Hercules

hercules-dwayne-johnson-screaming

DIR/Brett Ratner • WRI: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos • PRO: Sarah Aubrey, Beau Flynn, Barry Levine, Brett Ratner   DOP: Dante Spinotti   ED: Mark Helfrich, Julia Wong  DES: Jean-Vincent Puzos MUS: Fernando Velázquez  CAST: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but there’s one thing for sure, this Dwayne Johnson vehicle is as cynical as it gets.

I had previously been very optimistic about the casting of Johnson in the title role, with the main reason being that he looks the part, but also because he’s proven himself an extremely charismatic lead in the past. Unfortunately, this is the worst I’ve ever seen Johnson, playing the role of Hercules without an ounce of wit or vigour, and it’s the first time he’s looked like a juiced up wrestler trying his hand at movies. His lacklustre performance is made all the more confusing by the fact that this was reportedly a passion project, leading him to turn down the lead role in the established Transformers franchise.

The storyline shamelessly cobbles together plot points from other movies, with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator proving to be a wonderful source of material. The story follows Hercules after he has completed his Legendary twelve labours.  He has since become a sword for hire, travelling Greece with a crew of highly trained warriors, each with their own special skill. The crew is hired by King Cotys to help defeat a tyrannical war Lord, and we find out through flashbacks why Hercules has been reduced to living his life as a sell sword.

I would have found it a lot easier to accept this movie for what it is, if there had been any self-awareness present. Unfortunately, there isn’t, and we in the audience are expected to take what we see at face value, which I can only take as an insult to our intelligence. I must admit that I did laugh numerous times during the film, aided and abetted by a fellow sitting to my left at the press screening. The laughs. however. came at what were clearly intended to be some of the most poignant parts of the film, comically contrived moments. Hercules is about one degree away from being a decent lampoon of the sword and sandals genre, and maybe if it had been marketed as such I could have got on board.

Here’s hoping that poor box office results will put an end to what Johnson and co. are hoping will be a long running franchise.

Michael Rice

12A (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Hercules is released on 25th July 2014

Hercules – Official Website

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Case 39

Case 39

DIR: Christian Alvart • WRI: Ray Wright • PRO: Steve Golin, Kevin Misher, Scott Thaler • DOP: Hagen Bogdanski • ED: Mark Goldblatt • DES: John Willett • CAST: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane

Every so often, truly original, groundbreaking horror films come along that set the mould for future installments in the genre. The Haunting, The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project are examples of such classics. We also get second and third wave movies that pay homage to such classics in fresh ways to good effect, albeit borrowing heavily. The slasher horror genre owes a huge debt to John Carpenter, and the Friday the 13th and Scream films would not have been made without Halloween. The recent gem, Paranormal Activities uses Blair Witch’s home video DIY aesthetics and The Haunting’s use of minimalist visuals and disorienting sounds but still stands firmly on its own. This latest attempt at a horror by German director Christian Alvart does not fit into either category.

Case 39 tells the story of Emily (Rene Zellweger), an overworked social worker whose latest assignment (her 39th I believe) concerns Lillith (Jodelle Ferland), a ten-year-old girl who the social services suspect is the victim of parental abuse. After meeting the parents, a skeletal anaemic-looking mother and a father with a strange penchant for drilling large holes in his basement, Emily believes something strange is going on but has no proof until she receives a nocturnal phone call from Emily, prompting herself and her policeman friend Mike (Ian McShane) to pay a visit. They rescue Lillith from the oven, where her parents were cooking a child Sunday roast. When the parents are duly dispatched to a mental institution, Emily goes beyond her professional remit by taking care of the distraught child. This is where the real fun begins. When friends of Emily’s are killed in strange and sinister circumstances, she suspects that her recent adoptee may have been responsible, and her parents’ assertion that she is the devils spawn may have some validity. When Emily finds she cannot escape from this ten-year-old hellraiser, the crime of infanticide seems a plausible alternative.

Case 39 tries to subscribe to the antichrist child horror sub-genre which started way back in the 1970s with The Exorcist and The Omen, where supposedly sweet little innocent children have never been portrayed in such a sinister, shocking light. Nods are made to both movies, in one scene where Lillith is swinging slowly on a creaking chair, in an isolated office without facial expression, echoing Damian’s tricycle antics in The Omen. Another scene where Lillith turns a counseling session on its head by exposing the fears and insecurities of Douglas (Bradley Cooper), a child psychologist, is well crafted and tense, and strangely reminiscent of Regan’s ability to get inside the head of the priest in The Exorcist. Standout scenes are few and far between in Case 39. A lot of scenes, including the aforementioned child cooking scene and another preposterous scene involving flies the size of pterodactyls oozing from various orifices of Douglas’ body are farcical and comical. A plethora of standard horror devices straight out of the John Carpenter book of tricks (false alarms, figures in backs of cars and wardrobes, loud knocking on doors) are also employed, but have been so overused over the years to become stale and tensionless.

The performances of the actors are not strong enough to carry the film. Oscar®-winner Zellweger’s performance as the stereotypically downtrodden but awfully nice social worker, contorts her face so often it is hard to know if she is smiling, grimacing, crying or smelling some hideous odour. Ian McShane’s thespian talents are not utilized, due in equal parts to his one-dimensional, cardboard cutout character and atrocious dialogue. The child star Jodelle Ferland is at her creepy best when not saying much, but is prone to stage school dramatics when a long speech is demanded of her.

Maybe I’m missing the point with this film. It could be a postmodern satire of the horror genre. Maybe it’s a treatise on the modern family; unruly children and their passive non-resistant parents, a call to arms for parents to restore discipline. The film actually supplies more laughs than scares but somehow I doubt it’s what the director intended. Despite containing some chilling and disturbing scenes, Case 39 is essentially a mishmash of clichéd horror set pieces that do not gel into a tension-filled coherent whole. Shot in 1996, it has taken four years to secure a release date. At one point Douglas asserts that his social worker friend cannot save the world. Paramount will surely be hoping that Zellweger’s star status will save the film.

Brian Moran

Rated 16 (see IFCO for details)

Case 39 is released 5th Mar 2010

Case 39 – Official Website

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