Guy walks into a bar…and all hell breaks loose! In a saloon in Nowheretown USA the regular Joes and Janes are doing the regular deeds when “Hero” (Eric Dane)--introduced via freeze-frame as all characters are with vital statistics typed out including life expectancy--bursts through the door bloodied and warning that “These things are coming.” Well let’s just say his “life expectancy” was ambitious. Then his er widow “Heroine” (Navi Rawat) bursts through the door with the same urgency. The motley crew of patrons and employees (Krista Allen Balthazar Getty Judah Friedlander Henry Rollins Clu Gulager and Duane Whitaker) are all caught off-guard but soon have to take the threat seriously. The threat as it turns out comes from monsters--as they are technically known in the film--stalking them from outside the bar. Which is never good. Like any true campy horror flick Feast’s cast is decidedly C-list (to put it mercifully). In fact if you watched the most recent season of Bravo’s Project Greenlight show--on which Feast was greenlit and filmed--you’re more likely to think of this group as reality TV stars than movie veterans which isn’t a knock on their talent! Rawat (TV’s The O.C. and Numb3rs) scores the meatiest role but doesn’t always look like the right choice for it. Getty who is slowly creeping towards possible “It” status is likable but snagging all the good lines never hurts. Friedlander is Hollywood’s most notorious “Oh that guy!” guy whom you’ll instantly recognize once you see him. Predictably he plays the doofus but plays it well. (Talk about being typecast!) The beautiful Allen maybe best known as George Clooney’s rumored on/off girlfriend can act but is perhaps too pretty for her own good a la pre-Monster Charlize Theron. And Rollins the aging punk-rock icon who usually plays harder-edged roles cleans up nice here so to speak. Project Greenlight is so much fun to watch but for director John Gulager the televised fishbowl that was his Hollywood directorial debut must’ve been absolute hell. With so much quibbling on the set and in the offices to concoct a product that both makes for great TV and a profitable movie--its quality seemed of secondary importance on the show--is so far from what moviemaking is about; the filmmaker’s (a.k.a. “winner” of the contest) voice if not entire career is automatically stifled in the process. As expected the show also turned Feast into a mess. The intros for each character and their life expectancy are somewhat clever (thanks to writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) but not properly executed. From that point on Feast has moments that are fun in a sleazy way but most notably the director just seems absent or muted--there’s nothing distinctive which is where the director typically comes in. And the graininess hurts the film’s look often coming across as more of a student film than proper B-horror.
The thing is Pulse actually has a pretty compelling premise. From the furtive mind of co-writer Wes Craven it shows how our society’s utter reliance on broadband and telecom technology has come back to bite us in the ass. A college student trying to hack into a system inadvertently releases some massive malevolent virus from beyond that infects anyone with a computer cell phone PDA you name it. In other words there’s a whole lotta crack in that Crackberry now. Unfortunately Craven or whoever else tinkered with Pulse has to also adhere to the movie horror genre throwing in the same old scare tactics as we watch pretty young things Mattie (Kristen Bell) and Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) run around trying to stop the bad pasty-white ghosts before they too are infected. The one saving grace is the ending doesn’t cope out. Perky and blonde Bell (of TV’s Veronica Mars fame) is highly capable of convincing us she’s freaked out. As Mattie she witnesses her boyfriend killing himself watches all her friends turn into black ash; we certainly feel her pain. But there’s a determination there too and somehow you know she going to outsmart those nasty spirits--or at least outrun them. Her cohort Somerhalder--best known to Lost fans as Boone the show’s first major casualty--is right there with her every step of the way. It’s comforting actually to put hip young stars in horror movies because it makes it easier to root for their survival. First-time director Jim Sonzero--probably a little freaked himself making a big-budget movie AND dealing with the Weinstein brothers (who produced Pulse)--looks like he watched movies like The Ring and Dark Water over and over. Granted Pulse is also based on a Japanese horror film Kairo so it makes sense everything is so cold and bleak with rundown filthy apartments and lots of concrete. Creepy movies couldn’t be nearly as effective in a brightly lit environ I suppose. What’s interesting however is how some of the masters of horror of our generation are thinking alike. Craven isn’t alone in his telecom fears. Stephen King has also come out with a new novel called Cell which basically addresses the same issue but in a far more twisted way god bless him. In fact King’s end-of-the-world story starts with what he calls “The Pulse ” which is sent via cell phones and makes everyone who has one go crazy. Yep Craven and King are definitely on the same wavelength. Now that’s a scary place to be.
Although it's modern day there's a distinct Raymond Chandler-esque feel to this story about a petty thief named Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) who lucks into a movie audition and finds himself heading to Hollywood. Harry is replacing Colin Farrell as a detective in a film and to get the realism of the part he's shown the detecting ropes by Det. Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) also known as Gay Perry--because he's gay. Then Harry runs into his old high school sweetie Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) at a Hollywood party. She believes Harry is a real detective and begs him to help her. That's when the bodies begin coming out of the woodwork. Greed torture and mayhem ensue. If there's any way to prove that Downey is back in true form this is it. He's glib charming deep and truly becomes a modern-day Chaplin in this very trampy role. Kilmer avoids some of the stereotypes of playing gay but as he points out "we're not good cop bad cop we're fag and New Yorker." Both deserve awards. Monaghan holds her own as a feisty red-head. Even Downey's real-life son Indio--who plays his character in the early flashback scenes--shows incredible promise as an actor. This is the Shane Black’s directorial debut the same guy who wrote Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight. He knows violence that’s for sure but he also has a keen sense of humor. In Kiss Kiss he mixes them well. Black sets the mood with Downey--giving his best Bogie-like voiceover-- narrating the action along the way. This is better than Get Shorty as far as a dark look into the entertainment industry and far more entertaining. And as Harry's character promises "I've seen Lord of the Rings and we're not going to end this 17 times."
Scooby and the gang at Mystery Inc.--Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Velma (Linda Cardellini) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard)--are at the top of their game and just about everyone in Coolsville loves them. Even the Coolsonian Museum is honoring them with an exhibit--a costumed display of Mystery Inc.'s former foes such as The Pterodactyl Ghost The Black Knight Ghost and The 10 000 Volt Ghost. Yet at the museum's gala opening the team's stellar reputation is put in serious jeopardy when said monsters come alive re-created by a masked villain who vows to bring Mystery Inc. down. Under pressure from relentless reporter Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone) the gang launches an investigation into the monster outbreak but as the mystery deepens Mystery Inc.'s members end up questioning their roles within the organization. Can macho leader Fred and image-conscious Daphne look past the superficial and find the identity of the Evil Masked Figure? Will brainy Velma let her feelings for Coolsonian Museum curator Patrick Wisely (Seth Green) blossom even though he is a key suspect? And finally can Shaggy and Scooby stop cowering--and eating--long enough to prove they can be detectives? These are tough times for the gang but they've got to pull it together so they can solve the mystery and save the day.
Even though it seems a little ridiculous that Scooby-Doo 2's fleshed-out cartoon characters would try to dig deep to find answers within the returning actors continue to have fun exploring their alter-Scooby-egos. Prinze's Fred has a hipper haircut this time (the original matted blond 'do had to go) and isn't quite the braggart he once was. He is still unquestionably the "face" of the group until he is made to look foolish by the ruthless Heather played with relish by Silverstone who shines in the bad-girl role. Gellar has definitely dropped Daphne's "damsel-in-distress" routine getting all Buffy on the monsters but is still worried that its her looks not her skills that get her attention. Cardellini's Velma on the other hand gets a love interest--and even all dolled up at one point--but can't get rid of her inherent geekiness. It's Shaggy and Scooby who experience the biggest revelation realizing they really are nothing but giant screw-ups. Lillard actually turns in some (and I can't believe I'm actually saying this) poignant moments as Shag grapples with his inequities. They all realize in the end though that for the good of Mystery Inc. it's best to be true to yourself. Thank god.
Director Raja Gosnell goes full throttle in his second Scooby effort with more action and more elaborate theme-parky sets than the original. Even as the characters pause to reflect on their faults these moments are thankfully short-lived before the gang is thrust into another wild chase or fight sequence keeping the kiddies' minds occupied--and allowing the adult fans to laugh at all the monsters they remember from the TV show. One of the criticisms from the first Scooby-Doo was that it didn't provide enough "inside" jokes for the grown-up enthusiasts (and face it there are probably more of them than kids). But Scooby-Doo 2 harkens back to the good old days and even pokes fun at all those criminals whose evil plans and ghost disguises were foiled by the meddlesome quintet. They all gather at their own watering hole called the Faux Ghost where they can throw darts at pictures of the Mystery Inc. gang. Funny stuff. Overall the sequel provides the same madcap fun the original did without requiring the use of too much brainpower.