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Rest Stop

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/17/06 17:33:34

"I've seen remakes more original than this."
1 stars (Sucks)

In the entire 85 minute running time of “Rest Stop,” there is not a single frame that is fresh, exciting, or even remotely interesting. This is a flat horror effort that ranges from dull to unintentionally hilarious to, finally, tiresome. It’s the sort of movie where the creators spent all their time thinking up new ways to torture people, but forgot to think up even one way to make their film watchable.

The film, written and directed by former sci-fi TV scribe John Shiban, is the first from Warner Brothers’ new “Raw Feed” imprint. The division is to be dedicated to direct-to-video horror and sci-fi features, which is nice to see; studios have been warming up to the legitimacy of the DTV world (no doubt after seeing how much quick cash their DTV sequels can produce), and the creation of Raw Feed promises a stronger dedication to B-level titles that’s quite welcome in many circles.

Unfortunately, their premiere effort is a straight-up clunker. “Rest Stop” finds young couple Nicole (Jaimie Alexander) and Jess (Joey Mendicino) tearing out of Texas en route to Hollywood, where dreams of fame and fortune await. After pausing to videotape themselves having a little roadside afternoon delight, the young lovers are briefly terrorized by a faceless redneck in a rundown pickup. Later, Nicole heads into the world’s filthiest restroom, located in the world’s filthiest rest stop, off the world‘s filthiest back road (because I guess interstates do not exist in this movie). She leaves to discover Jess and his car have disappeared, and she’s in the middle of nowhere, and, oh, look, the dude in the pickup is back.

Imagine a script that takes the most famous/memorable/mildly notable moments from “The Vanishing,” “Joy Ride,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Saw,” “Hostel,” “Wrong Turn,” the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, and about a dozen other recent horror movies, then decides that it people liked such moments the first time (or in some of the lesser original movies’ cases, the second or third time), surely they’ll still like them if they’re repeated, only without any skill. “Rest Stop” is the horror movie equivalent of a hits medley performed by a fifth-rate bar band.

The film is so reliant on old ideas that by the time the mobile home pulls up and Nicole finds herself riding with a family of evangelical freaks, or by the time she gets a hold of a helpful stranger on the radio, or a dozen other dried-up plot points, we know exactly how things are going to turn out. It’s horror by numbers - one even gets the feeling that Shiban wrote Nicole as a kick-ass, fight-back heroine not because it’d make for a fascinating character, but just because, hey, babes in dirty tank tops is the trendy thing to do in horror movies, so yeah, let’s just go with that. (It’s surprising he didn’t just give up and name the character “Jessica Biel.”)

Then again, Nicole is the only truly entertaining thing about the movie - if only because she’s such a badly written, poorly performed character. Alexander’s performance is simply dreadful. Watch how she non-reacts to the idea of her boyfriend being horribly mutilated; her nonchalance is equally embarrassing and hilarious. So is her eventual breakdown, when everyone on the set suddenly remembers that she might want to cry or scream or worry or, you know, something, and so Alexander does, to amusing effect.

On top of this, her Nicole is apparently the dumbest woman to ever grace a horror movie set. You know those slasher flicks where you love to yell back at the screen about just how idiotic the victim is being? “Don’t run up those stairs, moron!” “Don’t put down that knife, dumbass, you’ll need it later!” That sort of thing? Here’s a whole movie about that person. In Nicole, we have a character who, while sitting on the ground next to a loaded gun, just sits and watches as the killer walks around her, a character who, knowing the killer is outside, squeezes her hand through a hole in a door, figuring, hey, who needs all her fingers?

Granted, all of this would be enjoyable in a sinister kind of way had the film been able to produce a single scare, fright, or even jump. But no: Shiban mistakes weird and loud for creepy, dirty and gruesome for scary, yelling a whole lot by a dying Joey Lawrence (I repeat: Joey Lawrence!) for dramatic intensity. (I highly doubt that the sight of Lawrence, playing an injured cop, screaming at Nicole for her to put him out of his misery, was supposed to be as funny as it turns out to be. And the scene is the set-up to a fairly gross punchline that’s hilarious because it fails to be either frightening or macabre.)

Shiban plasters his movie with grime, both on the set and in his camera lens, hoping a grainy film stock and lots of slippery blood on the floor will make up for a lack of genuine tension. (He also hopes that by showing us a sign that says “REST STOP” fifty times in eighty minutes, we’ll remember the title of his picture.) Dirt and a shaky camera alone do not make for cinematic chills, and “Rest Stop” is a horror cheapie on autopilot, throwing us tired devices and buckets of blood, hoping that’ll be enough. It’s not.

A side thought: It’s interesting to note that “Rest Stop” is being released in both unrated and rated-R editions. It’s a sharp, if entirely laughable, ploy by the studio to draw attention to the title. After all, many renters see “unrated!” and “too much for theaters!” and start drooling, and who’s going to stop and think “hey, this never played in theaters, so who cares about the rating anyway?”

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