Monday, February 27, 2012

'I Melt With You'

Of all the unwatched For Your Consideration screeners I still have sitting by my TV, why did I decide to watch Mark Pellington's I Melt With You? Perversely, as with my dedication to watching the entirety of crappy horror series, it's mainly because the reviews were so savage, and it seemed like a movie that could be fun to write about. I did hold out a little hope that I'd end up with the contrarian opinion, that I'd love Pellington's take on the tortured angst of middle-aged upper-middle-class white guys, but sadly that was not to be. I Melt With You is easily one of the worst movies of 2011 and probably one of the worst movies I've ever seen, a stunningly misguided mess of self-important whining. It's sort of amazing how clueless it is about its own pretentiousness, which increases exponentially as the movie goes on.

Rarely has so much douchebaggery been concentrated in one movie. Pellington loses sympathy for his already unsympathetic characters pretty much right away by preceding the title card with a bunch of whiny concerns about male aging (losing hair, having trouble getting it up, etc.) that are almost exclusively petty nonsense. Just because these guys are well-off and attractive and privileged doesn't mean they can't be unhappy or unfulfilled, but Pellington and co-writer Glenn Porter depict their four main characters as such insufferable narcissists that it's impossible to feel even an ounce of pity for them. The quartet of college friends (played by Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven and Christian McKay), now 44, get together at a lavish beach house for their annual reunion, and they waste no time in ingesting every illicit substance they can get their hands on (mostly courtesy of Lowe's character, a doctor with a very liberal prescription policy). When they're not blissfully high, they're ponderously angsty, urgently querying each other about what happened to their misspent (and objectively totally successful) lives.

It's bad enough to witness this kind of narcissistic navel-gazing without a hint of self-deprecating humor, but Pellington makes it worse by shooting everything with a hyperactive visual style no doubt derived from his years directing music videos. It adds another layer of superficial shine to what is already a completely shallow endeavor. Pellington also fills the movie with wall-to-wall music, mostly alt-rock classics from the '80s, which conjures up a feeling of nostalgia without taking that anywhere or giving it any meaning. The music doesn't represent anything about the characters or their lives; it's just there to allow the audience to fill in their own feelings where the movie is unable to create them.

And then halfway through, somehow things get even worse. (Spoiler alert, I guess, although this movie deserves to be spoiled.) Given how many drugs they were taking and how depressed they seemed, I was rooting for these assholes to overdose and/or commit suicide, even if that would only make the survivors more angsty. So I was pretty pleased when McKay's tortured character, who engages in the world's most depressing threesome at his moment of greatest despair, hanged himself in the shower. But I was not prepared for what comes later, as the movie turns into a sort of psychological thriller, with the surviving characters determined to live out a ridiculous suicide pact they signed back in college, and a local cop (Carla Gugino) tracking their suspicious behavior. Contemplating suicide only makes these guys more unbearably smug about the preciousness of their dreams and emotions, and Pellington treats the increasingly ludicrous premise as an incredibly profound meditation on the meaning of life. By the time the last of the group was running toward a cliff as Gugino's befuddled sheriff's deputy was chasing him, trying to convince him to live, I couldn't wait for him to jump.

Available on DVD February 28.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'The Mystery of the 13th Guest' (1943)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.
A year ago, I wrote about the forgettable 1932 B-movie The Thirteenth Guest, which despite being essentially worthless was for some reason remade 11 years later, with the same plot-hole-ridden story, the same pathetic comic relief and the same complete lack of suspense. The Mystery of the 13th Guest is somehow even 10 minutes shorter than the extremely brief original, barely qualifying as a feature film at just over an hour. The production values are maybe a bit higher, and the slapstick isn't quite as annoying, but otherwise this movie is just as pointless the second time around.

Once again the plot involves an heiress (Helen Parrish, replacing Ginger Rogers) who's been targeted for murder by members of her greedy family, thanks to an inheritance she's set to receive from her late grandfather (although in the original it was her father). And once again the murders occur inside the grandfather's abandoned old house, with the killer hiding behind the wall and activating a mechanism attached to the telephone that electrocutes his victims. It's not quite as creepy as it was in the original, and the mystery of the long-ago dinner party that supposedly drives the plot is even more nonsensical. The titular mystery is never solved, and appears to be completely irrelevant, since the person who was absent from the dinner party at which the grandfather announced his will (where there were 12 guests and one empty seat) isn't behind the murders and is never revealed.

The acting is passable, and the bumbling detective who was so irritating in the original is slightly toned down here, although the style is still a little too snappy and light for a plot that could have been lifted wholesale from a horror movie. Parrish and Dick Purcell, who plays a private detective investigating the case, don't have the same chemistry as Rogers and Lyle Talbot in the original, but Mystery spreads the focus out a little more, giving a police lieutenant played by Tim Ryan (who also co-wrote the screenplay) nearly as much emphasis, and offering up some amusing scenes for the heiress' despicable relatives. The movie zips along so quickly that the plot details are almost completely lost, and the rushed resolution makes little sense. Maybe somewhere in the original novel by Armitage Trail is a compelling, cohesive mystery, but it can't be found anywhere in either of the two movie versions.