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BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)
DEMOLITION MAN (1993)
HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)


Bubba Ho-Tep Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis. Director and screenwriter: Don Coscarelli
The one sentence summary of this film might read thus: Nursing home residents Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy team up to fight a soul-sucking mummy who wears a cowboy suit.

Doesn't that sound like a lot of fun? It sure does to me. It's a pity the film itself doesn't live up to the generated expectation of that summary, but come on, what film could?

Well, a better one than this, one that knew what kind of movie it wanted to be. Bubba Ho-Tep seems to be really confused about the kind of story it is. Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy? Is it a story about marginalized old people (lots of scenes about how sad their lives are)? Is it a story about what it's like to be Elvis (lots of flashbacks of his life, lots of his regrets)? Is it a bizarre David Lynch-type series of images (there are these weird flash-frame, time-lapse sequences)?

Well, it tries to be all of those, and thus doesn't really focus on any one of them long enough to do it justice, to really bring it up and close it out. Too many elements in the film are brought up and shown to us and have nothing further to do with the plot. A case in point: early on, Elvis' roomate in the nursing home dies, and his daughter comes to collect his meagre possessions. She's very dismissive of her late father. Suddenly, Elvis has an interest in his photos and Purple Heart. It's the first interest at all he's shown in the guy, and it wasn't there a few minutes before. But the items, and the daughter, disappear from the film, making me wonder what the heck it was all supposed to contribute (other than running time).

Even the ending, while it “feels” right, seems incomplete. Other than the “poor poor pitiful Elvis” thread, there's no closure (and there's a lot to be closed). Of course, the end titles promise that “Elvis will return in Bubba Nosferatu” so perhaps they were planning a sequel all along.

Overall, I felt unsatisfied. Now, there are some very good parts to the movie: the music, a kind of twangy guitar Angelo Badalamenti-Ennio Morricone score, is terrific. Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis are both great and they have a wonderful chemistry (if there is a sequel, I hope they bring them both back [Ed's note: Davis' recent passing makes this unlikely]). Despite the cowboy suit, the mummy is pretty scary. And the film does do a good job of being funny when it needs to be, and scary when it needs to be, without either one diminishing the other. That's a pretty rare accomplishment.

So, I dunno about this one. If I were you, I'd wait for the sequel and rent the double-bill. It might be a more satisfactory experience.


Demolition Man Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock, Wesley Snipes. Director: Marco Brambilla. Writers: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov
This is a fun movie, with a rather lighthearted tone considering the sheer evil of which Wesley Snipes' character, Simon Phoenix, seems capable. But the future world depicted here is quite imaginative and, until The Fifth Element, was one of the few to show a clean and orderly future, rather than the aftermath of some cataclysm.

There's an amusing running gag about being fined for swearing, a police force that doesn't know how to deal with genuine violence (“We're police officers; we're not trained for this kind of thing!”), throwaway gags about commercial jingles and fast food, and, of course, an underground full of grungy people. And an absolutely great conversation about knitting.

I wrote most of the above paragraph after seeing an hour of the movie; at that time, I had begun to think of various ways the plot could turn, and I was surprised by how wrong I was about all of them. Now, some of the ways I was wrong was that I over-complicated things; they brought up a long-lost daughter for example, but she's mentioned a couple of times and never makes an appearance. And some of the villains are killed easily; one of them, who has a great deal of power, overlooks something that I thought he would have taken pains to see to. (Maybe they ran out of money.)

So, while it avoids most of the cliches, it does so not by overcoming them, but by going around them. Oh well. There are still plenty of cliches to go around.
Of course, one of the great things about action movies is the predictability, the shuffling of cliches into an entertaining mixture. More than any other movie, they're like a theme park ride, with a lot of generated thrills but no real danger at any time. And this one is, as stated, a great deal of fun.

Sylvester Stallone is not much of an actor, he's more of a prop, though in the right role he can be fun. This one is just a sliver beyond his range, but he does the best he can and at times he does very well. Wesley Snipes is a noisy psychopath, always talking or in motion; you get the feeling his body would explode if he stopped to rest. Sandra Bullock is just cute as the dickens, and she's easily the best actor here, giving the role of future ultra-polite cop a very natural air. You get the feeling she's not acting at all; a fun character.

Well, the most fun character is Glenn Shadix as Bob, a professional “assistant” who goes from boss to boss without breaking a sweat. He's a moral vacuum, but you can't help but like him anyway.

So: overall, lots of fun. My understanding is that director Marco Brambilla never made another movie, which is too bad. At least he made this one. Rent it and enjoy. [Note: my understanding was wrong, but Mr. Brambilla hasn't done much since this, so my misunderstanding was understandable.]


House of the Dead Starring: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Grauer, Jurgen Prochnow. Director: Uwe Boll. Cliché Typists: Mark A. Altman, Dan Bates, Dave Parker.
This is a zombie movie, and it's a very, very basic example of that genre: some isolated people are besieged by hundreds of zombies. It's no better or worse than some of its recent brethren, like co-writer Dave Parker's The Dead Hate The Living (but with a higher budget and more kineticism) or Resident Evil (but without the human conspiracy, technophobia or ridiculousness). The fact that it lacks a human villain not connected with the zombies practically makes it unique, and, if you're not expecting George Romero, it's pretty enjoyable.

Not that it is without problems. The characters are incredibly thin, and there are some folks who appear solely to get killed; their scenes last barely long enough to accomplish that. The film is, like Resident Evil, based on a video game, but unlike Evil it makes no attempt to hide this—in fact, it revels in it; there are these ridiculous slow-motion shots that rotate around our heroes as they fire into the zombie hordes (luckily, one of them is an arms smuggler just dropping off a shipment). One almost expects to see titles (“KIRK!”) in 3-D lettering appear beneath them, along with fun facts, explanation of abilities, and trivia about the character.

The other, far more blatant reminder occurs as we get frequent cut-aways from the live-action zombie shooting to their parallels in the original arcade game. I'm not sure what the point of this is, except maybe to keep people who are too credible from becoming too scared by all the mayhem.

And yes, there's a lot of mayhem. I don't think I've seen as much human-zombie fighting ever before in a zombie movie. There are times when it is just non-stop. It's all over the map, too, in forests, churchyards, tunnels, even underwater.

There aren't many surprises along the way. The number of survivers is, alas, given to us early on in voiceover so most of the deaths happen when you expect them to. But this is a zombie movie that, say, unlike Romero's work is intended to be an action picture, rather than a horror movie. It doesn't have a brain in its pointy little head, but it's a fun ride.

The film has been pretty well reviled, critically, but I thought it was kind of cool. Apparently director Uwe Boll is, shall we say, not highly thought of, precisely for his delivery of this film. What can I say? Parts of it were fun and action-filled enough to be interesting, and it never gets boring.

Oh, and all the women are babes. That's always a plus.

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