Saturday, January 05, 2008

REVIEW: One Missed Call (2008)

(Hey, kids, wanna know a great shorthand for perusing movie reviews online? If the movie in question is a remake of a popular or noteworthy earlier film, and in the FIRST SENTENCE of the review-proper you observe the words "the original" OR the name of the earlier film's director, the new one PROBABLY sucks.)

Setting out to remake a movie from Takeshi Miike (ahem. See above.) is one of those endeavors that almost nobody can truly succeed. The things that make the Japanese art-shocker auteur consistently worth paying attention to are the very same things that can't (and shouldn't) be replicated. Gifted with a staggering natural filmmaking talent and a superhuman level of efficiency, Miike (whom you may recognize as the spooky Japanese Businessman character briefly encountered by the heroes of "Hostel") typically makes anywhere from three to five feature-length films a year. He works almost-exclusively in familiar, formula-dominated genres (Yakuza gangster epics and horror flicks especially,) utlizing the mutually-understood familiarity of the audience with the cliches and formulaic beats as the foundation for surreal dream-logic, out-of-place-on-purpose slapstick, eyeball-searing violence and flight-of-fancy digressions. He's said that he feels an entire movie is worth making even if it's just needed to set-up and justify ONE great shot; and as proof his filmography includes several seemingly straight-faced, traditional action pictures or serious dramas which veer suddenly and without a SHRED of prior indication into gonzo scifi/fantasy insanity seemingly for the singular purpose of giving the assembled audience pie in the face. I firmly believe that watching his astounding cop vs. gangster masterpiece "Dead Or Alive" for the first time is one of the closest things to a transcendant religious experience I've ever had at the movies or elsewhere.

And within all that lies our problem: Takeshi Miike's films succeed because they are seat-of-your-pants endeavors made with great speed and primarily driven by a singular creative force; and (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse) studio filmmaking is the exact opposite: Thought-and-rethought products assembled slowly and methodically by committee. Basically, any studio remake (regardless of nationality) of a Miike movie is, by nature, going to strip away the signature insanity - and when you do that, you're usually going to be left with a pile of cliche's: Take the horrifying physical violence and psychological torment out of "Audition," for example, and you've just got another boring stalker movie.

Sadly, this is EXACTLY what's happened with "One Missed Call." What happens when you take a movie that originally existed only to be a mad-genius's wacky take on the done-to-death "J-Horror" cycle of "Ringu" (aka "The Ring") wannabes and slice off every shred of madness AND wackiness? That's right, you get just another "Ring" wannabe for the pile. It's a big, obvious collection of stuff you've seen in dozens of other movies, and hardly any of it has been used in anything resembling a new or creative way.

Basic idea? A pissed-off ghost (no prizes for guessing age, gender and general-motivation within five freaking minutes) is using a seemingly-benign symbol of modern techno-culture as a force for murder and mayhem. In this case, the scaaaaaary devices are cell-phones, on which victims-to-be recieve phonecalls from their near-future selves recording their dying words. When the time comes, the victims catch glimpses of seemingly-random imagery (generic 'spooky people' with the "Jacob's Ladder" vibration-blur going on) then buy it in dissapointingly mudane ways, signaling 'the end' by posthumously coughing-up peices of hard candy. (Footnote: Y'know what would be more fun than this? A slasher-movie where the bad guy slits people's throats and leaves giant pieces of Pez in the wound.)

You'll be unsurprised to learn that the more "out-there" visuals have a unifying explanation that the film goes to ridiculous lengths to justify, only to ultimately fail, (in order to "allow" the film to rip-off yet ANOTHER element from "The Ring," a jar of milipedes is dropped into a flashback sequence with bluntness almost admirable in it's dumbness,) that creepy-babies, eerie old ladies, big-eyed prophetic moppets, "dancing" ghosts, old-fashioned hospital equipment and heroes who don't own enough lamps all make their requisite appearances. Granted, some of this is just repeating equally-formulaic beats from the original film, but without the heedless "what the HELL!!??" sensibilities that Miike uses formula as a shortcut toward - It's like eating a ready-made pie crust raw, cold and unfilled.

Our leads our Shannyn Sossamon as one of a group of ghost-targeted twenty-somethings with an easy-to-guess past trauma (gee, wonder if it will ironically mirror the trauma of our cellular spectre?) and Edward Burns as a cop who's sister's freshly-discovered corpse yielded one of the trademark candies. They run into eachother by chance and come to not only understand but fully accept as fact the supernatural presence in their lives with bewildering speed, as though the movie is so proud of it's parade of generic jump-scares it wants to hurry the plot up to show you. How bad are we talking about? At one point, one of the leads ACTUALLY SAYS to the other "We'd better split up, we'll cover more ground" or some variation thereof. Really. At that point, I started hoping that they were actually paying homage to Miike with a pie-in-the-face of their own and that this "scary" movie was actually going to end with a talking dog yanking a rubber ghost mask off the crotchety owner of an abandoned amusement park... but no such luck.

Directing duties fell to Eric Valette, a French filmmaker whom I'm told made some fascinating genre shorts in his home country. Whatever chops he might have aren't on display here, but perhaps we'll get to see something more promising from him with the survival-horror video game adaptation "Clock Tower" (think "Resident Evil" by way of Dario Argento) which he's slated to make next. I'm not sure it's fair to judge him by this film alone, as I'm not sure that ANY filmmaker is capable of making "omigod the shadow in the upper frame is a ghost!!!!" scares actually scary anymore, let alone any of the other old-hat tricks this one throws in.

Ditto for the screenplay by Andrew Klavan, a really fine novelist/columnist who really ought to be getting better work than this. Much like the direction, the scripting here isn't so much bad as it is inescapably pointless: Every beat has been seen so often before it's almost unfair to ask ANYONE to come up with anything new to do with them.

This obviously wasn't made with bad intentions: It plays things mostly straight, there's no obnoxious comic relief, and it'd free of all but the most "well, DUH" of moralizing messages. Still, execution is what matters, and on that end "One Missed Call" is probably the worst techno-horror offering since "White Noise."


1 comment:

T said...

Lynch is a class act.