (Catherine Batcha), who conveniently have a stash of high-powered automatic weapons in their van. The gang fights their way to the van and then the rest of the movie turns into a series of mini-adventures finding victims and survivors of the birdemic.
I will give Mr. Nguyen his due. His clueless naiveté is endearing, which makes the movie much easier to appreciate. Plus, unlike the filmmakers behind After Last Season, Nguyen has at least a competent idea of how movies are supposed to work. He doesn’t have any visual talent but he at least knows how camera compositions are supposed to be established, how editing orients the audience, and how to construct a story that people can at minimum follow. This is not intended as backhanded compliments, just another reminder at how monstrously appalling After Last Season was. It’s gotten to the point that basic competency is considered a virtue. Nguyen knows basic cinematic rules and the visual vocabulary that goes with cameras. He doesn’t have the skill to do anything else. The film was shot on DV and yet it constantly has focus issues. Characters will be stationed at distances that render them blurry. If Nguyen had a focus limit, why have the actors routinely wander outside that safe zone and into the blurry reaches of nothingness? Then there will be moments where it is painfully obvious that the background is a green screen, but why was that necessary? Nguyen will have two characters sit down at a restaurant, and then the rest of the table conversation will be green screen. That has to be the weakest excuse for a green screen ever (“We couldn’t afford to shoot people sitting at a table for an extended period of time”).
The editing is frequently choppy, jumping around to disorient the viewer, breaking visual rules of geography, but the editing seems on a timed delay. Every new shot/scene seems to start three seconds later than it should. The worst offense in the whole movie is the sound quality. Clearly using only the built-in microphone from his camera, Nguyen allows great portions of his movie to be un-listenable. A day at the beach turns into listening to the wild howl while it obscures all dialogue.
Birdemic has all the requisite components that make up a delightfully bad movie: bad acting, bad dialogue, plot holes, bizarre directorial and script decisions, and extreme awkwardness. For an outbreak of killer birds, everybody seems so resolutely casual about this aviary apocalypse. There is no sense of urgency or danger; characters will stroll in their walks and frequently make outdoor pit stops. One female character is killed after she wanders needlessly far from the safety of the van to pee. They didn’t decide that an indoor bathroom would be safer? The gang also decides to wander through a crowded forest, a habitat that might, you know, attract birds. Then there’s the careless frolic on the beach, again needlessly far from the refuge of the van. Rod is held up by one motorist for gas (yes, society has broken down that far in hours, and yet you can watch hundreds of cars pass along the other half of the road, foolishly driving toward the birdemic and their doom). But then Rod leaves behind the full gas container and hops back into the van, escaping a not so imminent bird attack. They keep venturing to outdoor areas to escape an enemy that utilizes the sky. They even have a picnic! In short, these people are dumb.
But, to be fair, maybe they’re reacting with such relaxation because the birds are more laughable than intimidating. Nguyen recycles the same low-rent special effects of birds mysteriously levitating. They flap their wings but don’t ever seem to be moving. These CGI creatures look like early computer effects from the 1990s. These birds seem to explode on impact. I wouldn’t be too alarmed, either. When the gang leaves the motel, the bids hover and squawk, and some characters use coat hangers to swing away their non-moving antagonists. Ramsey doesn’t even try to fight them off after a few seconds. He just stand there while the birds fail to do anything. They keep appearing in swarms, though they seem to purposely be following our band of dumb characters. The second half of this movie mostly follows characters shooting and driving. You start to anticipate that the Duck Hunter dog is going to appear at some point and pick up the fallen carcasses and snicker. Avatar, this ain’t.
To call any of this acting would be a generous use of the term. Moore, as Nathalie, might actually be a plausible actress. She handles the material the best. Her onscreen love interest, on the other hand, is astoundingly bad. Bagh has mastered the aloof, dead-eyed stare, which he uses as his specialty. When Rod first meets Nathalie he gazes in one long unbroken stare, which communicates more “Did I leave the gas on?” then, “Is that the girl I sat behind in an English class and never talked to?” Bagh seems to have learned his lines phonetically because his line delivery is steeped in a singsong rhythm. The dialogue is mostly short exclamations that give no indication of character or plot. It’s hard to gauge the acting ability of clear non-actors in a trashy movie. It’s all a sliding scale.
Nguyen has been working on the story of Birdemic for five years. This labor of love was also Nguyen’s platform to make mankind think about its effect on the environment. Yes, the movie has all sorts of environmental messages squeezed in, where characters debate the ecological motivations of the bird attacks. A Tree Hugger (that’s his literal screen credit) theorizes that the birds are fighting back to protect Mother Nature, that’s why they seem to go after cars and gas stations. A doctor in Canada (we’re informed that the van leaves the country by watching it drive past an arrow pointing to the U.S. border written in sidewalk chalk) theorizes that the birds from Canada were infected with the notorious bird flu, and then it spread south. The doctor also gets the opportunity to declare man the most deadliest threat of them all, thus fulfilling a sci-fi disaster movie requirement. The TV news alerts about the peril of global warming, and even though the film is set in 2008, the characters see An Inconvenient Truth at the theaters (“An important movie!”). The environmental message doesn’t begin to approach cohesive commentary.
As I was watching, I got the weird impression that Nguyen had been commissioned to film a tourist video for the city of Half Moon Bay, California. Then somewhere along the line the promotional project was scuttled and Nguyen looked at his assembled footage and said, “Well, why not make the most of it?” Ladies and gentlemen, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is “the most of it.” There are numerous scenes that serve no purpose other than highlighting some of the offerings of Half Moon Bay, from the quaint local shops, to the lighthouse, to its beaches and natural beauty, truly Half Moon Bay is where you want to spend your next vacation. There are pointless scenes of extended driving. The first three minutes of this movie is watching Rod drive to the office from the scenic view of his dashboard. The opening sequence mirrors Manos: The Hands of Fate, which began with over 10 minutes of uninterrupted driving shots. The opening is even more mind numbing because Nguyen plays the same 55-second piece of music over and over. So the next time you’re driving through California, think about stopping in Half Moon Bay, home of the world-famous birdemic.
Now comes the inevitable, and somewhat subjective part, where the critic must place Birdemic upon the scale of Absolute Awful ranging worst of the worst (Manos: The Hands of Fate) to the best of the worst (The Room). The people behind Birdemic are trying to streamline the cult phenom process. It premiered in New York City in early 2010 and is already being funneled to many markets. It all feels a little too manufactured for my tastes, like the media is so eager to be ahead of the hipster curve. Birdemic is a perfectly enjoyable laugh-out-loud experience best had with a bunch of your friends and perhaps some adult beverages. It’s a fine piece of derisive entertainment thanks to the sincerity of Nguyen. But in the world of bad, The Room still reigns supreme. Whereas Birdemic has plenty of bad housed in 90 minutes, it’s pretty much the same bad decisions and limitations. I look forward to Nguyen’s next film, Peephole: The Perverted. You just can’t go wrong when a movie has a subtitle, “The Perverted.” He may not be Tommy Wiseau, but this man knows how to make some tasty trash.
Nate’s (Derisive Enjoyment) Grade: B+
I consider myself to be a connoisseur of crappy cinema, thanks in large part to growing up on the fabulous TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000. To me, truly bad movies can be just as enjoyable to witness as great, competent works of filmic art. So imagine my surprise when it I had never heard of a little flick called The Room until a month ago. I was reading an Entertainment Weekly article about this tiny 2003 movie that has developed a rabid cult following. I felt betrayed. How did I go five years without ever hearing about this movie? The Room is writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus. It must be seen to be fully believed.
To watch The Room is truly a life-altering experience. This movie goes beyond bad. It’s so bad that it almost seems like Wiseau is a mad genius. This movie is bad on multiple levels and hooks you from the beginning, instantly daring the audience to stick around to see if it gets worse. And it does in the most wonderful ways. If I was stranded on a deserted island and could only bring five movies, right now The Room would be one of them (I may even be tempted to just bring five copies of this movie). Wiseau’s film cannot displace Manos: The Hands of Fate as the worst film of all time, but The Room easily belongs in the upper echelon of craptacular cinema among the likes of The Land of Faraway and Lady Terminator and Bulletproof Monk. I am simultaneously appalled, bewildered, fascinated, delighted, and comforted by this movie, comforted by the fact that something this singularly inept could still sneak through the system. But this film is so perfectly inept on a multitude of levels that it feels like it could never be recreated again, like the human race benefited from this chance artistic encounter. The only way I can fully describe my unhealthy appreciation for this cinematic slice of the absurd is to simply list off my list of loves.
1) The film’s plot involves a love triangle with the three least personable people imaginable. Johnny (Wiseau) is a broad shouldered, marble-mouth Austrian who supposedly works at a bank, we’re told. Lisa (Juliette Danielle) stays in their apartment doing very little, though she says that she shouldn’t have gotten into the computer business because it’s “too competitive.” Lisa declares in damn near every scene that after five years together (though the characters say seven at the end of the film) she no longer loves Johnny. She now loves Mark (Greg Sestero), Johnny’s best friend. And if you forget that key point then Mark will assist you because one third of his dialogue is declarations of “Johnny’s my best friend.” Another third of his dialogue might as well be, “What are you doing?” Mark is one of the thickest dolts in history. Even after Lisa has sex with him twice, calls him repeatedly, and leads him to places where they can be alone and intimate, he looks at her dumbfounded and says, “What are you doing?” like a kid who will never comprehend that 2 + 2 = 4. This is the basis of the plot and yet so much of the movie is gloriously repetitive and involves characters sitting around, saying the same things over, without ever really advancing the plot.
2) The Room hooks you from the start, and it’s all thanks to the weird neighbor kid/surrogate son Denny (Philip Haldiman). This supposed student is an orphan that Johnny has taken a shine to; Denny has his rent and tuition generously paid for by Johnny. In the very opening scene Johnny gives Lisa a slinky red dress as a gift. She tries it on and both Denny and Johnny make favorable remarks. Johnny says he’s a bit tired and leads Lisa by the hand up the stairs. The camera stays on Denny, who, instead of taking the hint and leaving, remains standing, grabs an apple, takes a bite out of it, then slowly walks up the stairs after the amorous couple. He then hops on their bed and joins in on their pillow fight foreplay. The characters have to literally spell it out to the guy that they want some privacy for sex. “I know, I just like to watch you guys,” Denny responds. What? Denny confesses to Johnny about experiencing weird feelings for Lisa. This kid is supposed to be in college but he acts like he’s developmentally challenged. My wife has a theory that Denny has a confusing gay crush on Johnny, but I believe that would be way more deep and subtle than the movie seems capable of.
3) The movie is littered with subplots that come out of nowhere and never resurface again. All of a sudden Lisa’s materialistic mother (Carolyn Minnott) announces she has breast cancer. This is never commented upon again. All of a sudden Denny is confronted by an angry drug dealer who wants his money, which means he’s also the world’s worst drug dealer if he’s willing to give out drugs on credit. The characters all collect on the roof and yell. This is never commented upon again. Lisa makes up a story that Johnny hit her. He publicly denies it. This is never dealt with again in any capacity. Lisa lies to Johnny that she’s pregnant, just to “make things interesting.” Her rationale is that they’ll eventually start trying to have a baby anyway, which conflicts with her frequent statements that she doesn’t love Johnny and wants to leave. This fake baby is never commented upon again. About thirty minutes into the movie, another couple sneaks into Johnny’s apartment to have sex. Why I cannot fathom. When Lisa and her mother intrude upon this scene, the mother asks astutely, “Who are these characters?” Exactly madam. The movie keeps going over the same material because nothing new ever sticks.
4) The line readings are astoundingly inauthentic. Half of the film seems to be dubbed, especially Johnny’s lines. Much of the dubbed dialogue fails to match up with the actor’s mouth movements. There is one sequence in a flower shop that is nothing but dubbed dialogue and it happens so quick. The scene itself lasts like 10 seconds but it still manages to squeeze in this entire conversation: “Oh hey Johnny, I didn’t see you there.” “Yep, it’s me.” “Here are the flowers you wanted.” “How much?” “18 dollars.” “Here ya go. Keep the change. Hi doggy.” “You’re my favorite customer, Johnny.” “Byeee.” It happens so rapidly with so little breath in between. Wiseau’s quick changes in temperament with consecutive lines will amaze you. He goes directly from, “I did not hit her! I did not! I did naaaaaaaut,” to a very casual, “Oh hey, Mark,” in a nano-second flat. The speech patterns rarely approach realistic human cadences.
5) Lisa is routinely told by the several male characters that she is exceptionally beautiful and lovely, but this woman’s personality is like a dead plant. Danielle is a fine enough looking woman, though the hair and makeup people do her no help with those thick eyebrows, but as a beauty that could manipulate multiple men? I don’t think so. Danielle has a bit of a tummy to her, which is fine by my standards of beauty, but from a Hollywood perspective a woman that lacks a concave stomach is considered “fat.” Lisa’s friend Michelle (Robyn Paris) is in fact a more attractive female and might have served as a better Lisa. I think perhaps Danielle was willing to do nudity and Paris was not, but really, if you’re a struggling L.A. actor and you’re willing to agree to be apart of something like The Room, surely you’ve already ignored any internal misgivings. What possible hang-ups could there be left?
6) The film is structured like the soft-core porn that dot the late hours of premium cable channels. There are four lengthy sex scenes in the first hour, though one of them is composed almost entirely with recycled footage from the first bout of lovemaking between Lisa and Johnny. The sex scenes are deeply un-erotic and consist of several camera angles that make it impossible to see what is actually happening. There is nothing sexy about watching Wiseau’s pasty posterior humping the hips of Danielle (seriously, the body alignments are way off here). When Lisa and Mark have sex on top of a spiral staircase, Wisuea can barely frame the action coherently. Why would anyone want to have sex on a spiral staircase? That’s just asking for chronic back pain. Mark fails to even take his pants off. For such lengthy sex scenes, Wiseau does so little with the talent on display. What makes all the sex scenes even better is that they each get a wretched pop song as a soundtrack. It’s all mid 1990s R&B with some growling sex guitar, and it’s all awful. There’s one song that repeats the phrase “you are my rose” like nine times in a row. If you fail to cringe and howl from the sex scenes then the songs ought to do it.
7) Wiseau makes the most mysterious decisions as an artist. He sticks to a minimum of locations and one of them happens to be the roof of Johnny’s apartment complex. The sensible thing would be to film on an actual roof. Wiseau decided to film on a roof set and use an ineffective green screen backdrop that makes San Francisco look like it inherited Los Angeles’ smog. The film keeps cutting back to exterior stock footage of the city that signifies the passage of hours, a day, or no time whatsoever. When Denny is confronted on the same rooftop about his sudden drug disclosure, Lisa berates him. As she cries and shrieks and overacts, you cannot see it because Wiseau’s camera has cut her facial reactions out of frame. The scene cuts back and forth between Denny facing the camera and the left side of Lisa’s head. At another point Lisa is talking about her cheating ways with her pal Michelle, who seems way too giggly to be disapproving. During this scene Lisa has angled her body in such a manner that when she speaks it appears like a subcutaneous alien is about to burst forth from beneath her neck. Wiseau did not catch this unnerving and distracting sight. The film’s lone idea of male bonding involves tossing a football together. So Mark and Johnny will go out running in a park and toss a football back and forth, all the while having a faint conversation that gets drowned out by an overly anxious score. There will be swaths of the film where the score just competes with the onscreen dialogue.
8) There’s like a whole other level of offhand dialogue throughout, where characters will stand around and Johnny or someone else will mumble to no one in particular. The actual dialogue is full of other memorable head-scratchers, such as:
Random disapproving guy to Mark: “Keep your stupid comments in your pockets!”
Same disapproving man: “It feels like I’m sitting on an atom bomb that is going to explode!”
Michelle using chocolate candies as a means of foreplay: “Chocolate is a sign of love.”
Lisa’s mother: “Nobody ever listens to me.”
Lisa: “You’re probably right about that, mom.”
Johnny’s profound wisdom: “You know, if more people love each other the world would be a better place.”
Johnny refers to someone as a chicken and then proceeds to make this accompanying sound: “Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheeeaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiip.” This bizarre chicken impression will be repeated no less than three times.
Mark: How was work today?
Johnny: Oh pretty good. We got a new client… at the bank. We make a lot of money.
Mark: What client?
Johnny: I cannot tell you. It’s confidential.
Mark: Oh come on. Why not?
Johnny: No I can’t. Anyway, how is your sex life?
And finally, the signature line, where Johnny has had enough of Lisa’s mental games and he roars, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”
I could keep citing further evidence of The Room‘s cinematic shortcomings, but listing the faults of one of the worst films ever made can be pointless after a while. The staggering amount of faults in Wiseau’s film is also its combined strength. Most bad movies have a finite level of badness, like a poor plot or some troublesome acting. The Room is a movie composed of nothing but 99 complete minutes of badness at every facet of filmmaking. I am a more complete person having seen this remarkable film. I highly recommend gathering a group of friends around and holding a viewing party; the movie plays to even higher levels of enjoyment with a group atmosphere. The Room is Tommy Wiseau’s accidental masterpiece and, to me, proof that a loving God exists.
Artistic Merit: F
Entertainment Value: A+
It’s not every day that Jean Claude Van Damme gets some marginal level of redemption. The original 1994 Street Fighter film took the classic arcade fighting game and took it as seriously as possible, which meant it was incredibly silly. Van Damme was Colonel Guile and entrusted to rescue hostages from the evil dictator, Bison (Raul Julia). The big screen adaptation rewrote entire characters but managed to keep the stuff fans really care about, like catchphrases, costumes, and super moves. God forbid that audiences see Cammy (Kylie Minogue, yes that Kylie Minogue) make the wrong victory pose. It’s always the unimportant things that somehow matter the most to execs. Street Fighter is a campy blast. How could you despise a movie that has its villain say, “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me… it was Tuesday.” Though the movie does have the depressing distinction of being Julia’s last film before he died. Let this be a lesson to all actors looking to take a paycheck role. Years later, in the wake of a writer’s strike, the execs at Fox thought they could pump new blood into a Street Fighter franchise. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li purports to tell the back-story of one of its most popular fighters, the diminutive fireball-tossing lass with Princess Leia’s haircut. This movie proves that you don’t need a Van Damme to make a boring and mediocre action movie.
Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) is trained to be a master pianist and also a master martial arts warrior. You don’t realize the kinds of dangers classical pianists constantly run into. Her father is kidnapped by the crime lord Bison (Neal McDonough) for some reason or other. Three years later, a mysterious scroll falls into her possession. She travels to Bangkok to find her father. Bison has the ingenious plan of buying waterfront property, introduce high levels of crime, and then making money on lowered property values, which is simultaneously confusing and stupid. Bison has a few evil henchmen, notably the giant boxer Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and the masked warrior Vega (Taboo from the Black Eye Peas), who help wipe out his criminal competition. In Bangkok, Chun-Li is mentored by Gen (Robin Shou, who played Liu Kang in two Mortal Kombat movies) and together they attempt to thwart Bison and his dastardly real estate scheme.
For a movie about streets and fighting, well there’s a clear shortage of the latter. Much of the movie is structured around Chun-Li conducting her own private investigation and achieving some level of inner peace. She decides to try and make it on the streets of Bangkok. There are forgettable training exercises with forgettable platitudes disguised as wisdom (“You’re hurting me,” “No, you’re hurting yourself”). There are a handful of lackluster fights and chases, some of them through streets even, but the movie has a scarce amount of action until it revs up for a climactic showdown. The action is also poorly shot and poorly edited, distracting the senses and making it downright impossible to understand. The choreography is nothing special. When the movie suddenly introduces a supernatural element the other characters don’t even bat an eye. Screenwriting neophyte Justin Marks has too much revenge-seeking father drama and real estate scheming and not enough brawling. The Legend of Chun-Li has zero respect for the intelligence of its audience. It has flashbacks to flashbacks that just aired minutes earlier. How hard would it have been to just actually base a Street Fighter movie on a fighting tournament?
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Doom, Romeo Must Die) shoots the movie in such a dull manner that the fight sequences fail to even elicit any interest. There’s one scene in the middle of the film that serves as a testament to the lack of care put into this movie. Chun-Li has battled a Bison henchwoman in a women’s bathroom. The bathroom set design includes partition walls with portholes. Chun-Li is on one side and the henchwoman tries to punch her through the porthole. Chun-Li grabs the woman’s arm and squeezes. The camera angle is from the side of the actresses, so it would make the most sense to have the henchwoman’s right arm caught, that way her expression could be seen. Nope. Chun-Li is gripping the woman’s left arm, meaning that her raised arm and shoulder block any view of the woman’s face, and yet she talks through this scene. How difficult would it have been to just switch arms? Why purposely obscure an actor’s face, especially in a scene that doesn’t require a stunt double?
Here’s a curious item. Chun-Li has always been a full-blooded Chinese woman in the history of the video game. When we see her as a child, baby Chun-Li and child Chun-Li are very obviously Chinese in features. Flash forward a few years and she’s transformed into looking like Kreuk, who is half-Chinese. Apparently, one of the less common side effects of trauma is becoming less Chinese looking as you age. Along these same strange ethnic lines, we’re told that Bison was the child of Irish missionaries and was left behind in Bangkok. And yet, the child grown up completely in Southeast Asia manages to sport an Irish accent. Anybody want to explain that particular linguistic loophole?
Kreuk (TV’s Smallville) is one of the film’s biggest handicaps. The script saddles her with great amounts of pointless voice over, to the point that half of her performance is listlessly explaining what is literally happening on screen. Kreuk is a dead-eyed robot in this movie; she displays some glimpses of human emotion, like sadness and rage, but they never feel remotely credible, like someone who only knows the definitions of emotions and not proper application. Her lesbian seduction dance is a small moment of absurdity. She thrashes on the dance floor and her “dancing” reminded me more of a bird’s mating dance without the excessive plumage displaying. Kreuk can run and flex well enough, which is also a nice benefit for a martial arts action flick.
The acting is terrible but there is one bright spot in a most unexpected location. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the best worst performance of the year, brought to you by Chris Klein (American Pie). Klein plays Interpol agent Charlie Nash who is conducting a parallel investigation into Bison’s Bangkok activities. He’s partnered up with a local gangland homicide detective (Moon Bloodgood) who takes extra care to showcase her cleavage thanks to work outfits with plunging necklines. Klein is awful to a powerful degree but here’s the thing — I’m fairly certain it’s one hundred percent intentional. Being a conosoire of trashy cinema, I feel that I’ve adopted the skill of being able to deduce when an actor is hopelessly serious or just goofing off. Klein comes across like a self-aware man; he knows this is a crummy movie with crummy dialogue, so he’s going to have as much fun as possible. His performance is all forced swagger, from the way he constantly swivels his head to the way he cannot purposely walk in a straight line. He overemphasizes lines, chewing over the faux hard boiled detective talk and spitting it out in a singsong delivery. He grimaces and furrows his brow, widens his eyes to comical levels, and when he crouches in a gunfight the man spreads his legs as far apart so that he looks like he could have effectively doubled as a backup dancer in an MC Hammer music video. It’s obvious that Klein has given a staggering performance, but the observant will note that this is not an inept performance. This man knows exactly the kind of movie he’s in. I always tabbed Klein as a wooden actor that came across like Diet Keanu Reeves, but I must credit him for making a bold acting choice to knowingly dig deeper when it comes to being bad.
Readers know that I am skeptical and dismissive about the prospect of a good movie ever being born from a video game adaptation. Games call for interactivity and movies passivity. But if you’re going to make a movie called Street Fighter than stick to the script. This borefest wants to be a gangland drama with a tacked-on buddy cop side plot. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is an awful work partially redeemed from the sheer amount of unintentional hilarity. Kreuk is extremely miscast as a warrior woman. The acting is bad, the direction is bad, the writing is bad, and Chris Klein tries to outdo them all in badness, and I admire the chap for trying something different in an admittedly abysmal movie. To be fair, I was never a big fan of the original video game. The special moves always seemed much more tricky to pull off. How many different incarnations of Street Fighter II were there before they eventually mastered basic math and released Street Fighter III? These are the things I was thinking about wistfully whenever Klein or Bloodgood wasn’t on screen.