Tag Archives: 5/20

The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Construction worker and caveman Fred Flintstone feels something is missing in his otherwise perfect prehistoric life. It’s not a friend, as he has faithful dope Barney as a constant companion; it’s not advice, as Fred has a sniffy alien called the Great Gazoo to help him; but it may be the love of a good woman. Can Gazoo, on a mission to observe human mating habits, steer both Fred and Barney into the arms of beautiful women who will put up with the boys’ primitive ways?

While it gets occasional runs on the BBC, the cartoon series of The Flintstones never really made much of an impact here (to anyone born after 1970, anyway), Britain unaccustomed to the Honeymooners sitcom on which it was based. Nonetheless, the prehistoric families living quasi-1950s lives with the mod-cons replaced by domestic dinosaurs et al had enough worldwide recognition to make Brian Levant’s 1994 film The Flintstones a financial if not a critical success, with John Goodman and Rick Moranis taking on roles of Fred and Barney respectively, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell playing their wives and featuring a cameo from Elizabeth Taylor as Fred’s snobbish mother-in-law, Pearl Slaghoople. Given the positive box office, it was little surprise that a second film emerged, again directed by Levant. And whilst it seems bizarre that Viva Rock Vegas is a prequel, taking place before either the Flintstones or Rubbles get together and featuring an entirely different cast to the first film, I suspect the reluctance of some or all of the original cast to return forced the studio’s hand.

Viva Rock Vegas begins with the Universal logo replaced by a ‘Univershell’ one (the first of hundreds of ghastly puns) before introducing us to the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), the hapless alien chucked off his spaceship to observe courtship and mating rituals. Gazoo was, from what I can gather, a character introduced late to the cartoon Flintstones who did nothing to stop its slide into cancellation, so why it was thought he would liven up the film is anyone’s guess; but I digress. Gazoo runs into a lovelorn Fred (Mark Addy) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin), and insults and nudges them into asking women out.

Meanwhile, Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston) leaves behind her bourgeois life and imminent betrothal to casino owner Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson) to work in a burger bar with Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski), much to the disapproval of mother Pearl (Joan Collins), although her father Harvey Korman (the original Great Gazoo, fact fans) is too batty to care. As you might suppose, the quartet find themselves on a double date where Betty and Barney discover they have equally irritating laughs, leaving Fred to teach Wilma the joys of bowling (complete with twangy sound effects). Love blossoms but the interference of Pearl, the underhand tactics of Chip – in debt and desperate need of Slaghoople money – and the intervention of a famous singer called Mick Jagged (Cumming again) ensure that the road to happiness is a rocky one (sorry).

Although the first Flintstones was decidedly average, it could at least boast some stars in outrageous garb delivering naff lines, and the novelty of seeing primitive equipment brought to life. Viva Rock Vegas has none of these advantages. The script is just as poor as the first film, but the actors required to speak them seem to have been chosen on the basis that they were the first ones to pick up the phone that day.

Addy sort of looks alright but his impersonation of Fred is horrible (cf. The Time Machine), whilst Baldwin looks the part but has all the comic presence of smallpox – ditto with the square-jawed Thomas Gibson. Jane Krakowski is cute as Betty, but Johnston doesn’t seem comfortable with being the main focus of the film; as she is the main focus of the film, this is a problem.

There are also problems with the prop jokes: a dinosaur roller coaster at the carnival is fair enough, but why is there a woman with a camcorder? Even though it’s made out of rock, there’s no suggestion of how it works and misses the point of the premise entirely. The same goes for the casino, where a bird-operated remote control (fair enough…) switches off CCTV screens (Eh?!?).

And Dino, the pet Fred wins for Wilma at the carnival, is an annoying part-puppet-part-CGI creation designed to generate laughs from children, none of whom will have a clue what the Flintstones are about. Oh, and the Great Gazoo effects are poorly-executed too: Cumming, a talented comic actor, can’t make him any fun, even though he has a laugh with his very broad Mick Jagger impersonation.

‘Jagged’ and Ann-Margret both provide lively renditions of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ reworked to fit the film and these are entertaining, as are a few jokes that escape from the script almost by accident (the guy who constantly threatens to kill all the dinosaurs, for example); but the moments that shine mainly do so because of the acute dullness of every aspect of the rest of the film, a procession of weak performances holding feeble props, powering even feebler puns. I can only hope that talk of a live-action Jetsons movie, originally mooted in 2007 but last slated to appear in 2012, either never turns up, or has some far better ideas than Viva Rock Vegas when it does.

Stepford Wives, The (2004)

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: When power-suited TV executive Joanna Eberhart is fired from her job and suffers a breakdown, husband Walter takes her to the eerily-perfect town of Stepford, Connecticut to recover. In Stepford the wives and partners are happy, docile and obedient to their spouses’ every whim; naturally suspicious, Joanna, with the help of new friends Bobbie and Roger, sets out to discover why.

I cannot claim to have seen it recently, but the original Stepford Wives ranks in my mind alongside other seventies sci-fi fare such as Soylent Green, Coma and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake where everything is not as it seems, leading to a tense, paranoid atmosphere resolved by a shocking (and usually shockingly pessimistic) twist. Though the film may not be remembered as a classic, the idea of the ‘Stepford Wife’ has passed into common parlance for someone who is suspiciously faithful and obedient. Accordingly, when Dreamworks (in conjunction with Paramount) decided to have another go at Ira Levin’s story, a straight thriller was presumably out of the question since the tale of men creating robot wives was so well-known.

What we have instead is a macabre comedy in which Nicole Kidman plays Joanna, sacked after she is shot at by a contestant who was humiliated by his wife on one of Joanna’s reality TV shows. Loving husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) takes her and the children away from the rat race to the picture-postcard town of Stepford, where the houses are automated and all she has to do is relax and play the pretty wifey.

However, whereas most of the other wives (and male partners, this is the 21st Century) are perfectly happy to make love, do the shopping, or discuss inane books under the scrutiny of Glenn Close’s matriarch Claire Wellington, Joanna aligns herself with troublemakers Roger (Roger Bart) and Bobbie (Bette Midler). The three are suspicious of goings-on in Stepford, particularly in the lodge-like Men’s Association building run by Claire’s husband Mike (Christopher Walken), but when the town’s secret is revealed – the women are robots, or at least have robotic implants – only Joanna can do anything about it because Roger and Bobbie have themselves been transformed into model spouses.

On the face of it, it makes sense to come at the Stepford Wives from this angle, and the intention behind the film is clear: now that women are thought of as every bit as capable in the boardroom as men, it is fine to make fun of the chauvinistic attitudes that wanted to keep them in the role of domestic goddess, replacing the sinister tone of the original with jokes. However, Paul Rudnick’s script is a miserable failure at providing laughs – a surprise given that he wrote the excellent Addams Family Values and the respected In and Out.

The essential problem is that the women being robots doesn’t shock anyone, least of all the cast. When one of the husbands places a card into his wife’s mouth and she spews forth money as if she were an ATM, Walter accepts the situation as if it were perfectly normal; surely he should be a little freaked out by it? The attitude appears to be that as long as the CGI guys get a workout whilst bringing the gag to life, everything’s okay (the same goes for a joke where Joanna unknowingly gets hold of another wife’s controller and enlarges her breasts before making her run backwards up the stairs).

Not only do we not get the satisfaction of the secret being slowly revealed, but in Oz’s film the nature of the secret is confused. For the first half of the film the wives appear to be completely robotic (one spins out of control at a dance and sparks fly from her), yet when it’s Joanna’s turn to face the ‘Female Improvement System’, the procedure seems to involve little more than a couple of microchips inserted into the brain – there is a hollow body cast but its purpose is not properly explained. And consider the ATM joke: assuming she doesn’t produce counterfeit money, the wife would have to be filled up with notes at regular intervals! The film fails to follow any proper logic, least of all its own, so comes across as hopelessly confused. The bulk of the humour comes from Roger (little surprise from a gay writer), but even this twist on the original feels misplaced when the innate campness of the wives is underplayed. And the less said about the opening parodies on reality TV the better: let’s just say it’s pointless to make fun of something that is already beyond inane.

Nicole Kidman, as Joanna, is miscast, her breathy, intense delivery totally unsuited to making her both sympathetic and comic (although she would have been too young at the time, someone like Anne Hathaway would have been ideal); Glenn Close has the best part in the film and does well with it, whilst Bette Midler and her klutz of a husband (Jon Lovitz) are merely grateful for the paycheques. Broderick is amiable and appropriately bland: the men of Stepford are not sinister objectifiers of women, but whiny geeks who want to sit around smoking cigars, watching sports and playing Robot Wars (geddit?). If there is any satirical message behind these men who can only properly interact with women if they are part machine, it’s hidden deep behind another confused message, that these boys with toys are fundamentally insecure about the fact that their wives are more successful than they are.

There is little about The Stepford Wives that doesn’t fall flat on its face, since it misses the point of the original entirely in pursuit of gadget-inspired gags (even one of the film’s better jokes about the AOL guy making the wives slow doesn’t work these days), losing far more in suspense and intrigue than it gains in comedy, losing the chilling pessimism of the 1975 film’s conclusion for a sappy piece of comedy-drama, tying itself up in knots about exactly what the wives are meant to be, and bringing unsympathetic and unmotivated performances from most of the cast. It’s worth a watch, perhaps, for Glenn Close and the very pretty realisation of the town of Stepford, but otherwise when the title next appears in the listings magazines, keep your fingers crossed that it’s the original. I know I will be.

Serendipity

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A chance meeting between Christmas shoppers Jonathan and Sara in a New York department store appears to promise great things; but Sara isn‘t so sure and lets the stars decide what happens to them. Some years later, both are destined to be married to others, yet the evening the pair spent together has stuck in both their minds; and if fate hasn’t yet brought them together, perhaps there’s something they can do to give it a helping hand.

It’s a case of glove at first sight (sorry) when New Yorker Jonathan (John Cusack) meets pretty English girl Sara (Kate Beckinsale) at the accessories counter in Bloomingdale’s. Adjourning to the nearby Serendipity bistro-cum-store, the pair discover that they each have significant others; but this doesn’t stop them spending the rest of the evening in each other’s company, playing hide and seek in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, skating, star-gazing and what have you.

As far as Jonathan’s concerned, he’s met his perfect match. Sara, however, is a quixotic miss who believes that if something is meant to happen, it‘ll happen; so instead of giving Jonathan her number or surname, she declares that she will write it in a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and give it to one of New York’s many second-hand bookstores; for his part, Jonathan writes his name and number on a five-dollar bill which, if it mystically finds its way back to Sara, will be a sign that their relationship is meant to be.

Several years later, it looks as though it wasn’t meant to be. Jonathan is all set to marry the lovely Halley (Bridget Moynahan) at the Waldorf, whilst Sara is in California, dating long-haired shanai blower Lars (John Corbett). On the surface, all is well as Lars also has marriage on his mind; but she can’t forget Jonathan and, hoping against hope, takes a trip back to New York with new-age (but deeply cynical) shop owner Eve (Molly Shannon). Meanwhile, Jonathan and his anxious best man Dean (Jeremy Piven) head back to Bloomingdale’s to trace Sara, starting only with a receipt containing her Bloomingdale’s account number. As the hours count down to the wedding, the pair race around the Big Apple, missing each other by seconds at various landmarks. Will true love find a way? Hey, it’s written in the stars.

Fine romances – An Affair to Remember, say, or Sabrina or When Harry Met Sally – wear their contrivances easily, throwing lovers in each others’ paths willy-nilly and inviting the viewer to think nothing of it. Conversely, by making chance events (the ‘return’ of Jonathan’s banknote especially) the crux of the film, Serendipity loses the frothy playfulness that makes better films bounce along. Instead, it throws the long-winded set-up at the audience then makes us do all the work. Lazily, the film demands that we fall so much in love with the idea of Sara and Jonathan’s destiny that we completely overlook the fact that much of the film is missing.

And make no mistake, Serendipity asks us to fill in parts of the plot that, were they shown to us, would provide much-needed emotional excitement: Jonathan explaining to Halley (possibly at the wedding), or Sara explaining to Lars, where their destinies truly lie and why the book/New York had such significance to them; or Jonathan confronting Sara over what he thought he saw when he and Dean finally found her house. But it’s all left out and the viewer has to fill in the gaps from their residual sense of romantic comedies.

This approach would be fine if either Jonathan or Sara remotely displayed the charisma needed to distract us from the fact that nothing is going on around them. But whilst Cusack is competent in a ’this is paying for my condo’ way, Beckinsale is horribly ineffective as Sara. She’s clearly meant to be scatty and impulsive, but she’s far too mannered for the part and even manages to make her own accent sound off (it’s as though she’s doing an English accent for American consumption, with too much enunciation and too little emotion). Perhaps she’s exacting British revenge for Andie MacDowell’s turn in Four Weddings; she certainly doesn’t win many hearts and her chemistry with Cusack is non-existent (hardly surprising since they spend most of the film apart).

Crucially, another of the gaps is the comedy. Sure, there‘s some matey banter between Jonathan and Dean, but too often the film has to cover up the lack of sparkle or wit in Marc Klein’s script by trying to be outlandish: witness ‘comic’ French artist Sebastian’s gruesome paintings of his former tenant/muse Sara, the would-be wackiness of Lars’ outlandish musical vision, or Eve being physically abused on a golf driving range. The one bright spot is Eugene Levy, turning in a polished cameo as a possessive shop assistant prepared to assist Jonathan in his quest – at the right price.

More than anything else, to me Serendipity feels like a close relative of Sliding Doors, meaning that there’s a good idea in principle but in execution the movie doesn’t achieve what it sets out to (given the amount of work the leads have to do to make love happen, you could argue that the film is about anything but serendipity). It’s a great shame, because Peter Chelsom is responsible for Funny Bones, a quirky, individual film which is one of my all-time favourites. Serendipity is neither quirky nor individual: it’s an off-the-peg rom-com, and as far as I’m concerned it can go right back on the peg.

Scary Movie 3

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Hapless TV news reporter Cindy Campbell hits on not one but two stories of the century: an alien invasion threatens the Washington farm of an ex-minister and his wannabe rap star brother, and closer to home a killer video tape bumps off her best friend and threatens both Cindy and her strangely prescient nephew Cody. Are the two events linked? And if they are, how the hell do they get themselves out of the bind they’re in?

There is, I dare say, a vaguely interesting tale attached to how David Zucker – one third of the legendary Kentucky Fried Theater group behind Airplane!, Hot Shots! and so on – came to take over the reins of the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie franchise after the pretty horrible second film. I’m not moved enough to explore them, frankly, but please feel free to tell me if you have the inside scoop.

Anyway, our returning heroine Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) finds herself in the thick of some very spooky action when she determines to investigate disturbing goings-on at the farm of Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen), a former minister whose belief in God was shattered by the death of his wife (played by Sheen’s then-wife Denise Richards) in an absurd car crash. Not only that, but Cindy’s seemingly immortal friend Brenda (Regina Hall) has heard rumours of a video tape inhabited by an evil girl who kills people seven days after they’ve watched it.

Predictably, Brenda meets a grisly end, which threatens to be Cindy and her adopted nephew Cody’s (Drew Mikuska) fate when they also view the tape. The key to what’s happening may lie back at the farm, where Tom is struggling to look after his daughter and his unsettled brother George (Simon Rex), a whiter-than-white farmboy desperate to overcome his nerves and make it in the world of rap. Then again, the answers may lie in an annoying Aunt ShaNeequa (Queen Latifah) or the pervy Architect (George Carlin), or a race of deceptively aggressive aliens. One thing’s for sure: US President Harris (Leslie Nielsen) hasn’t the faintest idea what’s going on.

Although it’s never anything but thuddingly unsubtle (not least the gratuitous but nicely self-mocking opening featuring Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson), Scary Movie 3 starts off quite brightly. Faris continues to be perky and likeable, Sheen is impressively straight-laced as the grieving farmer, Rex is endearingly stupid as George and the whole 8 Mile rap battle sequence is great fun.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before the attempt to meld Signs, The Ring, The Sixth Sense and The Matrix into a single plot throws all sense and logic out of the window, and the gags become repetitive, dull, leery and increasingly tasteless. It’s as though Zucker and writers Pat Proft and Craig Mazin had seen the earlier Scary Movies, marvelled at what you could get away with these days, and set out to make a film that pushed at the boundaries of taste whilst retaining the trademark ZAZ flippancy.

The result is the unappealing sight of callous violence being played for laughs. If you find any part of Brenda’s wake (her body is slapped, jumped on, pummelled and finally blown apart by electricity in the company of her grieving family) funny, you really want to have a word with yourself (unless you’re twelve, in which case it’s probably ok). Though it’s no doubt intended to be cartoonish, the film’s quick graduation from adults hitting themselves on the head to adults injuring children in a vast number of ways just feels wrong. Two jokes, the baby-sitting Catholic priest and the appearance of ‘Michael Jackson’ – suggest that the filmmakers find the very idea of child abuse laden with comic potential. You can’t believe they’ve gone there, but the reaction is one of revulsion rather than laughter.

Still, at least these sections bring something new to the table: the appearance of Leslie Nielsen signals more clearly than a caption ever could that the Zucker/Pat Proft part of the film has started. While Nielsen is dependable, the fact that his main contribution is to repeat a line from Airplane! shows that the film barely knows what to do with him. By a sad coincidence, this review was written on the day Nielsen’s death was announced*, and watching any of the Naked Gun films (even the third one) would be a much better tribute than trying to enjoy the goofy shtick the writers inflict him with here.

Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart are no better as the homies who have always got George’s back. I suppose kudos is due to Zucker for retaining a decent African-American presence in the Scary Movie franchise, but neither this pair nor Queen Latifah and Eddie Griffin in the Matrix skit are particularly interesting; and out of the hasty gangsta rap cameos, the only face I recognised was Macy Gray!

If you get to watch them for free, the first 20 minutes or so of Scary Movie 3 are pretty good value; and though it rapidly goes downhill, there’s the very occasional glimpse of humour in the remaining hour amongst the dreadfully weak dross. Whatever it’s few redeeming qualities, however, there’s one thing for which the film can never be forgiven: it allowed Scary Movie 4 to happen.

NOTE: As in 2010, when it actually happened, rather than 2016 when social media re-announced it.

Scary Movie 2

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Scary Movie survivor Cindy Campbell is lured, under false pretences, into spending the night in a haunted house by her leering professor. She’s not alone, as best friend Brenda, would-be boyfriend Buddy, and fellow students Shorty, Ray, Alex and Theo also come along for the scary ride. The evil spirits possessing the house may be a kinky bunch, but it’s a close thing as to who should be most afraid of whom.

Scary Movie was not a film to suit everyone’s tastes, but it did have the courage of the Wayans’ Brothers convictions and wore its filthiness loud and proud on its sleeve. The reward? The revivification of the spoof movie after years of torpor, and great box office to boot. This made a sequel inevitable, but this time the writers – all seven of them – forego the Scream series to make fun of The Exorcist, The Haunting and more.

The Exorcist is spoofed in the pretty much self-contained opening sequence, featuring James Woods in the Max von Sydow role as the priest who returns fire (plus vomit) to Natasha Lyonne’s possessed girl. One year later, creepy Professor Oldman (Tim Curry) and his wheelchair-bound assistant Dwight (David Cross) seek to prove the existence of life after death; to this end, they trick a gaggle of unwitting, unruly students into staying in the camera-filled Hell House, most of whom lived – or failed to live – through the events of Scary Movie: perky student Cindy (Anna Faris), her friend Brenda (Regina Hall), Brenda’s pothead brother Shorty (Marlon Wayans) and her sometime straight, sometime boyfriend Ray (Shawn Wayans).

There’s also Alex (Tori Spelling), voluptuous student Theo (Kathleen Robertson) and Buddy (Chris Masterson), who fancies Cindy but struggles to strike the right balance of friendship – you really shouldn’t wedgie a girl, after all. Cindy also finds herself the specific target of the house’s malign spirit, Hugh Kane, as she bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead man’s mistress. Each of the students are tormented in their own ways, but this being a Scary Movie they are not exactly defenceless. The one terrifying presence they all struggle to cope with is eccentric housekeeper Hanson (Chris Elliott), an unhinged servant with a bizarrely deformed hand.

Of all the things you might call Scary Movie 2, sophisticated would not be one of them. In keeping with its predecessor, there are no buffers at all on swearing or gags to do with sex and drugs; and while this isn‘t a bad thing in and of itself, when there‘s next to no variety in the material it does get very wearing. Exhibit A is the smack-talking parrot in Hell House’s vestibule: it disses everyone it meets, and their mama – quite funny for a few seconds, but by the end a royal pain in the ass. More annoyingly still, some of the better jokes are spoiled by poor execution. Cindy has a literal cat-fight with a moggy, the animal wielding a broken bottle; unfortunately, the puppet work for the cat is distractingly poor, and the same goes for a number of other visual gags (such as the weed’s ’revenge’ on Shorty or the unspeakable ’When Ray meets the Clown’ interlude).

You wouldn’t call the movie sensitive, either. In general, I applaud the Wayans brothers’ edgy style even if I don‘t always laugh at it, but they can be accused of turning those with disabilities into grotesques (and I‘ve not even seen Little Man). Elliott’s Hanson is funny, even if his performance is allowed to freewheel too much, but the fact that his hand is considered disgusting is decidedly un-PC; worse, he and Dwight constantly trade juvenile insults when more smack talk is the last thing the film needs.

Even more unforgivable, you might argue, is the film’s decision to put Tim Curry in a spooky house with a disturbing, lank-haired manservant, and yet make no reference whatsoever to the Rocky Horror [Picture] Show. If this was a genuine oversight, then it’s a shame; if the idea was mooted but Curry refused to have anything to do with it, then they should have fired him and got someone else in, since Curry – fruity-voiced, a little pervy and more than a little porky – brings little else of interest to the role.

Lastly, you wouldn’t call Scary Movie 2 coherent. For a start, I couldn’t tell if the house used for the Exorcist bit was meant to be the same as Hell House; then, when the students arrive, their individual adventures singularly lack a continuous style or purpose. The movie is clearly a product of a large number of writers, none of whom spent much time looking after the plot; and while plot has never been the chief concern of parody films, this one goes in so many different directions at once that it would take considerable genius to tie them all together in a cogent climax. As it is, Scary Movie 2 cops out in favour of witless spoofs of Mission:Impossible and Charlie’s Angels.

Elsewhere, I may have described Scary Movie 2 as a dreadful film, and it is vulgar, childish and, on the whole, shoddily-made. However, it does contain the occasional sly dig (the missing Florida ballots turn up) or moment of inspired silliness – I particularly like the gag featuring Cindy’s car stereo. Scary Movie 2’s scattershot – or more accurately, splattershot (sorry) – approach doesn’t make for a good film, but it stacks up okay next to 3 and is infinitely preferable to the sorry excuse that would be 4.

Road House 2: Last Call

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: DEA officer Shane Tanner is called down to Louisiana to look after the Black Pelican when gangsters put his uncle in hospital. Refusing to buckle under heavy pressure to sell up, Shane attempts to get to the bottom of who is the Kingpin, whether they had anything to do with his father’s violent death, and why the local police are doing nothing to clean up the town.

Viewed on the basis that this was on on a quiet Friday night, and the original Road House was a bit of trashy fun, I am reviewing Road House 2 merely to serve as a warning that sometimes sequels don’t happen for a very good reason. This sequel appeared seventeen years after the Patrick Swayze original, and therefore predictably does not follow on from the first film so much as repeat some tropes from it with a number of B-movie actors taking the place of Swayze, Ben Gazzara and Kelly Lynch (not exactly, ‘scuse me for saying so, Holllywood Titans themselves).

The set-up of Last Call is fairly similar to Road House. Shane Tanner (Jonathan Scaech), presumed son of legendary bouncer Dalton, comes to the assistance of his Uncle Nate (Will Patton), badly beaten owner of the Black Pelican bar situated in the steamy bayous of Louisiana. The bar is the target of bad guy ‘Wild Bill’ (Jake Busey) who sees it as an ideal place for drug running under the auspices of big boss Victor Crost (Richard Norton). The added spice in this story is provided by the fact that Shane is a Drugs Enforcement Agency Officer, he’s after revenge for his father’s killer; oh, and he’s just getting acquainted with a beautiful teacher, Beau (Ellen Hollman), who just happens to be Wild Bill’s cousin.

The film proceeds in pretty much the expected manner, following Road House not only in plot but in specific moments of execution, such as Dalton’s fellow bouncers saying ‘I thought you’d be bigger’ and, in a direct mirror of the earlier film’s sex scene, Beau being carried to the bedroom wrapped around Shane’s waist. In fact, there is not a single original thought in this film whatsoever, typified by a lazy script which makes the police corrupt but not bothering to show us much of this supposed corruption. Scaech is a moderately good-looking but completely colourless actor, whilst Beau is attractive but victim of a terrible script which lumbers her with being ex-army (army to schoolteacher? Explains the kickboxing, I suppose…) and a string of empty-gun expletives.

The pair entirely fail to match the chemistry that Swayze and Lynch achieved in the original, and although the film does contain nudity, it is entirely gratuitous and coldly presented. Busey is passably nasty in his role, but Norton is unconvincing as the chief baddie (how come they’re all so bloody good at kickboxing?) and Marisa Quintanilla given scraps as Bill’s unlucky henchwoman. Uncle Nate too seems to be born solely to inflict pain and have pain inflicted on him as he fights his way into and out of hospital.

Road House 2: Last Call passes a mindless hour and a half, and if you particularly enjoy seeing non-entities beating each other up and the odd stripper’s nipple is not a complete disaster. However, there are plenty of Stephen Seagal films that do this job better, and of course there is the original Road House, which organically creates a sleazy atmosphere to much better effect, whereas this is a calculating and sterile experience. One last thing: there is a band in the bar, but it is unsurprisingly bland compared to Jeff Healey’s raucous blues wailing. Competent filmmaking, but completely soulless.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: When biologist Dr Helen Benson is called to a national emergency, she has no idea of the scale of the problem until she comes face to face with it: Klaatu, an alien whose race has been observing Earth and finds the human race too dangerous to the planet’s health. Helen, accompanied by emotionally troubled stepson Jacob, must use every ounce of her humanity to convince Klaatu and his terrifying robot Gort that humans deserve a second chance.

I know very little about the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, other than that it featured a giant robot called Gort and that Klaatu, the alien star of the film, was also the name of the band that wrote the Carpenters’ hit Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. So I don’t have anything with which to compare Scott Derrickson’s film directly. It does, however, contain obvious parallels to recent blockbusters such as Independence Day, Armageddon, Transformers and so on.

At least, I presume this showy remake was meant to capture some of the excitement of those films. Jennifer Connelly is widowed astro-biologist Helen Benson, called from her home in which she’s struggling to get on with Jacob (Jaden Smith), who’s missing the army father who died the previous year. Helen, together with a gaggle of anonymous scientists from other fields, are called to a Top Secret NASA briefing where it is revealed that a massive foreign body is due to crash land in Manhattan, with dreadful consequences.

The scientists (rather unwisely) take helicopters to where the object is supposed to crash, but instead a bright sphere lands softly, and a gooey alien emerges and almost has time to shake hands with Dr Benson before it is shot by a loose army gun. In retaliation, an enormous robot emerges to disable the military weaponry, but the alien is taken away to be interrogated under the suspicious gaze of Secretary of Defence Regina Jackson (Kathy Bates). The alien sloughs off its outer padding and declares itself to be Klaatu, who has taken the form of Keanu Reeves (previously shown climbing a mountain in the 20s and meeting up with a little sphere) in order to communicate with the Earth.

Despite the ruthless efforts of Ms Jackson, Klaatu’s superior control over technology – with some help from a sympathetic Helen – allows him to escape and meet up with a fellow alien who has lived on Earth for over fifty years and, while holding out little hope for earthlings, likes the place enough to want to die here. This inter-alien exchange takes place in Chinese (and in McDonalds) before switching, for no good reason, to English. Meanwhile, Gort repels all attempts to attack or get beneath its skin, until the time is right and it transforms into a plague of all-devouring metal locusts. There seems little hope for humanity, unless Helen and Jacob are allowed to demonstrate that people have their good points too.

Contrasting mankind’s destructive urges with its enormous capacity to love, the story offers the opportunity for all kinds of drama and tension; but The Day the Earth Stood Still wastes every chance it has. Giving the characters no chance to establish themselves whatsoever, the film pitches us into the alien invasion, practically demanding the viewer forgive the story-telling shortcomings to appreciate the decent effects.

From there, the film becomes a wrestling match as some of the actors (Connelly, Bates) attempt to wring some emotion out of the dopey script and others don’t bother. Reeves, to be fair, plays the emotionless alien with consummate ease and whilst the viewer never remotely warms to him he is at least effective. This is more than you can say for John Cleese’s Nobel prize-winning Professor Barnhardt, who delivers a supposedly moving plea for humanity’s ability to change as though it were a mantra to send himself off to sleep with. And while there is nothing essentially wrong with Jaden Smith, the plot has him changing his mind and motivation every five minutes, and there’s little to suggest that he’ll be stealing roles from father Will in the near future.

Crucially, the film’s poor writing and shoddy plotting ensures that there is a complete lack of tension; you never really feel that the whole earth is under attack (a lorry, a signpost and some buildings round Central Park are nibbled) and you never feel that Keanu/Klaatu is responsible for what Gort does, or that he has any special connection with either Helen or Jacob that would overturn the decision he has made.

The CGI work does impress but it’s at the expense of having any recognisably human characters to empathise with, so the viewer is reduced to looking for other points of interest to pass the time (there’s an awful lot of Microsoft stuff on display, including their groovy Surface OS, and some rather prominent Citizen watches). And worse yet, the film winds up without any sort of learning, any response from the people of Earth in light of what just happened, any moral or positive humanist message. Simply the credits of crew and cast, lights up, go home.

It’s really difficult to know how The Day the Earth Stood Still was remade like this, since it should have been obvious at script stage that the film would turn out to be turgid, flat, and lacking in anything that draws the audience in or makes them feel in any way involved. One suspects that the effects guys told the producers not to worry as they had super-cool ideas about what could be done with Gort (he’s quite cool, but not overly so); these may pacify some of the audience for some of the time, but for the rest of us for the rest of the film, there’s a hole as big as space where some real characters, and a real story, need to be.