Wes Craven

Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven)

This year (2007), I saw more summer movies than I have in at least five years. I avoid big Hollywood franchises (the modern ones, the revitalization attempts… it’s fifty-fifty), so I really don’t know how bad the acting is in most of those films–from what I saw this summer, it’s probably atrocious. But there’s a special place for Scream 2, because not a single new cast member gives an acceptable performance. All of them, almost uniformly, are terrible. I suppose an order can be arranged–Elise Neal is worse than Jerry O’Connell, who is worse than Timothy Olyphant… though no one can compare to Sarah Michelle Gellar. Her performance is so incompetent, even her facial expressions are ludicrous. The lesser supporting case members–Laurie Metcalf, Duane Martin, Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi–all terrible. Of the new additions, only Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps–who have nothing to do with the actual film–are acceptable. And I suppose Lewis Arquette isn’t too bad.

Though she’s the “star,” Neve Campbell is barely in the film, entirely overshadowed by all the terrible acting going on around her. When she is around Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Liev Schreiber, things really work. Cox and Arquette are great together, Schreiber is great with anyone… only Jamie Kennedy (of the returning cast members) is lame. Oddly, the film ends on a high point–establishing a wonderful chemistry between Cox, Campbell and Schreiber… which might be why I remember the third one being disappointing, regardless of it being lousy–the potential for something of particular merit is certainly established by this one’s conclusion.

Most of the problems are because of the acting. A dumb horror movie can survive with decent acting, but Scream 2 also lacks charm. The college setting is stupid, the writing is dull–Williamson goes overboard with his pop culture references to hide there being nothing going on for any of the characters (except Cox and Arquette and Schreiber, so their scenes are better). Wes Craven’s direction is framed for a pan and scanned VHS–possibly the worst case of framing for home video since The Untouchables. He has two good shots in the entire movie, both near the end anbd one of them is only funny (it’s an Evil Dead 2 slash Nosferatu reference).

Scream 2 doesn’t work because everyone who dies is a welcome victim (except the two opening deaths), because they’re such terrible actors. When Gellar goes, it’s a reward to the audience for having to sit through her. If anything, her death wasn’t gratuitous enough (as opposed to the opening, when Scream 2 really felt exploitative). But having to tolerate Neal for the whole movie… argh. I’d forgotten Miramax recycled bad actors through their movies, trying to build them up into… well, into something.

Maybe if Craven had directed some of the actors, or composed the shots with some dignity, it’d be better. It has a great conclusion–all the likable characters, played by all the decent actors, have nice exits. Except then the lame music for the Miramax Records (or whatever they called it) soundtrack kicks in and helps one remember the piece of crap he or she just sat through.

And Luke Wilson’s cameo is fantastic–but they really shouldn’t have mocked Skeet Ulrich so brutally if they were going to cast worse actors then him in the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Cathy Konrad and Marianne Maddalena; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Laurie Metcalf (Debbie Salt), Elise Neal (Hallie), Jerry O’Connell (Derek), Jada Pinkett (Maureen), Omar Epps (Phil), Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary) and Duane Martin (Joel).

Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)

The saddest thing about Red Eye is Wes Craven. The film opens with an action movie build-up montage, which he handles fine (for what it is), moves into an Airport movie, which he handles fine, turns into an actor-based thriller, which he handles fine. What doesn’t he handle fine? What does he handle so poorly I’m asking rhetorical questions? The slasher movie chase through the house scene in the last act. To be fair, the script completely falls apart in the third act too, when the immediate action and the abstract catch up with each other, but still… Wes Craven has probably directed ten movies with these scenes, most with multiple instances, and he can’t do it here? For lower budget Hollywood film, Red Eye has a lot of gloss and it really, really doesn’t serve Craven in those last minutes. I kept wondering, actually, if Red Eye were originally intended to be Scream 4 (hell, it would have been better if it had been) and if Rachel McAdams was just a stand-in for Neve Campbell.

What surprised me, in a good way, was how well Craven handled McAdams, even after she turned into Ellen Ripley. I kept thinking he did a lot of female heroines, then remembered I was thinking of someone else. McAdams is solid throughout, even during the misfired last act, but it’s really nice at the beginning when she and Cillian Murphy are bantering. The biggest problem with the last act is it disregards the chemistry between the characters. They start doing unbelievable things in the way they act towards each other and then Murphy loses the ability to speak… All the suspense is also flushed after a certain point and Craven tries to carry the thing on his handling of the house chase, which is ass. During the majority of the film, it looked like Craven had a real talent for picking projects he could bring a flare to without dousing in Craven-muck. Then the end submerges the whole thing in it.

The film’s also got some politics problems. Even if I was the type of person to have sympathy for a Homeland Security director with the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels, the movie doesn’t properly present the character (played by Jack Scalia, looking grateful to get the job). He’s not a believable target, it’s not a believable situation, so whenever that aspect comes up, it’s best ignored. There’s good stuff going on for a while, so it can be ignored… until the end. When there’s a CG rocket and Wes Craven’s inability to direct an action scene becomes painfully clear.

Like I said, McAdams is fine. Likable, appealing–in the situation. She doesn’t make the character likable, but that inability could very well be because the script hinges on the character’s secret… (It’d been better if she’d been a ghost. Or Sidney from Scream). Murphy’s great, having a lot of fun during the majority of the film until the script crashes. Brian Cox is apparently saying yes to every single script someone sends him. He’s hamming it up, but he’s decent at hamming, so whatever. If it’d been a real performance, the movie might have been a little better but not really.

Oh, jeez, I just realized… McAdams really isn’t stronger than Murphy in the end. Damn. I totally should have run with it. There’s a whole male vs. female thing running through it and it’s her dad who saves her, which is even worse than my standard example, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me!, when fate intervenes.

But, really, whatever.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Carl Ellsworth, based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Joe Reisert), Jayma Mays (Cynthia) and Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe).


Scream (1996, Wes Craven), the director’s cut

Poor Matthew Lillard, he was already looking way too old to be a teenager in this one (he was twenty-six). I probably haven’t seen Scream since 2000 or so, sometime before the third one came out. Maybe even further back than that. What I’m trying to say is… I’d actually forgotten how bad Skeet Ulrich is. He’s incredible.

I haven’t been able to see Scream since laserdisc, because there’s an unrated cut that Disney refuses to release stateside. There’s some extra gore and a Freddy Krueger cameo–which is in bad taste if you think about it–nothing to really “enhance” the experience. Still, Nicheflix got the Japanese disc so I rented it (when I was a kid, I had a similar problem with Aliens–my dad had the director’s cut on laser, and I had the theatrical cut VHS, these problems only got worse once I understood letterboxing).

Scream‘s not bad. Wes Craven is a good director (though his cinematographer on Scream couldn’t stop lens distortion, which is kind of embarrassing, if you think about it). The performances run hot and cold. Lillard, for example, is good briefly, not when he’s being loud and obnoxious. He’s such a fantastic, sincere actor, but he never gets roles for anything but the loud prick. Jamie Kennedy–I’d forgotten I even knew who this guy was–is fairly obnoxious and shitty. Courteney Cox, David Arquette, even Rose McGowan, they’re all okay, nothing better. Henry Winkler cameos and is fantastic. The most troubling aspect of Scream isn’t the acting–not even Ulrich–but how indifferent its characters are to death around them. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but a comparison between Scream and O would probably be worthwhile. Scream puts no value on human life….

And no, I’m not going to make a comment about how awful Drew Barrymore was. I could, but I won’t.

Scream does have an important factor, however. One so important, I don’t think I can just dismiss the film. Neve Campbell is an unspeakably wonderful actor. I guess I’d forgotten or it hadn’t occurred to me that my memory of her ability was correct. She’s astoundingly good. I’ve just run through my Blockbuster Online queue and added all her films.

Wait… shit. I had something else. Neve Campbell’s great, Drew Barrymore sucks. Not another Skeet Ulrich joke–what was it….

Nope, I’ve lost it. Damn.

Oh. I remember. Never mind.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley), Matthew Lillard (Stuart Macher), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), Joseph Whipp (Sheriff Burke), Lawrence Hecht (Neil Prescott) and Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary).


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