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August 20, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 20, 2008 |

What ever happened to the reckless action-comedy hero? The big-chinned, stubble-encrusted warrior who dispatched faceless villains with a ridiculously over-amped arsenal and a cheesy ass one-liner? Everyday schlubs with a blue-collar or plastic badge paycheck and rugged low-tier soap actor looks? The kind of guy who had no military training, who drove a pickup, who drank PBR and ate chili-cheese burgers and farted like a champion of men? A bad-ass who could battle goons decked out in Halloween Adventure clearance goods in a movie that was shot by four drunk guys from Jersey with a weekend free and a cooler full of burgers and bloodpacks? The Toxic Avenger? Ashley J. Williams? El Mariachi? You know? Fucking fun heroes?

I had so much hope for Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. It seemed like it was a throwback to old school slugfests: A plumber taking a community college course has to battle the forces of evil. The filmmakers, Jon Knautz and John Ainslie, have clearly spent their youths watching and rewatching Leprechaun, Phantasm, and a movie that has left thousands of little evil clone footprints all over this project, Army of Darkness. The elements were there: a reluctant anti-hero who’s a goofball, a tongue-in-cheek and finger-out-the-fly attitude, and buckets of low-budget monster makeup. They threw caution to the wind and just decided to have the most fun they could possibly have by making a balls-out romp. But as Rob Zombie has never ever learned, just because you watch a lot of horror movies doesn’t mean you can make one.

I feel terrible attacking this movie, like playing bombardment in gym class and the last kid left is the vaguely retarded one. You admire the dude for making an effort, but you got a game to win, so sorry tardy, face meet Nerf. This movie should have gone direct to Best Buy’s bargain shelf in a double feature package with Anaconda 3: Snakes on a Plane 2, but they figured by including Robert Englund in the movie, Freddy would net them a few more bucks. And he’s spectacular. He’s so much fun to watch, you remember why you rooted for Freddy Krueger to cuisinart 21 Jump Street in the first place. But even he can’t save this movie. It was a strange animal to watch. The entire time you’re imbibing the terrible acting, the tragic dialogue, the virtually non-existent plot, the complete lack of story, the cheesy make-up, the terrible action, the horrid cinematography, the lame monsters, and the constant lulls, but still … you kind of dig it. For a while, you can ride on the sheer silliness of this movie. You’ve been trained by Bubba Ho-tep and Lake Placid to just chew through the terrible crap shell because the pay-off is sweet, sweet candy. But there’s no creamy goodness at the center of this donut. There’s just something that looks like the Chetmonster from Weird Science humped Doctor Octopus.

The movie opens with some sort of giant Harryhausen cyclops menacing a bunch of natives wielding spears. I’m immediately thinking, OK, going for the Dead Alive-style crazy open, I’m with you. He’s got…THE BITE! But aside from a few Adam West style karate chops, there’s not much blood and gore, and then we’re suddenly back in America. This was pretty much a harbinger of things to come. You can tell the filmmakers were banking on the audience laughing about how ridiculously fake the critter was, but it just wasn’t enough. I wanted to see someone get an arm ripped off, or a club smash a skull. They weren’t willing to go the extra Tromatic step to be juicy, and that’s the biggest problem with the film. It’s the ultimate case of coitus goous interruptus, and you can’t do that to an audience when you’re making a B-Movie.

Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) has had it rough. His entire family was killed during a camp-out by a cross between Louis Armstrong and Manbearpig. Jack stands there, frozen, unable to act — because he’s ten and lacking a Pokemon ball containing Squirtle — as his mother, father, and sister are mauled to the strains of, I fucking shit you not, Bobby Darin’s “Sea of Love.” Now we’ve got our flawed hero, who’s really a coward. Again, this smacks so strongly of Ash I expected Jack to work at S-Mart. Instead, they decide to make him a plumber. There are two problems with this. One, a plumber does not have an impressive arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and unless Jack was about to bust out a Raccoon Feather, a miniature dinosaur, or Samantha Mathis, this was going to go bad fast. You cannot dispatch ghouls with a plunger or a drain snake. Weak fucking cheese. Second, Jack himself looks like Ashton Kutcher’s “Punk’d” crew. He’s a gruff-looking CW stubble-bumbler with a trucker hat and anger issues. But again, he has just enough of that whole “It’s Always Sunny” malcontent edge to make him palatable.

Jack is taking chemistry at the community college at the behest of his awful, awful girlfriend (Rachel Skarsten). She’s not so much a character as a logline for a Pratt-Montag bridesmaid. Her job is to be vacuous, narcisstic, and shrill. Essentially, there are no characters in this movie, except maybe Jack and Professor Crowley. Everyone else is cardboard cutout cannon fodder. There’s the tattoo girl Jack makes eyes at and will probably do by the end of the movie, the preppy snot who secretly wants to bang Jack’s girl, the class fat nerd who looks like Natasha Lyonne ate Punky Brewster, and …the others. The other passengers on Oceanic 815 had more depth. The Professor (Robert Englund) asks Jack if he can come over to check out his pipes. That’s what she said.

Jack blows up the Professor’s pump and thus unearths an evil mist in the Professor’s backyard. At this point, it would have made sense if the Professor taught anthropology or sociology or any other -ology, and not an -istry like he does. It also would have made more sense if Jack was a contractor, because then he would have a van full of power tools with which he could butcher monsters. But he wasn’t, and he didn’t, and nobody was. So the Professor digs up a crate with a black heart inside that he suddenly devours. Robert Englund does not get enough credit as an actor because he tends to take parts in really terrible movies. But for the next half an hour or so, he puts in this brilliantly slapstick performance that rivals even Bruce Campbell vs. his evil hand or Edward Norton vs. a good film performance after Fight Club. He’s like a slime-covered Buster Keaton, throwing himself off walls, savaging pieces of chicken with a zombieish slavering hunger, or acting completely delirious in class. It’s easily the best part of the film, and it comes to a screeching halt once he finally breaks down and becomes Jabba the Killer Squid.

Then Jack has to fight him. For a Monster Slayer, Jack doesn’t do that much slaying. And, for being the grand finale gruesome ubermonster, the creature really sucks. Fredtopus grabs the students with his tentacles and pins them to various walls. Then he grabs them at random and sticks some sort of colostomy bag dildo into their throats which turns them into Deadites that crave blood. Sometimes though the Fredtopus will bite the heads off of the students. Which makes no sense to me. If you’re some sort of symbiotic Elder One, why would you turn your primary food source into competitive scavengers that resemble you in no way? If they chased people down and brought them back to the host, it would follow some sort of Darwinian logic. Instead, they run around the school, killing people and eating them, while the Fredtopus is stationary with a limited food supply. The biggest flaw of this movie is that I’m thinking about this while I should be laughing at the monster slaying.

Jack gets frightened and runs away with his bitchy girlfriend, only to kick her out of the van and return due to a guilt trip courtesy of Bobby Darin. He jumps out of the van to arm up, the rock music cues, and he grabs a pipe and spigot. That’s it. It’s the worst tool montage since the opening credits of “Real World: Miami.” Jack goes on his kill mission, dispatching a total of maybe three Deadites with a fire ax, his pipe, and the spigot, which he jams into one of the nasties’ chest. Jack finally gets down to some serious ultraviolence, by literally caving in heads and butchering the fuck out of the critters. But when the fun starts up, it quickly ends, and Jack ends up immediately in a showdown with the head boss. Coitus splattus interruptus.

My biggest problem is Jack. He’s given no zingers, no witty dialogue, no smartass comebacks. If we can’t see half the movie because it’s so fucking poorly lit, at least give us some clever lines, goddammit. No, there will be no quad-shotguns, no “Gimme some sugar, baby”, not even a soul-swallowing hell-demon. We got a Canadian in a trucker hat hitting cantaloupes with copper pipes. Thankfully, the movie is shorter than the men’s room line at a John Mayer concert, but it could have been so much more.

The last time I saw a hero recklessly kick ass was probably Rhona Mitra in Doomsday or the carload of chicks at the end of Death Proof. Apparently, you’re only permitted to be a B-Movie asscrusher these days if you’re packing vag. The last dude I actually saw slinging some serious vicious asskickery was … sigh … Paul Walker in Running Scared. And Paul Walker is hardly a man. He is a pair of blue eyes and abs that ran away from Abercrombie and Fitch. I guess until Ray Stevenson surrenders plot for supermegaultra punishment, I’m going to have to pine for the days of Bruce Campbell. If chins could kill, I wish they’d murder Jack Brooks.

Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.

No More Heroes

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer / Brian Prisco

Film | August 20, 2008 |

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