Happily N'Ever After centers on what would happen if the classic fairytales we all love didn’t have happy endings if the villains actually won out in the end. When the wizard (George Carlin)—who maintains the age-old balance between good and evil in Fairy Tale Land—goes on vacation his incompetent assistants (Andy Dick Wallace Shawn) make a mess of things opening up an opportunity for Cinderella’s evil stepmother Frieda (Sigourney Weaver) to take control and call in all the bad guys. Meanwhile Cinderella aka Ella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tries to get her beloved Prince Charming (Patrick Warburton) to save the day—except he is a nincompoop too. Actually the real hero is the Prince’s dishwasher Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.) who secretly loves Ella. Not too hard to figure out how this ever after will end. Gellar and Prinze Jr. are as bland in voice as they are on screen playing the two potential lovebirds with very little enthusiasm while the “hilarious sidekicks” Dick and Shawn totally overdo it as the bumbling wizard assistants even if Dick does have a few laugh-out-loud moments. Warburton does he’s usual dumb guy routine and Carlin is completely wasted. The only one who seems to tap into her character succinctly is Weaver as the wicked Frieda. Of course playing someone evil is always more fun—especially a fairytale villainess CGI-created as a cross between Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Madonna. Weaver certainly works the look. Last year’s Hoodwinked—which took the Little Red Riding Hood tale and turned it into a CSI meets Rashomon—tried to satirize and modernize the fairytale genre. Now we have Happily N'Ever After. While their premises are indeed clever and the CGI animation crisp they fail to deliver a strong story to back up the initial idea. Happily just feels slapped together for the kiddies’ sakes with a few dull attempts at adult references. It’s not a good sign when even your kid sitting next to you starts to zone out halfway through the movie. Also the fact there are about six different animation houses and production companies attached to the project doesn’t bode well. I think it’s probably just best to keep the fairy tale spoofs to the Shrek professionals.
As we start at the beginning we see how the hideous mass murderer Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) is born right in a meat-packing warehouse. His grotesquely obese mother is forced to continue working by a sadistic boss even after her water breaks. The boss sees the monstrous child and throws it in a rendering vat where a twisted family finds it and rears it. A few decades later the Texas town around them has slowly died away and the baby turns into a giant who enjoys slaughtering well lots of things. Then Leatherface’s uncle Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) becomes the sheriff who likes the flavor of human flesh after acquiring a taste as a POW in Korea. Soon Hoyt Leatherface and the rest of the family began to like it too getting motorists to stop along their route. Along come two brothers Dean (Taylor Handley) and Eric (Matthew Bomer) with their girlfriends Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird). The boys are suppose to be going off to serve in Vietnam and this is their last hurrah. But Dean hasn't told his brother that he's actually going to run off to Mexico with Bailey because he doesn't want to experience the horrors of war. Little does he know what horror truly is. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has included in the past the likes of Oscar-winning Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey (Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and The Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) so anything can happen to these young actors' careers. Of course Leatherface is the most important character and Bryniarski returns to the role and plays it well and not like the sniveling drag queen the character became in later sequels. Other familiar faces from the brilliant 2003 remake of this 1974 Tobe Hooper classic are brought back for this prequel including Ermey and the grotesque cannibal family: Luda Mae (Marietta Marich) Uncle Monty (Terrence Evans) and the horribly obese Tea Lady (Kathy Lamkin). They are as evil as ever and the prequel explains why Uncle Monty is a double amputee why Sheriff Hoyt has no teeth how Leatherface cuts skin off people and why the family has such a taste for human flesh. The victims are typical in their struggle to survive but Bomer as a brave soldier is particularly poignant as he desperately fights while becoming a play toy for Leatherface. Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) and Bomer (The O.C.) don't need a horror movie to boost their careers but they help create victims you really care about. Director Jonathan Liebesman pays proper homage to what Hooper created but perhaps too much. So much of it is familiar that TCM: The Beginning is quite predictable. The characters are a lot more (pardon the pun) fleshed out than in the other films and very likable but the murders aren't particularly gruesome. And what about the actual chainsaw? The chase through the woods with the crazed hacking killer is the most memorable and chilling moment but there isn’t any such scene in this prequel. The focus is more on the evil rather than the torture—i.e. when Luda Mae washes Bailey's face tenderly and sings "You want to look good when the company comes." Creepy yes. Blood-curdling grisly? Not so much.
October 16, 2003 4:39pm EST
No pun intended but this remake of Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 cult horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cuts straight to the chase and goes right for the jugular. The result is a horror movie bloodbath with jolting scares guaranteed to shock moviegoers out of their seats and onto sticky theater floors. Like the first the remake is set in the early 1970s and follows five friends on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas after making a drug buy in Mexico. Their fates are forever changed when they pick up a hitchhiker who commits suicide in the back of the van. In desperate need of a solution to the dead girl in the car the quintet stumbles upon a dilapidated house in a rural Texas community inhabited by Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) and his strange extended family. Hewitt receives the group led by Erin (Jessica Biel) revving a chainsaw--and suddenly their aspirations go from catching a performance of "Free Bird" to leaving the house with their limbs intact. This is supposedly based on the true story of Plainfield Wisconsin's cannibalistic grave robber Ed Gein which is precisely what makes this film so entrancing. If horror movies are designed to brutally assault not only the victims on-screen but also its viewers then TCM succeeds.
Biel 21 first impressed viewers on the WB series 7th Heaven with her portrayal of Mary Camden the eldest daughter of a progressive minister. As Erin in TCM Biel emerges as a strong lead and it's refreshing to see a horror movie heroine who never twists her ankle in a pivotal chase scene doesn't scream unnecessarily and knows how to hotwire anything on wheels. This role should definitely prepare Biel for her next project playing vampire hunter Abigail Whistler alongside Wesley Snipes in the upcoming Blade 3. While Biel carries the film there are also some decent performances from Eric Balfour (levelheaded Kemper) Mike Vogel (Andy the drunk) Erica Leerhsen (slutty Pepper) and Jonathan Tucker (STD statistic-spouting nerd Morgan). They all have clichéd characteristics that serve to create tension and each rises to the occasion in their limited screen time. At 6'5" Bryniarski (Scooby-Doo) is tailor-made for the role of the enduring yet no less frightening Leatherface. There are also some smaller performances worth noting from R. Lee Ermey (Willard) as the demented Sheriff Hoyt and Heather Kafka as the trailer park baby-thief Henrietta.
Music video helmer Marcus Nispel chose a doozy of a film for his directorial debut. Director Hooper's '74 slasher pic influenced a slew of contemporary horrors including House of 1 000 Corpses Jeepers Creepers and Wrong Turn and it remains to this day a highly romanticized and over-analyzed film. Some for example maintain that Hooper's TCM was a sociopolitical allegory of post-Vietnam America. But although Nispel's setup is practically identical to Hooper's there is no profound message here. Scribes Scott Kosar and Eric Berny do slip in a psychological explanation for Hewitt's wrath by giving him a skin condition that left him without a nose and ostracized as a child which is why he collects body parts and makes masks out of his victims' faces--hence the nickname "Leatherface"--but in the end it's just an entertaining slasher pic. Half storytelling half mood music intensive and richly atmospheric TCM has great visual appeal although some of it is undercut by some of producer Michael Bay's trademark bullet path shots. Nispel's music video background is pervasive in the film's visual MTV-style narration which is fitting for a film aimed at the 15- to 25-year-old TV watching audience.