MAY 27, 2009
I feel bad for Dennis Quaid. He’s a great actor, and like Bruce Willis or Kurt Russell, has aged gracefully and is capable of tackling a variety of roles. But the guy can’t catch a break when it comes to the box office. Looking at his stats, he’s only had three hit movies this decade, out of about a dozen or so. And now The Horsemen, which should have been a minor hit just based on the pedigree (Platinum Dunes, who is batting pretty damn close to a thousand at the box office), didn’t even get a wide release. After shelving it for nearly two years, Lionsgate Midnight Meat Trained it into 5 theaters this past winter, and now its hitting DVD with zero fanfare.
Well, suffice to say that while it certainly deserved better (all movies deserve a chance to be seen; the goddamn thing didn’t even play in Los Angeles!), it’s no revelatory gem either. Of the 4 or 5 movies Lionsgate royally fucked over in the past year, it’s the weakest (though ironically, also the most "commercial"). Apparently, there were some reshoots (and at least one re-cast role - Neil McDonough was replaced with Chelcie Ross, two actors that couldn't be less alike), and they show, but what really sinks the movie is how generic it is for the first hour, only to suddenly pull out all the stops with a finale that means well but unfortunately comes off as laughable.
NOTE - Spoilers will follow, including the killer’s identity and motive.
See, the first hour is your standard 90’s serial killer movie (think Seven or Bone Collector) mixed with the overused “Cop is so devoted to his job he neglects his children” plot. In the first twenty minutes, Quaid’s character goes through every one of the “bad movie parent” clichés: he forgets to buy milk, shows up late to pick one of the kids up from school, and even does the whole ‘Hey kids lets go to the game uh oh my phone is ringing which means we’re not going to the game’ thing. I can only assume a scene where the kid has to forge his dad’s signature on a field trip form was lost in the re-editing process. And while Quaid is as good an actor as any, no one can overcome how painfully generic these scenes are. That, mixed with yet another biblically themed serial killer (don’t any of these guys just kill for fun anymore?), will give you the impression that you’re watching some sort of karaoke version of a real movie.
And then all of a sudden we get a decent twist, and for a second I thought the generic-ness was about to pay off. However, it just goes completely off the rails when you discover that the killer is... his older son. While running around his house looking for the younger kid, Quaid runs into the son's room and finds that its covered with all of the plans, evidence of the murders, etc. And his motive? Quaid didn’t pay any attention to him for too long. So we actually have a serial killer movie where the killer says “You haven’t been in my room for three years!” and the cop tries to get the killer to stop by promising to take him to a ball game or whatever. Amazing. Hell, I will ignore the idiotic plot hole of the concept (OK, Quaid’s a shitty dad, but neither the babysitter or the little brother went into his room for three years either?) because the message - pay attention to your kids - is a sound one, but this is not the way to go about it.
Also, you know, I can’t stand emo kids, and that’s all the killers (four horsemen) are here. Here are their motives: One was touched by her stepdaddy, another is gay and his big brother (Eric Balfour!) doesn’t accept him, and our main guy doesn’t get to hang out with his dad enough. The fourth one is killed off-screen and we never see him alive. Let’s assume he writes bad poetry. So we have this hard R movie that’s essentially masquerading as an after school special. Families, watch The Horsemen together and then discuss ways in which you could bond better (for starters, watch better movies than The Horsemen).
And it’s a shame, because the movie wastes a good cast. Ross is always welcome (he also popped up in Drag Me To Hell), and Peter Stormare shows up long enough for you to say “Hey, this movie sure was re-edited, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired Stormare to play two nearly wordless scenes." And Patrick Fugit plays one of the horsemen, who also doesn’t have enough screen time to warrant an actor of his stature.
So in a way I feel kind of bad knocking on the movie, as the re-editing is so painfully obvious (if the IMDb is correct, at least 20 minutes are missing). Maybe these ideas worked better when given time to grow, but as I said, the character stuff is overly generic, so I somewhat doubt it would improve. And it functions OK enough as a serial killer thriller, with at least one disturbing scene to spruce things up a bit. I also dug the snowy setting; the city is never named (it was shot in Canada, of course, but I think it’s supposed to be an East Coast US city like Philly or Boston) but that works in its favor. There’s a great bit where Quaid is driving out to an isolated area to investigate a crime scene, plowing through stop signs on icy roadways with no one around.
The film was directed by Jonas Akerlund, who has directed several great music videos (and an inordinate number of clips for Roxette) such as "Beautiful Day" for U2 and a few for Smashing Pumpkins. Saddled with this script (and probably reshoots forced upon him) it’s kind of hard to judge him as a feature film director, but I can say that the film doesn’t have that music video feel; no quick edits, pointlessly “flashy” and “stylish” shots, etc. He does have a fondness for rack focus close-ups, but that’s a Platinum Dunes staple. Like The Hitcher’s Dave Meyers, I hope he gets another chance to helm a feature.
So it’s kind of ironic, the Dunes’ first original film suffers from being too late to the game. In 1994 this would have been considered a minor classic, but now with so many other, better serial killer films (hell, even Quaid’s own Switchback, which also suffered post production troubles, was more compelling), it needs to do a lot more than present a fairly unique motive to stick out, not to mention have that motive be something a little less unintentionally silly. Maybe in 20 years they can do a remake.
What say you?