A family headed for a weekend in the backwoods is stranded when a wounded deer jumps in front of their car and sends them into a ditch. A posse of threatening rednecks appears and the ringleader Otis (John Speredakos) shoots the wounded deer point blank as the child in the car looks on. This is how the filmmakers establish Otis as the bad guy--and this will also create dramatic tension later between Otis and the Wendigo monster so you never quite know which one's actually terrorizing the family throughout the film. Once it's painfully clear who the bad guy is the trouble begins in earnest. When dad George mom Kim and son Miles finally arrive at the country house where they're staying they realize that someone's been shootin' up walls and windows. By now everyone in the theater knows it must be Otis. He certainly reappears soon enough--and now the big mean deer killer "knows where we live!" You bet he does Miles and he's watching your parents have sex right now. But that just makes him a pervert--not a psycho killer. Or does it? You'll spend the rest of this nightmare movie waiting to find out the answer to this and other compelling questions. Like what the hell is a Wendigo anyway?
When little Miles' head first appears in the back seat of the car you can't help but gasp. It's Dewey--oops Erik Per Sullivan--with hair and playing about three years younger than he looks like he really is. Yes Malcolm in the Middle fans your dear hamster-toting pal has finally hit the big screen. The filmmakers probably told him that he'd be the next Haley Joel Osment: "Wendigo is the next Sixth Sense. You just have to be in it!" Poor kid. It's not and he didn't. Still he does well enough with material that calls for him to do little other than look vacant and cry. Patricia Clarkson as Kim and Jake Weber as George are vacuous and their performances utterly forgettable. Of course the utter crappiness of the script doesn't help and since they have most of the lines they come off the worst.
There's a certain '80s charm to the wintry look of this movie which is probably more to director of photography Terry Stacey's (Spring Forward Trick) credit than to director Larry Fessenden's. Credit Fessenden who also wrote and edited and designed the Wendigo creature with well the Wendigo mostly. Because the sheer stupidity of this completely non-frightening creature pretty much nails exactly why this movie is as awful as it is. The Wendigo looks kind of like a deer standing on its hind legs with um hands. Yeah that's right. Hands. The creature might be the stuff of Miles' nightmares--there's certainly that possibility--but surely it should be at least a little scary. It's a joke as it's incarnated here. This is also the case with any number of scenes that are supposed to be scary but just aren't: at Otis' place the hangin' deer meet is supposed to spook ya; it doesn't. Dad and Miles chop wood with an axe? Come on. Chopping wood is only a frightening event if your daddy slices his leg open with a chain saw. When George falls off the back of a sled leaving Miles to torpedo down the hillside and later flee on foot as a smoke-thing (Wendigo spirit perhaps?) roils after him you're not frightened. You just want to cry "Run Dewey run!" The biggest joke is the ghostly Native American guy who appears at key moments (and once in a Quickie Mart) never speaks but manages to deliver voiceovers like "Wendigo is a mighty powerful spirit…part wind part tree part man part beast shape shifting." He also gives Dewey--oops Miles--the little carved statue that will play a key role in the plot's twist.
HOLLYWOOD, May 11, 2000 - It's time to separate the men from the boys, and by all accounts, "Gladiator" is going to do the separating. The Roman action epic, which opened last weekend at No. 1 and, as of Tuesday, had pulled in a tidy $42 million, should have little trouble defending its box-office supremacy this weekend, what with "Battlefield Earth" -- a baggage-carrying sci-fi vanity project from John Travolta -- mounting the most formidable challenge (such as it is).
Meanwhile, there are four other new films arriving at cinemas this weekend ("Center Stage," "Screwed," "Hamlet," and "Held Up"), but none aspires to blockbuster credentials.
Here's a rundown of the new releases:
"Battlefield Earth" "BATTLEFIELD EARTH" The skinny: At long last, John Travolta brings to the screen one of his favorite books, written by Scientology guru, L. Ron Hubbard. It's about a bunch of evil, dreadlocked aliens who treat humans real bad and feed them nothing but fluorescent guacamole; the humans, sick of Mexican condiments, rebel and take their planet back. The upside: It's rated PG, and is devoid of cuss words and graphic violence. The downside: It's devoid of a story, originality, good acting, and other things audiences like. "Center Stage"
"CENTER STAGE" (See the trailer) The skinny: Young dancers try to make it to the Broadway stage. The upside: An uplifting, inspiring story of dreams fulfilled. The downside: Nothing against Peter Gallagher, but ... it stars Peter Gallagher. "Screwed"
"SCREWED" The skinny: The screenwriters who penned "Ed Wood" and "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" make their directorial debut with this comedy, starring Norm MacDonald as a bumbling chauffeur. The upside: Norm Macdonald is one funny guy. The downside: Unfortunately, almost no one seems to get the joke. "Held Up"
"HELD UP" (See the trailer) The skinny: Jamie Foxx flees urban life to work at a rural mini-mart after he's carjacked and involved in a lovers' quarrel. Laughs ensue. The upside: Also features Nia Long. The downside: Can this be nearly as good as "Booty Call?" We don't think so. "Hamlet"
"HAMLET" (See the trailer) The skinny: Murder, jealousy, revenge, Ethan Hawke. The upside: It's one of the greatest stories ever told, and it's got a great cast. How could anything go wrong? The downside: In this modern-day update, the prince of Denmark is now the prince of the Denmark Corporation. "There's something rotten in ..." Oh, never mind. (Also, it's only opening in New York and Los Angeles.) Elsewhere, "U-571," "Where the Heart Is," "Frequency," "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," "28 Days," "Rules of Engagement," and "Keeping the Faith" all will try to avoid being bumped out of the Top 10.