Mini Reviews (March 2006)
Niagara Motel, Spring Break Shark Attack, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Slither
Niagara Motel (March 21/06)
Niagara Motel is an overly quirky yet strangely compelling drama revolving around the lives of several characters that reside in and around a seedy Niagara Falls-based inn. Over the course of the film's 90 minute runtime, we meet: Loretta (Caroline Dhavernas), a waitress with dreams of something more; a sleazy hustler named Michael (Kevin Pollak); feuding married couple Henry and Lily (Peter Keleghan and Wendy Crewson); recovering drug addict Denise (Anna Friel) and her patient husband R.J. (Kris Holden-Reid); and Phillie (Craig Ferguson), the motel's depressed, drunken janitor. There's a lot going on within Niagara Motel, and director Gary Yates generally does an nice job of balancing the various storylines. The screenplay, by Dani Romain and George F. Walker, vacillates wildly between searing drama and broad comedy, resulting in a distinctly uneven tone that ultimately undermines the more effective elements within the film. As such, one can't help but wish that certain silly plot twists (including, but not limited to, an accidental burial and a kidnapping by stapler) had been excised in favor of a more pronounced emphasis on, for example, Denise's storyline. That Friel delivers a powerful, simply jaw-dropping performance certainly doesn't hurt, though - to be fair - virtually every role in the film has been perfectly cast (Dhavernas and Ferguson, in particular, are quite effective). Niagara Motel is certainly a marked improvement over Yates' debut effort Seven Times Lucky (which also costarred Pollak), but the erratic vibe prevents the movie from becoming much more than an agreeable time-waster.
Spring Break Shark Attack
Not even remotely as much fun as its title suggests, Spring Break Shark Attack is a particularly inept made-for-TV movie that fails to deliver on virtually every single level (although there are a couple of semi-intriguing shark sequences towards the end). Most of the film revolves around a college student named Danielle (Shannon Lucio) and her less-than-enthralling efforts to choose between two potential beaus, which consequently affords the proceedings the feel of a shallow and silly teen drama. That an average episode of The O.C. or Everwood possesses more depth than this certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the decidedly subpar dialogue by scripter James LaRosa (one character, during a vicious shark attack, exclaims, "this is freakin' nuts!") The incongruous presence of veterans Kathy Baker and Bryan Brown among the film's cast is nothing short of baffling, and although Lucio comes off as charming and likeable, she's not given the opportunity to do much other than look thoroughly concerned. The inevitable shark attack emerges just as all hope seems lost, and is admittedly fairly decent - if utterly absurd (dozens of the waterborne predators descend upon a gaggle of partying kids aboard a houseboat). It's just the sort of campy fun that's sorely missing from the majority of Spring Break Shark Attack, and it seems highly unlikely anybody but the most indescriminating teenager will find much here worth embracing.
Ice Age: The Meltdown (March 27/06)
Ice Age: The Meltdown is the latest in an exceedingly long line of mediocre computer-animated films, following such hopelessly underwhelming efforts as Madagascar, Chicken Little, and Robots. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the genre should be left exclusively to Pixar, as the majority of their competitors seem intent on cranking out flicks that are almost relentlessly tame and strangely homogenized. This follow-up to 2002's popular yet forgettable Ice Age is no different, and though small children will undoubtedly thrill to the broad antics of these gossamer-thin characters, there's little here to hold the interest of even the most indiscriminating animation buff. The scant plot revolves around a community of prehistoric animals - including Ray Romano's wooly mammoth, Denis Leary's sabretooth tiger, and John Leguizamo's sloth - that find themselves forced to abandon their valley due to an impending flood. But really, that's just an excuse for the filmmakers to pepper the story with one "hilarious" vignette after another - including fan-favorite Scrat's ongoing battle with a chestnut (his escapades, in particular, have long-since become tedious and irrelevant). The lack of a cohesive storyline is exacerbated by the film's simplistic approach to its characters, as each of the major characters overcomes a personal obstacle before the end credits roll. Ice Age: The Meltdown is just about as needless a sequel as one could possibly imagine, although it seems entirely possible that viewers who enjoyed the bland original may also dig this one.
Slither (March 28/06)
That Slither filmmaker James Gunn cut his teeth on various Troma flicks doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that the movie essentially plays out like a typical Lloyd Kaufman effort - except with far superior performances, special effects, and production values. Gunn, making his directorial debut here, infuses Slither with an off-kilter sensibility that lends the film an appropriately campy atmosphere - although the lack of character development and distinctly uneven pacing prevents it from becoming as much fun as Gunn clearly wants it to be. The story transpires in the small Southern town of Wheelsy, where a whole host of colorful and quirky characters must contend with an alien invasion that transforms unwilling hosts into blood-thirsty zombies. It's clear almost immediately that Gunn has been inspired by certain genre efforts of the '80s (including The Thing and The Blob), and as such, Slither generally feels like a throwback to films of that sort. Gunn has smartly peppered the cast with charismatic and talented actors - including Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker - the majority of whom are, unfortunately, saddled with characters that come off as archetypes more than anything else (ie the earnest cop, the sleazy mayor, etc). And though there are a number of genuinely thrilling sequences spread throughout the film's running time, the movie's erratic structure ultimately transforms Slither into a less-than-memorable piece of work.