JULY 2, 2011
Today I got my new shipment of Echo Bridge discs, but this month's batch wasn't all Dimension cast away movies like last's (though there were a couple). With a week's worth of new HMAD titles at my disposal, I zeroed in on 2:13, a serial killer film that of course had a quote comparing it to Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, which I believe is the law for any serial killer film that doesn't have much else to pin its marketing on. Luckily, it's actually pretty good, and while it doesn't hold a candle to those classics, it's largely engaging and interesting, with only a major casting blunder and a few script issues holding it back a bit.
Key to its success is the lead, played by Mark Thompson (who also wrote the script). He's basically channeling William Petersen from CSI, with a bit of Greg House's lovably dickish behavior tossed in for good measure, but with so many serial killer films focusing on protagonists that are borderline unlikable, it's nice to have one with a dry sense of humor and an ability to function despite a personal tragedy (also a killer movie law). And he smoked! When's the last time you saw the hero of your movie smoke regularly, just as a thing he did and not as some sort of joke?
I also liked that his partner (Jere Burns!) and some of the other cops actually helped in the case. When they investigate a crime scene, Burns finds an important clue, another has a good theory, etc. Usually it's like everyone stands around saying shit like "This is like out of some horror movie!" and then the hero comes along and finds something that should have been obvious for trained homicide detectives, so it's nice to see that they're all intelligent and helpful, not just our hero.
I also liked the obligatory theme for the killer's crimes. The title made me afraid it was another goddamn Bible killer, but the killer is actually using Shakespeare (specifically, "As You Like It") for inspiration, which is novel since usually they go with Poe or whatever. The title actually refers to an important date in the killer's history, and doesn't really have much to do with anything, but I guess a Shakespeare title would be giving it away (or attracting the wrong crowd). I was also happy it wasn't a clever reference to the running time, as it ran a nice 95 minutes.
As for the scares, there's not much happening on screen, and since our guy is out for some sort of revenge, there aren't a lot of victims either. So that cuts down on the opportunities for jolts and such, but the mask motif that he uses creates some creepy visuals, and there's a pretty tense cat and mouse sequence near the end that puts two characters you sort of expect to die (Thompson's partner and girlfriend) in peril, so it becomes a sort of "Who is going to bite it?" scene. Someone involved with the movie clearly wrote the FAQ on the IMDb, and it's a good thing I didn't read it beforehand, because it promises gore and compares it to Saw, when in actuality the movie works BECAUSE, for once in a modern serial killer movie, they're not trying to shock you with "cool" kills or whatever (even if it does look a bit like Saw at times, thanks to the DP work of David Armstrong, who shot the first 6 films in that series).
And kudos to Thompson for not doing that thing that always annoys me when the actor and writer are the same guy - giving themselves a love scene! His character has recently split from his superior officer (Teri Polo), and of course at some point they get back together, but they skip over them doing the do; she comes on to him and then it cuts to them in a post cuddle. I don't know why, but I get weirded out when someone basically writes "And then my character gets a blow job" (see: Jenifer), even though a part of me appreciates the cojones to do so. Speaking of their breakup, for once it actually plays a part in the suspense, as she moved out into a new apartment and he does not know the number, which added tension to a bit where the killer went after her.
Unfortunately, it's not long after that that our killer is revealed, and with it comes a major blunder. I won't actually say who it is, but the movie doesn't give you a lot of options anyway, and that's not even the problem - the actor's age is. The whole thing ties back to an event that happened forty years ago, but the actor playing the killer is barely even forty years old in real life! He should be at least 10 years OLDER than Thompson for it to make sense, but it's actually the other way around. I don't know if they were hoping it wouldn't be as obvious, or if they simply got screwed in casting (age appropriate actor dropping out and having to use this guy at the last minute), but no matter what it's a huge misstep, distracting the audience away from the revelations (and rather grim final "twist") in the film's closing scene. You gotta wonder why the actor playing the killer wasn't sort of insulted by this; "Are you saying I look ten years older than you, asshole?"
And while most of the script is above average for this sort of thing, we get back to back clunky bits of foreshadowing, one involving some "bad" coffee (read: poisoned) and another involving the police dog's ability to play "hide and seek" with Burns' character. Had the coffee thing been a running gag (i.e. the coffee tastes awful all the time and someone has a throwaway line about it being "worse than usual") it might have worked, and the dog bit probably should have been introduced earlier, not 5 minutes before it became necessary to the plot. It's like Thompson got to a certain point in his script and realized he had to get a move on and started using coincidence and racing through bullet points to get everyone where he needed them to be. I also could have done without the ridiculous montage of him "profiling" the clues, in which he sort of looks at a bunch of papers from multiple angles (sort of like a golfer looking at the green before he putts) and even sort of dancing around them at one point. Maybe profilers really do that, but it just looks silly and doesn't really pay off anyway.
Still, these missteps are not enough to kill the movie, only hold it back a bit. I've seen enough lousy serial killer movies to last me a lifetime, and again, it's refreshing just to have one with likable characters. I also enjoyed that Thompson, a radio DJ, clearly had a hand in casting, as many supporting characters are likewise known for their voices; Kevin Pollak appears as a shrink, Dwight Yoakam has a funny cameo as the owner of a very lax porn shop, and even Dishwalla frontman JR Richards pops up as a lab guy (he also provides one of the better tunes from his solo album for the end credits). I also hope it starts a slew of horror movies penned by DJs. Maybe Rick Dees can write the ultimate Bigfoot movie or something.
Note - the DVD comes with a digital copy, and I gotta hand it to Echo Bridge, they actually do it better than any of the big studios. While those guys waste a disc (and more or less false advertise - plastering TWO DISC SET on the cover when one disc is devoted to a low-quality version of the feature sans the bonus material) and also often employ nonsensical DRM limitations that keep you from "stealing" the movie you just paid for, the Bridge just put the digital copy on the main (only) DVD, with the main menu linking to the instructions on how to get it on your iPod or whatever. Granted, this isn't exactly a movie I want to have at my disposal at all times, but I wish the big studios would follow their lead and do it this way, as it's a lot easier and far less wasteful.
What say you?