Jane Levy in Evil DeadEVIL DEAD

While I like the movie just fine, I'm not enough of a fanatic for Sam Raimi's 1981 splatter classic The Evil Dead to get in a twist about the existence of director Fede Alvarez's new, definite-article-free remake Evil Dead. (It's when Hollywood inevitably remakes Raimi's priceless horror sequel Evil Dead II that we're gonna have problems.) But despite being mostly entertained by Alvarez's beyond-bloody outing, especially during its second half, I do have to question the decision to make it, for so much of its length, so bloody serious. This is a film, after all, in which a demon is released by a supernatural incantation, nail guns and electric carving knives are the weapons of choice, and one character escapes a (more-)dreadful fate by enacting a speedier version of 127 Hours. How are we not asked to laugh at all this?

Like Raimi's impish, low-rent original, Evil Dead employs the timeless scare-flick scenario of having five interchangeable youths trapped, by malevolent forces and crap weather, in a cabin in the woods. Yet with Juno scribe Diablo Cody reportedly lending an uncredited hand, Alvarez and co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues add to this familiar setup a specific note of dramatic urgency, one that winds up being both appreciated and strangely misguided. As we quickly learn, Evil Dead's doomed quintet is staying at the movie's dilapidated cabin because one of their ranks - Jane Levy's Mia - is attempting to go cold turkey following her latest drug overdose; the other four, with brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) among them, are there to get Mia through her first days off heroin, and prevent her from returning to town to score another hit. As a narrative conceit, this is pretty damned inspired. Not only does it help explain why Mia's friends steadfastly refuse to evacuate the premises even when they find a cellar full of dead cats hanging from the ceiling, but it explains why no one believes the young woman's panic-stricken fear of the evil in the woods or her tales of being attacked by ambulatory tree branches. It's withdrawal, Mia's pals presume. She's supposed to act like this.

But we, of course, know that Mia's terror is justified, for we were witness to the accidental release - via spoken words not meant to be spoken - of an invisible entity hell-bent on possession of the youths' souls. And unfortunately, it's not until Mia's companions figure out what's really going on, roughly halfway through the picture, that Evil Dead actually starts becoming fun. Though the film's dialogue is serviceable at best, Levy's and Fernandez's performances boast a pained intensity that nicks your insides, and their three co-stars (Elizabeth Blackmore, Jessica Lucas, and Lou Taylor Pucci) match them in graveness of intent. But the portrayals, and the mood Alvarez establishes, are so somberly conceived that there's little entertainment in watching the cast being victimized here, even when certain gross-outs - such as Levy vomiting torrents of blood on Lucas' face - seem almost tailor-made to be as hilarious as they are nauseating. Evil Dead elicits a happy giggle the first time Alvarez echoes Raimi's signature shot of the camera racing through the woods toward the cabin, suggesting that the vicious spirit can't get to its latest hosts fast enough. (As in Raimi's Evil Dead movies, though, the effect loses its luster with repetition.) Yet despite the frequently - and, in one instance, literally - jaw-dropping makeup, there's nothing to suggest that Alvarez is going for any degree of humor in his gruesome set pieces; he's going for scare-the-bejeezus-out-of-you shock, a sensation he never quite pulls off.

Having said all that, though, the director's offering is certainly well-shot and well-acted throughout, and if you have a healthy gag reflex, you can find enormous disreputable amusement in the sheer tonnage of viscera on display in the second act, when chainsaws meet arms and broken glass meets cheekbones and thundershowers of blood pour from the sky. By the time the movie's hateful demon and the sole human survivor had their inevitable, quippy face-off in the final moments ("I'm going to feast on your soul!" "Feast on this, motherf---er!"), it was a bit late for Evil Dead to start going for yuks. Those seeking "yuck"s, though, won't leave the least bit disappointed.



Still playing cineplex-catch-up following a week spent in Florida, I caught a recent double feature of the action thriller Olympus Has Fallen and the adultery drama Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, both of which have been in release, and making more-than-decent money, for a while now.

Oh, the stupid things I do to alleviate post-vacation guilt.

During the opening minutes of Olympus Has Fallen - filmmaker Antoine Fuqua's tale of North Koreans taking over the White House - it should be immediately clear that the scenes we're watching will soon be followed by a time jump of many months, because Gerard Butler, portraying Secret Service agent Mike Banning, is initially seen clean-shaven and smiling. Fear not, Butler fans (both of you): It's not long until the phlegmatic Scottish star is his typically scruffy, entitled, humorless self, acting as a one-man counter-terrorist unit while barking at Morgan Freeman's acting commander-in-chief, "I'm the best hope you've got!" Pity the state of America.

Training Day director Fuqua isn't without skill - several sequences here, particularly the opener's calamity on an icy bridge, are impressively staged - and I'll admit that I was kind of rooting for Aaron Eckhart's hostage president to be rescued, considering the man was at least savvy enough to hire Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, and Melissa Leo for cabinet positions. (Is it some kind of veiled joke, though, that the vice president, played by Phil Austin, is a figure of such ridiculous blandness and obsequiousness? Or that his execution comes as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it aside?) But the movie, which showcases some of the phoniest-looking digital effects I've ever seen in a wannabe blockbuster, is such a tiresome, witless Die Hard knock-off that there's even a shameless reprise of the scene in which John McClane runs into Hans Gruber in a darkened hallway and doesn't know he's actually his nemesis; the difference here is that, with Butler as this new film's lead, you're praying for our hero to hand the bad guy his gun. Filled with grossly manipulative "America first!" imagery and sentiments, and laughably convoluted and imbecilic from one minute to the next, Olympus Has Fallen is a deathly embarrassing waste of time and (Butler excepted) talent, and one that, in its two-and-a-half weeks of release, has already suckered its viewers, including this one, out of a collective $70-million-plus. Have I mentioned that we should pity the state of America? It bears repeating.

Lance Gross and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage CounselorMeanwhile, Tyler Perry's latest is based on one of his more successful stage plays, and is called Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. That seems like an incredibly cumbersome title considering that Tyler Perry's Reefer Madness would've been so much more succinct. Another of the auteur's shame-based entertainments detailing exactly what happens to nice girls who trade church, mama, and complete subservience to their husbands in favor of sexual promiscuity and mind-altering substances (You'll get smacked around! You'll be diagnosed with HIV! You'll see your mother thrown to the floor ... and land on her bad knee!), Temptation at least isn't as drearily gloomy as some of his more recent dramas, including last year's Good Deeds. But when faced with the sub-soap-opera plotting, offensive stereotypes, ham-fisted morality lessons, and Kim Kardashian performance we're subjected to here, "gloomy" begins to seem far, far preferable, especially when - succumbing to drink, coke, and unbridled lust - Jurnee Smollet-Bell's formerly upright Judith turns into a teetering, slurring, slutty wreck in what seems like three minutes of screen time. The slackly staged Temptation, which features more bum performances than I've ever before seen in a Perry outing, is an utter mess. But it's never worse than when subjecting Smollett-Bell to her numerous screen humiliations, especially if you still have enormously fond memories of the actress from her title performance, delivered when she was all of 10 years old, in the underrated 1997 gem Eve's Bayou. It should be noted that Perry also cast Keshia Knight Pulliam, The Cosby Show's adorable Rudy, as a heroin-addicted hooker in 2009's Madea Goes to Jail. Quvenzhané Wallis, you've been officially warned.

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