Twins Carly and Nick Jones (played by Cuthbert and One Tree Hill heartthrob Chad Michael Murray)--with Carly being the pretty goal-oriented "good" twin and Nick the sullen brooding "bad" one-- are road tripping to catch the big college game. Along for the ride are Carly's beau Wade (Gilmore Girls' Jared Padelecki) mini-cam-obsessed Dalton (Jon Abrahams) sports fan Blake (Robert Ri'chard) and his maybe-preggers girlfriend Paige (Paris Hilton in her first major acting role--unless you count certain portions of her infamous sex video). The requisite car trouble ultimately leads them to a requisitely isolated Iowa town where they must seek help from the requisitely creepy locals. Dominating the town is the House of Wax a paraffin-filled museum which doesn't just feature amazing wax likenesses of people and objects: the whole place is made out of wax walls and all. This despite being constructed over a fiery furnace used for…well these films aren't about logic are they? Throw in the requisite twisted menacing blood-lusting boogeyman--but wait! Let's have TWO bad guys! And make them twins! (Did I mention the script was written by Chad and Carey Hayes who happen to be twin brothers?) Cut to the running and the chasing and the cinematic carnage the corpses turned into those impossibly lifelike wax figurines the curvy Cuthbert in a white tank top and the impossibly big drippy finale and call it a day. This is just a messy pile of waxy build-up that'll take an extra-long Q-Tip to clean out of your brain.
Despite the jibes she gets for her 24 character's penchant for getting into laughably contrived peril the pert and sexy Cuthbert--who fills up a movie screen even more potently than the tube and lent a genuine vulnerability and pathos to her smoldering turn in The Girl Next Door--is emerging as one of the more interesting actresses of her TV-launched generation. Despite her natural charisma however there's no such opportunity for a multidimensional turn in House of Wax and for her career's sake Cuthbert should make this film her one-stop shopping trip to Horror-dom. She's made for much better things and the sickly sadistic and bloody punishments she endures in this film quite frankly can only distract her admirers from how hot she is. Murray also impresses as a film presence though he too is stuck in this thankless mess as the rebel who really has nothing to rebel against. Padelecki the film's "Hey let's see what's in here!" jackass whose idiotic actions drives every shallow horror plot should stick to his day job. And then there are the splendors of Paris: both she and the filmmakers seem to think that stripping the heiress of accessories like her tiny dog Tinkerbell and her Pepto-pink fashions is all that's necessary to believe Hilton as an entirely different character. Except none of us really want Paris to be an entirely different character. She's really only entertaining--and often equally as stiff and insipid like she is in this film--as herself and we'd all rather see her and Nicole Richie (or Kim Stewart or whatever less attractive less-wealthy and less-ditzy sidekick she's hanging with these days) screaming bloody murder at a real House of Waxing.
Let's hope for his sake music video director Jaume Serra didn't burn any bridges at MTV when he got called to the Hollywood ranks because House of Wax effectively demonstrates a lack of invention as a visualist an inability to effectively pace and develop a story--even one as shallow as this one--and an utter incapacity to create tension suspense or any genuine fear. The only scares here are the kind of easy unearned "pop-up-and-say-BOO!" variety that does little more than jolt the audience and cause their popcorn to spill. I'm tempted to give him mini-props for the nearly impressive and gooey finale but the credit probably belongs more to the f/x team than Serra. And it's shocking to learn that the entire film was shot on location in Australia if only because the claustrophobic town in which most of the action takes place seems as artificial and hermetically sealed as the Universal backlot.
February 22, 2002 11:20am EST
The film begins with three ten-year-old girls burying a decorative wooden box in the woods while making a pact to remain lifelong friends. They also vow that upon their high school graduation they will return and dig up the box which contains items that reflect their goals and aspirations. Eight years later however Lucy (Britney Spears) Kit (Zoë Saldana) and Mimi (Taryn Manning) have grown apart. Lucy is the virginal valedictorian Kit is unscrupulously popular and Mimi is the pregnant rebel. On graduation night nostalgia gets the best of them and they decide to rekindle their friendship and embark on a road trip each with their own goals. Lucy would like to see her mom who abandoned her when she was a child; Kit needs to confront her fiancé in Los Angeles; and Mimi wants to enter a singing contest. They get Ben (Anson Mount) a mysterious stranger with a bad rap to drive them across the country in his '73 Buick convertible and in a matter of days--and a couple of 'N Sync songs--seem to forget how much they actually hate each other.
In her acting debut Britney Spears trades in her trademark Day-Glo tan for a more demure girl-next-door look. While she cries convincingly with puffy eyes and all her delivery seems forcibly understated and wooden. For example when Lucy breaks down and tells her father she feels as though she got nothing out of her entire high school experience she snaps out of her gloomy mood instantaneously when her father disagrees with her. Anson Mount (Urban Legends: Final Cut) who plays her love interest Ben is natural enough and completely suave next to Spears. Except for the scene where he protests a little too much to the girls driving his car (he literally kicks up dirt for what seems like an eternity) he plays the part in a down-to-earth manner without any showboating. The two sidekicks played by Taryn Manning (crazy / beautiful) and Zoë Saldana (Get Over It) are at opposite ends of the spectrum. While Manning comes across as sincere Saldana seems like she's playing the part of Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For kicks see if you can spot former MTV VJ Jesse in the background crowd.
How director Tamra Davis went from helming the hilariously clever Half Baked to Crossroads is unfathomable. The characters in the film especially Lucy and her father are unoriginal and stick to stereotypes: the rigid blue-collar father who pressures his daughter into medical school and the all-too perfect daughter who constantly seeks his approval. And even though Davis also tries to camouflage the musical sequences peppering them throughout the film (Lucy sings to anything that comes on the radio including Madonna and Sheryl Crow) the movie still comes across as just an excuse for Spears to sing. More blatant is the scene where the threesome takes part in a karaoke competition in the dead of Louisiana. Although Spears' rendition of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" is not that bad I don't know of any karaoke bars that have a DJ of that caliber (or have an emcee like Kool Moe Dee). Can't pop stars cross over into film without bringing their song repertoire with them?