Doug Hutchison

Fresh Horses (1988, David Anspaugh)

The surprise tragedy of Fresh Horses is Molly Ringwald could’ve been good in it. Even though she’s top-billed, she doesn’t get a scene without Andrew McCarthy until almost halfway through the movie—she’s the white trash object of his working-to-middle class sexual lust—but she’s not good in that scene. Actually, it’s her only scene without McCarthy in the movie, I think. Wow. Anyway. She has this scene where she shocks the three girls McCarthy and best friend Ben Stiller have brought to she and McCarthy’s love nest (a shack alongside the railroad) to party and, if Stiller has his way, orgy. It’s not a great monologue by any stretch but it does show agency, which Ringwald’s without the rest of the film even when it pretends she’s got some.

But that scene… it’s where Fresh Horses, for the first time since the first act, has some potential to go somewhere good. The film’s so far past the point of no return but for a moment, it seems like it might. Maybe because of the awesome rainy sequence at these stairs (the Serpentine Wall in Cincinnati), when it seems like McCarthy and Stiller are going to go for some wholesome bonding as they take McCarthy’s dad’s boat out on the river, which is actually the opening titles.

They don’t. They go to try to get laid, which ends up being the most passively offensive sequence in the film (as opposed to the actively offensive ones like when McCarthy accuses Ringwald of making up sexual assault or, you know, hits her… Fresh Horses is truly fucked up). McCarthy and Stiller on the prowl isn’t just why the sequence—they crash rich girl Molly Hagan’s house, where she’s having a pool party with Welker White and Rachel Jones—is so offensive, but because it turns out the three girls are just waiting for the guys to validate their existence with the gift of McCarthy and Stiller sticks. There’s an actual line of dialogue—from a female character—about how men don’t realize how lucky women feel to get laid.

Now, in a better world, I wouldn’t have given Fresh Horses enough time to get to that point in the film. Director Anspaugh can shoot a mean Serpentine Wall in the rain but it’s not like his direction is good. His instincts are terrible, especially with the actors—like, no one thought we should actually hear McCarthy break up with rich girl fiancée Chiara Peacock or maybe have the scene after McCarthy gets beat up for not pimping out Ringwald where they see each other. The subsequent scene to the sad fade out on beaten McCarthy is Ringwald asking surrogate mom Patti D'Arbanville if she’d ever been the object of working-to-middle class sexual lust and D’Arbanville–Fresh Horses doesn’t just reject Bechdel, it rejects the idea of it—D’Arbanville wistfully tells Ringwald she’d trade one McCarthy for all her experience, which doesn’t so much sound romantic as make all of D’Arbanville’s encounters sound like rape.

But writer Larry Kenton (who adapted his apparently just as fucked up play) doesn’t… have a concept of consent. The film’s a relic of toxic masculinity among the beta males, as Stiller (who’s got a serious girlfriend, Marita Geraghty, but spends most of the movie on the prowl) explains it to McCarthy—it’s hard to make male friends so you have to make sure not to lose the ones you’ve got, even if it means making sure they don’t get to be with the girls they want to be with. See, Stiller’s buds with college scuz bucket Doug Hutchison who gossips about Ringwald actually being sixteen and married, which leads to the first time McCarthy lays hands on Ringwald. Not the hitting scene. That one comes later, after he smuggles her into his house—the film doesn’t establish he lives with his parents until that point, in fact, given Peacock being so ostentatiously wealthy, it seems more like McCarthy’s similarly classed—and she makes too much noise.

Fresh Horses makes you wonder if the men who made it regretted it after they had daughters.

Actually, the first big tell of problems isn’t the strange opening credits where you can never follow the vapid rich folk conversations because no one could be bothered to really write them, it’s when McCarthy’s leaving his class (he’s an engineering student in college who also knows his rules of grammar because he’s going to correct high school dropout Ringwald on occasion, including when she’s telling him about being assaulted)… McCarthy pointlessly says, “Hi, Mr. Berg,” to this guy in the background. The producer. The producer put a cameo in the movie where the movie star lead has to identify him by name and show some deference. So I did learn one thing from Fresh Horses. Avoid movies where stars have to suck up to the producers onscreen.

Is there anything good about Fresh Horses? Is Viggo Mortensen good as Ringwald’s definitely abusive maybe husband? Umm. He’s not as bad as some people. You feel bad for D'Arbanville; her character runs a rural Tennessee party house where rough men play poker and pool and D’Arbanville serves them liquor and perv on her fifteen year-old daughter. Fresh Horses is basically a White guy’s shitty short story with a romance subplot grafted on. I know because it’s the kind of shitty short story I would’ve written because I grew up on crap like Fresh Horses.

Oh. What are Fresh Horses? They’re women. Once you tire out one horse, you get another. But they also get tired out by other riders so you don’t want those ones either.

Fresh Horses is terrible. You shouldn’t watch it. I shouldn’t have watched it. I feel bad I made my cat sit through it. I’m sorry, Fozzy. I’m very sorry.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Anspaugh; screenplay by Larry Ketron, based on his play; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by David Foster and Patrick Williams; production designer, Paul Sylbert; costume designer, Colleen Atwood; produced by Richard Berg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Matt), Molly Ringwald (Jewel), Ben Stiller (Tipton), Chiara Peacock (Alice), Marita Geraghty (Maureen), Doug Hutchison (Sproles), Molly Hagan (Ellen), Rachel Jones (Bobo), Welker White (Christy), Viggo Mortensen (Green), and Patti D’Arbanville (Jean).


Give ’em Hell, Malone (2009, Russell Mulcahy)

I’ve read some reviews describe Give ’em Hell, Malone‘s genre as a mix of noir and action. Genre assignations are utterly useless, but in this case, it might actually be an amusing diversion. It’s hard to assign a genre to a picture where a bunch of characters acting like they’re in a film noir while they’re amidst thoroughly modern characters and situations (bluetooth headsets, for example).

The opening, an exceptionally violent action set piece set to Thomas Jane’s narration, is fantastic. It’s visceral hyper-violence without any glorification. It’s boring. It’s this elaborately choreographed sequence and it’s boring. It’s great, but completely disinterested with itself.

It doesn’t hurt Jane’s doing the narrating. His presence makes Malone work. He’s maybe the only leading man type today who can do genre-bending absurdity and still make it have emotional resonance.

The supporting cast is, for the most part, real strong. Ving Rhames is basically doing the same solid thing he does all the time, but French Stewart’s great in a smaller role. Leland Orser, Gregory Harrison, Doug Hutchinson, all excellent. Leading lady Elsa Pataky is iffy… but does look the femme fatale part perfectly.

Mulcahy’s direction is occasionally stylized, but always sure-footed. He only fumbles when the script does, which, unfortunately, is more often than not. Some of execution problems appear to be budgetary. They do wonders on a small budget, but not miracles.

It’s an interesting piece, nearly successful a lot of the time. Probably even most of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; written by Matt Hosack; director of photography, Jonathan Hall; edited by Robert A. Ferretti; music by David C. Williams; production designer, Vincent DeFelice; produced by Erik Anderson, Johnny Martin, Brian Oliver, Richard Rionda Del Castro and Richard Salvatore; released by National Entertainment Media.

Starring Thomas Jane (Malone), Ving Rhames (Boulder), Elsa Pataky (Evelyn), French Stewart (Frankie the Crooner), Leland Orser (Murphy), Chris Yen (Mauler), William Abadie (Pretty Boy), Gregory Harrison (Whitmore), Doug Hutchison (Matchstick) and Eileen Ryan (Gloria).


Punisher: War Zone (2008, Lexi Alexander)

Punisher: War Zone got a theatrical release (sorry for the passive voice, but pointing out Lionsgate released it in the theater sort of kills the emphasis). I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to describe the terrible script. Watching an early exchange between mobsters, I kept wondering if Italian American associations were aware of the film (I’m guessing they aren’t). The characters are so stereotypical, the portrayal so offensive… it’s incredible. But the mob being the movie’s big villains elucidates War Zone‘s biggest (narrative) idiocy–it’s just a hodgepodge of superhero movies. The movie rips off an opening scene from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One comic book, but then cribs the entire approach from Batman Begins (where the hero doesn’t actually fight crime unrelated to the plot’s main villain). But there’s a Superman reference in the subway hideout and some other malarky I’m sure. The script’s idiotic.

So why watch Punisher: War Zone? The terrible opening credits don’t give any indication of it, but Michael Wandmacher’s score is good and Steve Gainer’s photography is fantastic. The photography seems to go for HDR (high dynamic range), which makes the Panavision frame wondrous at times. Lexi Alexander intercuts Manhattan skyscrapers with Montréal streets to poor effect–actually, Montréal’s a decent stand-in, physically, for New York, but Alexander’s movie New York is one of the most absurd I’ve ever seen. It’s like she’s not only never been there, she hasn’t even watched a movie set there. Alexander’s actually a decent director. She has an annoying Panavision habit of putting people, in cuts, on opposite sides of the frame, but by the end of the movie, she’s got it working. She’d direct great commercials or music videos, since she can’t impart any emotionality to her work. There isn’t a single subtle moment in War Zone, it’s just too stupid.

Some of the stupidest developments in the film are the inclusion of Wayne Knight as a sidekick and the revelation the Punisher dropped out of seminary. I don’t know why the latter got included, maybe so they could have a dumb scene with the Punisher at church, but it’s one of the stupider things in the film. Knight’s sidekick, who seemingly funds the Punisher’s war on selected criminals from a tiny apartment, is also something else. Knight–even with the goatee–isn’t bad. He’s got some dumb lines, but he isn’t bad.

Producer Gale Anne Hurd has made some big movies and some good movies. Presumably, while on set, she must have noticed Ray Stevenson couldn’t act. He’s atrocious as the lead. Punisher: War Zone has a future as a drinking game. Alexander barely gives him any lines, but he flubs every single one of them. Julie Benz (is she the Lionsgate version of 1990s Miramax Neve Campbell or something?) is awful. Colin Salmon, who’s usually good, gives a terrible performance. Talking about him, I forgot to mention the stupid last names. Everyone in the film has a super-ethnic last name, presumably to make it more authentic. Dash Mihok, in the movie’s supposedly comic role, is terrible. Alexander and the script don’t understand humor. They should have brought Rob Schneider or the guys who wrote Beverly Hills Ninja in to give it some oomph.

But talking about the actors brings me to the real reason to watch Punisher: War Zone. Dominic West. He’s not stretching any thespian muscles in his portrayal of a psycho (oh, another comic book movie reference, the Burton Batman), but he’s a joy to watch. Given the filmmakers were able to hire West to appear in this cinematic turd, it’s a testament to their jaw-dropping lack of intelligence they didn’t fire Stevenson and put West in the lead. If he can make this underwritten goober of a role work, imagine what he could have done as the Punisher.

As West’s cannibal sidekick, Doug Hutchinson is fine. He’s been acting for a long time, so Alexander’s ineptness at directing actors mustn’t have contaminated him.

Punisher: War Zone is watchable dreck. The movie looks good–Alexander’s action scenes concentrate too much on the gore instead of, well, any action–and West is a joy to watch. I wonder if anyone involved in the film has seen “The Wire,” but all evidence suggests not. And it’s definitely one of Lionsgate’s less appalling pictures.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lexi Alexander; screenplay by Nick Santora, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Steve Gainer; edited by William Yeh; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Ray Stevenson (Frank Castle), Dominic West (Billy Russoti), Doug Hutchison (Loony Bin Jim), Colin Salmon (Special Agent Paul Budiansky), Wayne Knight (Microchip), Dash Mihok (Det. Martin Soap) and Julie Benz (Angela Donatelli).


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