Two Thrillers from Sony
Detention (July 30/12)
A seriously (and unapologetically) bizarre piece of work, Detention follows a group of disparate high schoolers, including Josh Hutcherson's Clapton Davis and Shanley Caswell's Riley Jones, as they're forced to band together after a masked psychopath begins offing their fellow students. Filmmaker Joseph Kahn, working from a script written with Mark Palermo, has infused Detention with a pervasively frenetic feel that does, at the outset, hold the viewer at arm's length, and it is, as a result and for the most part, awfully difficult to embrace either the insanely over-the-top narrative or predominantly one-dimensional protagonists. (There's little doubt, however, that both Hutcherson and Caswell's unexpectedly compelling work proves effective at eventually overcoming Kahn's broad sensibilities, and it's worth noting that their respective characters ultimately ensure that the movie is sporadically more watchable than one might've anticipated.) The less-than-subtle atmosphere, which is reflected in everything from the self-consciously "clever" dialogue to the persistently overblown visuals to the distractingly frantic narrative, prevents boredom from setting in on a fairly regular basis, admittedly, yet the lack of cohesiveness within Kahn and Palermo's screenplay results in a vibe akin to a music-video marathon - with the time-travel heavy third act subsequently unable to pack the visceral punch that Kahn has intended. (It doesn't help, either, that this stretch is almost uncomfortably reminiscent of the vastly superior Donnie Darko.) And while Kahn deserves some credit for attempting something different within the teen-movie genre, Detention is simply (and finally) too weird and too off-the-wall to become anything more than a mildly amusing curiosity.
Meeting Evil (July 31/12)
Meeting Evil follows Luke Wilson's John, a mild-mannered real-estate agent, as his day goes from bad to worse after he's abducted by a mysterious stranger named Richie (Samuel L. Jackson), with John's efforts at placating Richie inevitably proving disastrous. (The storyline subsequently details the cat-and-mouse game that ensues between the pair.) It's a fairly strong premise that's employed to persistently underwhelming effect by director Chris Fisher, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a low-rent and far-from-cinematic vibe that immediately sets the viewer on edge - with the hands-off atmosphere compounded by a continuing emphasis on decidedly less-than-authentic attributes (eg John attempts to solicit assistance from an almost comically unhelpful saleswoman). There's consequently a pervasive absence of tension that only grows more and more problematic as John's situation worsens, and it ultimately goes without saying that one is, as a result, utterly unable to work up any interest in or sympathy for the protagonist's ongoing exploits. Fisher's relentlessly slick directorial sensibilities are compounded by a screenplay that's rife with aggressively stupid elements (eg John's wife, Leslie Bibb's Joanie, calls a police officer "functionally retarded" - directly to her face, no less - without any repercussions), while Jackson, delivering a seriously over-the-top performance, is simply unable able to become the threatening or sinister figure one might've expected. By the time the entirely anticlimactic (and frustratingly ambiguous) finale rolls around, Meeting Evil has certainly lived up to its place as just another hopelessly incompetent direct-to-video thriller - which is a shame, certainly, given the undeniably irresistible nature of its premise.