|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "The Cured," "Half Magic" and "7 Guardians of the Tomb."
As the brooding Irish horror drama ''The Cured'' begins, we learn that a mysterious outbreak known as the Maze Virus has swept much of Europe, turning its victims into mindlessly violent cannibals and that, after a couple of false starts with tragic consequences, a cure has been found that has returned most, but not all, of its victims to normalcy and allowed them to rejoin society, albeit haunted by precise and horrifying memories of exactly what they did when they were sick. One recent release is Senan (Sam Keeley), who has been invited to stay with his late brother's wife (Ellen Page), who does not know that he was the one who killed and ate her husband. Meanwhile, fellow Cured victim Conor (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor), a one-time barrister with political aspirations, grows tired of his new and greatly reduced circumstances, not to mention being treated like a second-class citizen at best and a monster at worst by the rest of society, and begins organizing his fellow Cured into forming a resistance to their treatment that quickly mutates into a near-terroristic organization with designs on destroying humanity for good.
Like the classic films from the late George Romero, ''The Cured'' finds writer-director David Freyne using the zombie mythos as a metaphor by which to examine what is going on in the world today. This time around, it can be read as an allegory for any number of things, ranging from Ireland's own violent past to more contemporary issues with race, religion and ethnicity. While I appreciate the effort that Freyne has made to make his film more than just an empty-headed gorefest, the allegorical leanings are just a little too thin and vague for their own good (precisely the opposite of Romero, who could occasionally be a bit on the heavy-handed side) and Conor's rise to power in the formerly dead community seems more arbitrary than anything else. Where the film succeeds, however, is in the more quiet and personal story of Senan trying to reacclimatize himself into a society that clearly doesn't want him while grappling with a secret that could destroy his relationship with the one person willing to show him some degree of kindness and sympathy. This portion of the story works in large part because of the low-key but genuinely affecting performances by Keeley and Page.( Donít fret, gorehounds, there are bits of nastiness strewn throughout the film leading to the gruesomely inevitable climax in which all hell breaks loose.) On the great scale of zombie movies, ''The Cured'' may not quite hit the heights of the Romero classics but I would put it up there with the likes of ''28 Days Later'' and ''28 Weeks Later'' as an increasingly rare example of the walking dead sub-genre that not only possesses a brain but knows what to do with it.
''Half Magic'' marks the screenwriting and directing debut of actress Heather Graham but anyone going to it hoping to find the next ''Lady Bird'' is going to come away from it bitterly disappointed. Graham plays Honey, an aspiring screenwriter who pays the bills by toiling as the assistant and occasional lover to a piggishly macho movie star (Chris D'Elia) while trying to get one of her more sensitive female-oriented scripts noticed. At a personal growth seminar dedicated to celebrating breasts and vaginas, she befriends two other women at personal crossroads--one (Angela Kinsey) a successful dress designer whose husband (Thomas Lennon) has just left her for a much younger woman and the other (Stephanie Beatriz) a flighty New Age type whose boyfriend treats her like a doormat--and the three vow to use their newly empowered selves to break out of these bad relationships and find suitors worthy of them. This quest leads to Honey dating an Australian artist (Luke Arnold) while dumping her boss to work on her own script, the dress designer hooking up with a friendly hunk (Jason Lewis) who is basically a walking Dewar's Profile and the New Ager to turn the tables on her boyfriend by dominating him, something that he turns out to be into.
Although it obviously went into production long before the eruption of the #MeToo movement, ''Half Magic'' is a film that could not be more perfectly timed for the current zeitgeist if it tried to be and that is why it is even more upsetting to see how badly it fails to amount to much of anything. Although often underrated as an actress--she was heartbreaking as Rollergirl in ''Boogie Nights'' and hilarious in such things as ''Bowfinger'' and ''Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me''--she demonstrates no real facility for her new jobs behind the counter. The screenplay is a crude mess that plays more like a raunchier episode of ''Love American Style'' than showing any wit or insight into the nature of contemporary relationships and the material involving Honey trying to find her voice in the male-dominated film industry--a premise that has enormous promise and which someone like Graham might have had something of interest to say--is reduced to painfully over-the-top and eventually toothless satire of the sort found in a ''SNL'' sketch that doesnít make it to dress rehearsal. As a director, she is not much better--the film looks low-rent, it drags relentlessly and she shows no real facility for handling her cast, all of whom are pretty much wasted here, herself included. Pretty much devoid of any demonstrable trace of magic, cinematic or otherwise, ''Half Magic'' is a film that is far more boring than it is provocative or insightful. This is not to say that Heather Graham does not have an entertaining film in her that she was born to write and direct--just that this one is not it by a long shot.
I guess it makes sense that ''7 Guardians of the Tomb'' involves the uncovering of a long-hidden tomb since the film itself feels like a relic of a distant era, namely that of the action-heavy ''Mummy'' movies with Brendan Fraser battling hordes of CGI creatures. In this junky Chinese-Australian co-production, brilliant venom expert Jia (Li BingBing) is informed by a biotech CEO (Kelsey Grammer) that her brother (Wu Chun) has disappeared while on a secret expedition in China and that only a few days remain before his GPS signal will be lost forever, Along with a ragtag group of search-and-rescue types, led by traumatized rescuer Ridley (Kellan Lutz), they set off to find the missing party but a deadly sandstorm forced them underground, where they discover a hidden city that was the home of an Emperor who might have discovered an elixir that would grant immortality to anyone drinking it. Alas, finding the tomb forces the group to encounter the usual array of yawning chasms, booby traps and what appears to be zillions of super-poisonous CGI spiders whose attacks quickly drain the available supplies of anti-venom and leave the group increasingly vulnerable.
This is all utterly preposterous, of course, and while I did not go into it expecting it to be good in any conventional sense, I was at least hoping for 90 minutes of agreeable silly B-movie nonsense. After all, the film is the brainchild of Kimble Rendall, whose previous film, ''Bait,'' told the loopy story of a group of people who managed to survive a tsunami inside a now-flooded supermarket only to discover that there are now sharks roaming the aisles. That film was dumb as a rock, of course, but at least it was reasonably fun and diverting. ''Guardians of the Tomb'' (the ''7'' appears to have been tagged on at the last second so that it would place higher in VOD listings), on the other hand, somehow manages to take an equally ridiculous story and make it boring beyond belief thanks to a combination of a dull story, uninteresting and unlikable characters, somnambulistic performances from nearly the entire cast, cheap-looking CGI effects and an ending that simply degenerates into a mass of noise and poorly choreographed action before closing with a bit setting up a sequel that will never ever happen. The only sign of life on the display is the performance by Kelsey Grammer as the increasingly unhinged CEO behind the expedition who eventually goes full Sideshow Bob once the spider venom starts coursing through his veins. I cannot begin to explain exactly why he would elect to appear in something so relentlessly trashy but it is clear that he is having fun, which is more than can be said for anyone who ends up watching it.
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originally posted: 02/23/18 10:10:51
last updated: 02/23/18 11:11:21