Sony's September '06 Releases
Bottoms Up (September 2/06)
Bottoms Up, a film that's as shallow and superficial as star Paris Hilton, has virtually nothing to offer even the most indiscriminate viewer, and generally comes off as an amateurish, artistically bereft piece of work. This is despite the participation of some genuinely talented folks in front of the camera, including Kevin Smith (!), Jon Abrahams, and David Keith. Smith regular Jason Mewes stars as Owen Peadman, a Midwestern bartender who travels to Los Angeles in order to scrape together enough dough to save his father's restaurant. While there, he encounters a hunky up-and-coming star (Brian Hallisay), his vapid girlfriend (Hilton), and a whole host of quirky and inscrutable characters. Director and co-writer Erik MacArthur has infused Bottoms Up with jokes and comedic bits that are uniformly unfunny, a problem that's exacerbated by the film's distinct lack of anything even resembling an interesting storyline or intriguing characters. Hilton, with her oddly misshapen head, disturbingly puffy lips and creepy lazy eye, is a far more incompetent actress than anyone might've suspected and doesn't possess an ounce of charisma or talent (Mewes isn't much better, but at least he's got screen presence). Keith - playing Owen's gay uncle Earl - offers up a thoroughly stereotypical portrayal that's uncomfortably broad and flat-out offensive, and one can't help but feel embarrassed for the poor guy (he's acted opposite folks like Robert Duvall and Jack Nicholson, for crying out loud). Though Hilton is clearly the worst thing about Bottoms Up, it seems highly unlikely that the film would be much better with an actual actress in her place (the movie is just bad).
The Plague (September 4/06)
It's hard to pinpoint precisely where The Plague goes wrong, as the movie features a seemingly foolproof premise (it's hard to go awry when zombies are involved). But despite the best intentions of all involved, the film ultimately reveals itself to be an egregiously slow-paced and flat-out dull piece of work. After the children of the world simultaneously fall into a ten-year coma, there's little for the adults to do but prepare for the extinction of the human race. But they're instead forced to fight for their lives when the comatose teens snap back into consciousness and begin a blood-thirsty campaign that presumably won't end until everyone over a certain age is dead. Although there are a few interesting and genuinely eerie moments within The Plague (including a sequence in which a toddler snaps a preacher's neck), there's simply no overlooking the general sense of incompetence that's been hard-wired into virtually every aspect of the production. The complete lack of interesting performances certainly goes a long way towards cementing this feeling, as even star James Van Der Beek - ordinarily a charismatic, compelling figure - finds himself trapped within the confines of a thoroughly bland character and consequently unable to make any kind of a meaningful impact. And despite the best efforts of director Hal Masonberg - who's actually infused the movie with some surprisingly stylish visuals - The Plague suffers from a low-rent vibe that's impossible to ignore (the film's failure to explain what's causing the kids' erratic behavior is nothing short of a total annoyance).
Population 436 (September 4/06)
Though it features a story that'd probably be more at home within an episode of The Outer Limits (one almost expects that sinister narrator to pop up at the film's conclusion), Population 436 is nevertheless a sporadically intriguing and extremely well made thriller revolving around a census worker (played by Jeremy Sisto) who finds himself confronted with a small town in which the population (436, natch) has remained steady for over 100 years. Population 436 has been saddled with an extremely slow pace that often borders on oppressive, but there comes a point at which the plot kicks into high gear and one can't help but get caught up in the film's mystery. That being said, there's a certain amount of predictability inherent within Michael Kingston's screenplay - something that's compounded by his reliance on various cliches of the genre (ie when Sisto's character arrives at the town's outskirts, he's given a vague warning to turn back before it's too late). And while the movie is never quite able to disguise its low-budget, shot-on-digital-equipment origins, director Michelle MacLaren does manage to liven things up with several much-appreciated bursts of style. The solid performances (even Fred Durst does an effective job!) and expectedly downbeat conclusion ensure that Population 436 remains a cut above the majority of its direct-to-video brethren.