JUNE 22, 2008
I was particularly harsh to Captivity, a film without any sort of plot, character to care about, decent photography, etc. And yet, I’d rather watch it a 2nd time than do the same for Otis, even though Otis is technically better. The difference is, Captivity was just awful all the way through, and thus would make for a good drunken movie night with pals, whereas Otis is actually decent for the first hour, only to fall completely apart.
Like Captivity, Otis focuses on a fat guy with glasses who kidnaps a blond girl he calls Kim (and hey, in Captivity, WE call her Kim, because she’s better known as Kim Bauer!) and chains her in a dungeon with some torture devices. He’s got a brother who may be even more of a wretched human being, and the cops looking for her are pretty inept. But this movie offers another angle to the proceedings – the girl’s family, who go from grief to vigilante over the course of, I dunno, two scenes.
And therein lies the main problem with the film – it’s tonally all over the place. The “torture” scenes are presented as creepy and fairly understated, and the family stuff goes from broad to satirical and back seemingly at random. It’s actually like the Halloween remake in that regard – there are great scenes here and there, but overall it’s like watching three films combined into one mess. I hate to admit, most of the best stuff is just the dungeon/kidnapping scenes, due to the aforementioned creepiness. He’s not a particularly violent guy; she takes a slug or two and that’s about it. But he dresses her in a cheerleader outfit and has her cheer, rear projects a highway and pretends he’s taking her for a drive, etc. These scenes are pretty unnerving at times, and accompanied by a truly great soundtrack and score. There’s also a nice bit of underplayed foreshadowing involving her bra that I appreciated – nothing worse than a completely obvious hint about something that will be important later (see Untraceable for the absolute worst offense of this sort of screenwriting, EVER). But once she escapes, the rest of the movie is just pretty awful, as her suddenly vengeful family tries to get him back for what he did, only to mistakenly torture Otis’ brother Elmo (Kevin Pollak).
The humor does not work at all in these scenes. It’s supposed to be over the top and ridiculous, yet making a point, and yet its all so clichéd and generic. For example, the mild mannered dad (Daniel Stern) is about to plug in a torture device, only to discover the cord isn’t long enough to reach the outlet – a gag that has been used in full on comedic films as well as a moment of levity in full blown horror ones (Hostel II comes to mind). “Ha. Ha.” This gag goes on for a full minute. The worst offender is Jared Kusnitz, as the girl’s brother. His character is yet another disassociated youth who does reprehensible things that pass for character development. Ignoring the fact that some of the stuff he allegedly does should put him in jail, it’s just completely idiotic that we are expected to believe he does ALL of it – sells porn of his sister, deals drugs, MAKES drugs, nails frogs to the principal’s office door, plus apparently plays video games all day (and more). The actor is annoying as well (think an emo version of that Chris Marquette kid), which doesn’t help at all. Plus, the family switches so instantly, it’s hard to believe that they are so bloodthirsty – it comes off as impulsive behavior, but they are fully prepared for their act. Worse – they look nothing like a family at all; there’s no way in hell I buy Illeana Douglas and Ashley Johnson as 2nd cousins, let alone mother and daughter (the brother doesn’t look like anyone either).
The only actor who pulls it off is Jere Burns as the lead cop. He’s an idiot, but thinks he’s clever, and while it’s not exactly an original character, he at least got a few laughs out of me due to his completely inappropriate bluntness (one of his best lines is in the trailer). Also worth a chuckle is Tracy Scoggins (still hot!) as a newscaster who tells a missing girl’s parents that their daughter is probably dismembered. According to the commentary, this is supposed to be a satire on the media as well, but since Scoggins only has about 2 minutes of screentime, it’s kind of hard to really sell the idea – it comes off as just a quick gag rather than as any sort of commentary.
The same writer and director are also responsible for Sublime, a film that also suffered from half-assed attempts at social commentary and an uneven tone. Their commentary is full of pretentious babble and occasional obnoxious bickering (they argue over whether an actor had gum in his mouth at one point – riveting!), instead of explaining why their film looks like a soap opera. Oh, because they shot on video. Maybe instead of hiring well known actors to play a family, you can get unknowns that actually look alike, which would not only perhaps help sell the “family bond” idea in the film if the viewer can actually believe they are related, but also allow you to shoot on fucking film so your movie doesn’t look like ass on top of it. There is also an alternate ending that, true to form, doesn’t fit the tone of the film very well, and is also apparently missing a scene or two leading up to it, as it doesn’t make any sense in the context of what is in the final cut.
I hate to say that the best parts of a film feature a girl being psychologically tortured, but that is sadly the case. A film like The Cottage managed to blend the gore (and even a kidnapped blond!) with the slapstick-ish comedy rather well, so I know a. it can be done and b. I can enjoy it, but this one just didn’t work for me.
Incidentally, I should note that right before I watched Otis, I finally watched Juno, a film I took a personal vengeance against last Christmas when the Arclight took the 21+ screening of Gremlins away and put Juno in its place, forcing me to watch Gizmo and co. completely sober. I wasn't much interested in the film anyway; I loved Jason Reitman’s first film (Thank You For Smoking), and most of the cast are aces in my book (Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Allison Janney), but Ellen Page looked like she would annoy me, and since she was the star, I figured that would be kind of a dealbreaker. But when my colleague Spooky Dan got a quote on Otis by saying its “Juno for the horror set” I figured I would get myself in the right frame of mind to enjoy it as much as he did. And to be honest, I didn’t hate Juno, I just hated Juno herself. While she bugged me (the girl can't say 4 words without one of them being an obscure reference. JUST TALK!!!), the rest of the characters were genuine and spoke like human beings for the most part (though I am growing tired of Michael Cera’s one mode of performance – can the kid do anything BUT play soft spoken introverts who inexplicably draw the attraction of girls nothing like him?), and I laughed out loud several times. Plus at its heart it was a simple, sweet little character comedy/drama, and there's nothing wrong with that. Bateman's character in particular was one I could definitely relate to (I too have a room in which to keep my personality!). So if I can more or less enjoy a movie I wanted to hate (I DID hate the soundtrack though - but keep in mind I consider the Shocker soundtrack to be the finest of its kind), I should have been able to enjoy Otis, a movie I wanted to like, right? Oh well.
What say you?