APRIL 22, 2009
I have long been a vocal supporter of seeing films theatrically whenever possible (I've seen both of the direct-to-DVD Rest Stop films in theaters, for example), but I opted to take in Mutant Chronicles at home for free rather than shell out 10-14 bucks to see it in theaters this weekend (I also skipped the film's premiere last night, but that was mainly due to general exhaustion and the insane heat we were experiencing). There are two reasons for this: one - I'm kind of broke as of late, and need to save money wherever I can. And two - It looked like shit.
Now to be fair, the film was made for about 1/3 the money it should have cost, and had gone through so many false starts and on/off directors (including John Carpenter at one point), it's almost impressive that the film was completed at all. But that's also part of the problem - it doesn't actually FEEL completed. It's obvious that a Sin City/Sky Captain look was aimed for, but Simon Hunter is no Robert Rodriguez/whoever directed Sky Captain. It's not enough to "look cool", you have to direct the film with as much panache as you would had everything been practical, and Hunter has failed to do that.
For a movie with mutants, vast wastelands, steam powered airships, and a whole lot of violence, it is inexcusably short on memorable sequences or even shots. In fact, I can only think of two memorable scenes: one in an escape pod that is hurtling toward the ground, and another is a sword fight set in an elevator that is also hurtling toward the ground. These scenes (ironically confined to tight spaces and thus pretty short on visual effects/greenscreen wizardry) are exciting and fairly unique, but they only make up about 3 minutes of the 100 minute film (note - the IMDb claims a 111 min running time, not sure if that's inaccurate or if the US release has been shortened). The rest is given to generic war/action movie cliches, poorly shot/edited fights, and lots and lots of blood that looks like someone just drew on the negative with a red crayon. It's unclear if this is Hunter's fault or simply an unfortunate side effect of the compromised budget, but either way it's a massively disappointing execution of what should have been a kick-ass movie.
Especially when you consider the cast. Tom Jane and Ron Perlman are ringers for any number of genre films, so to team them up should produce gold. You also have John Malkovich on hand for a few minutes, and uber-cute/proven ass-kicker Anna Walton as the female lead. Unfortunately, they are saddled with screen vacuum Devon Aoki, an actress who really should be locked inside a vault at the Sci-Fi channel, lest she sink another promising production. We also have Benno Fürmann, an actor I actually like who is sadly relegated to some of the worst movies I have seen (The Order, Princess and the Warrior, Speed Racer...). This isn't as bad as those piles, but it's yet another movie he should leave off his résumé all the same.
The problem with all of these actors, good or bad, is that they never get anything interesting to do, and thus often seem bored themselves. Jane is a guy I will watch in anything, because he has this old-school sort of charm, plus he's obviously nuts (ever see him on a panel during a convention? Oh my!). But he seems bored out of his mind here, and Perlman is a bit below par too (Malkovich isn't in it enough to really resonate). Then again, how much excitement can you expect any actor to muster when asked to carry out the 9 millionth "rogue soldier declines to join a team on a secret mission, only to change his mind and stroll in halfway through the meeting in which the mission is discussed" scene?
Speaking of cliché, almost every single character in this movie dies more or less by their own hand, in order to save the lives of their friends. At least three of them blow themselves up, so by the time the 3rd guy does it, it hardly packs any sort of emotional punch. Also, it's worth noting the film's (likely) unintentional racist approach to killing folks off: the first three guys to die are the black guys on the team. The next to die are a pair of Asians, followed by a Mexican. Most of our Caucasian characters are eventually killed too, but it's funny how they are carefully spared until all of our minorities are dispatched.
So is there anything to recommend? Well, the production design and such is pretty impressive; the establishing shots and such look pretty awesome as long as there aren't any badly composited bored actors in the shots with them. And the mutants are pretty fearsome; they're not in the movie as much as I was hoping for (i.e. pretty much every shot as opposed to the reality of a half dozen attack scenes) but they are effectively vicious and numerous. And Tom Jane's character has a keyring made of fallen squadmates' dog tags, which is a nice little touch. And while unintentional, I liked the fact that a group called Bauhaus is in control of about a quarter of the world. I picture a few goths sending out armies of shitty goth kids to invade smaller countries and it's an awesome visual. Certainly better than anything on display here.
If you absolutely loved the visual style of Sin City or Sky Captain (or The Spirit I guess), then you will probably want to check this one out, if for nothing else than to see how this type of film should NOT be done. Those expecting a kick ass post-apoc film should stick with Doomsday or even I Am Legend, both of which deliver far more thrills while not wasting their respected stars.
What say you?
P.S. If anyone is questioning the film's "horror" status - it's gory as hell, has MUTANTS (aka monsters), and has been covered extensively on horror sites such as Bloody-D and Fangoria. It counts.