Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Like "The Waiting Room." - Visiting Hours movie review

Cover of "Visiting Hours"Cover of Visiting HoursMore Like "The Waiting Room." - Visiting Hours movie review

Visiting Hours is a rather uninspiring Canadian-filmed slasher flick, rushed out to capitalize on the success of movies like Halloween, that would have been completely forgotten if not for two coincidental achievements: Being the first "Video Nasty" to be shown on British television, and featuring now-pop-culture-icon William Shatner in a minor supporting role.

Disaster Film star Lee Grant plays outspoken news anchor Deborah Ballin, whose unabashed defense of abused women motivates psychopathic loner and chapter He-Men Woman Hater's Club member Michael Ironside to deliver a little home-invasion rebuttal to her argument. After killing the maid (before she could tidy up, no less) and attacking Ballin while wearing her jewelry before fleeing the scene, the distraught news anchor spends the rest of the film waiting in the hospital while Ironside returns for multiple visits (get the title now?), during which he manages to kill everyone except the focus of his feminine hatred.

The film's one-note plotline doesn't have much to play with except this exceedingly drawn out game of Cat & Mouse, even with the mildly distracting subplot of a dedicated single mother and nurse whose dedication pulls her into this deadly feud. Most of the time waiting is filled with what seems like hundreds of cliche false scares (although no cat scares, thankfully), uninteresting conversations, and a rather delightful display of closet designs across the Canadian class spectrum. The tedious pace is delayed even further by Ironside's habit of killing every person he bumps into on his way to the news anchor's hospital bed. A serial killer with at least a passable amount of self-control would have been cleaning her blood off of his shoes before the one-hour mark.

Those settling down to view this slasher in the hopes of some campy Shatner fun will be quickly disappointed: Shatner's role as Grant's husband is brief and un-comically straight forward. But if you came for William Shatner, be sure to stick around for Michael Ironside. Ironside was the typical go-to guy for low budget bad guy roles in the day, and Visiting Hours acts as a perfect showcase for his villainous acting. With a glare that would wilt petunias at fifty paces, Ironside stalks through the film shooting hateful glares that you could feel across a crowded room. His trademark creepy performance may not exactly save the film, but it does make it somewhat more tolerable.

The film does have a few inspired moments, mostly surrounding Ironside's lady killer Colt Hawker. There's one scene in particular, in which he slices the wrong air tube, but decides to stick around and savor the moment anyway, sitting quietly on the edge of the bed and taking pictures of an elderly woman in her final death throes. The film tries to explain his passionate hatred of women with some domestic violence flashbacks, but they end up feeling like simple explanations that take away from the mysteriousness of a man who can drive a Zambonee-sized floor sweeper with soul-cringing malice. And if you ever wanted to watch Michael Ironside in a latex muscle shirt sexually abusing an eighties hair-band refugee, here's your chance.

Visiting Hours isn't exactly a bad film, but rather just a passable, wholly uninspiring film that has little to offer beyond drawn out suspense and the occasional switchblade to the abdomen, neither of which entertain nearly as much as they should.

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Drive Angry: So good, you can almost forgive it for being in 3D.

By every stretch of the imagination, Drive Angry should be a bad movie. Low budget car-chase action flick with demons battling from hell on southern highways? I mean, it's even got Nicholas "Wicker Man" Cage in it. This should definitely suck. Then why is it so damned enjoyable?

Maybe it's because this movie comes right at you with the full intention of being everything that it is without even flinching, let alone apologizing. You want an action/horror flick with gunfights, explosions, foul language, car chases, and plenty of nudity to fill in the gaps? You've got it in spades. Drive Angry throws enough blood, bullets and f-bombs at you in the first ten minutes that it almost starts to feel surreal. In a market where most action films do their best to tone down the sex and violence enough to squeeze a PG-13 out of the final watered-down product, Drive Angry opens the floodgates and reminds the viewer what exploitation action cinema is all about.

You can't get too hung up on the plot: the film doesn't give you the chance. A brief glimpse of Hell as a maximum-security prison is all we get before a muscle car slams through the gates, and the next thing we know, Nicholas Cage is flipping trucks and blowing off body parts with a shotgun. The premise of a prisoner of Hell escaping o earth to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by a devil worshiping cult is so basic that the film doesn't bother dwelling on it too long - Instead, it doles out ten-second portions of the minute-long plot summary throughout the film in between car chases and gun fights.

Much like the horror film Slither, Drive Angry is a film made by people who love films like this, and you can feel joy and attitude the filmmakers and performers poured into it with every action sequence and nude scene. The characters and action sequences are so stylized you would swear the film was adapted from a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. The writing isn't what you might call original, which is fine; you can tell the writer's are trying to make a fun movie, and not a groundbreaking cinematic treasure. But even the cheesiest lines in the film (and there are a few) manage to stifle the groans they should illicit, because you're just having too much fun to judge.

The performances are almost top-notch across the board. Billy Burke pulls off the charismatic cult leader Jonah King with enough malevolence to secure his place as the bad guy, yet keeps him fun and entertaining as well. When he says he's going to kill a woman then defile her corpse, you not only believe that he means it, you can tell he's going to enjoy it. Amber Heard would be otherwise unforgettable in her female sidekick role if it weren't for the writing behind her character, Piper. Piper isn't just a boring action film tough-as-nails female character; she is so deliciously white-trash and vulgar that you have no problem with her tagging along with an undead convict because she has nothing else better to do. Even Nicholas Cage gives a passable performance as he runs around looking like Kevin Costner's evil twin. Cage Haters will no doubt lambaste him for what might appear to be a wooden performance, but his refuge from Hell character Milton is purposely driven and dedicated to an almost humorously focused degree, and he acts as monotone and subdued as one might expect someone to be after spending a couple of decades hanging out in Hell.

But William Fichtner steals the movie as The Accountant who tracks down Milton in order to return him to his Hellish Cell Block. Fichtner takes a role that could have easily devolved into a pale imitation of Agent Smith from The Matrix, and turns it into the character you're always happy to see the minute he appears. He masterfully weaves subtlety and nuance into a straight-faced delivery that will have you rewinding his scenes just to see the expression on his face a second time.

Above all else, this movie is everything it sets out to be: a hard-edged, graphic action film that avoids melodrama and instead lets you know that it is having as much fun as you are. And you will have fun.

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