Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/14/04 14:01:28

1 stars (Sucks)

There are only two things you need to know about “Saw:” it a) has a pretty cool premise, and b) features some of the worst acting you’ll ever see in a major motion picture.

I’m leaving out comparisons to homemade movies and the lowest of independent cheapies; you’ll find horrible acting in both categories, natch. But in a release from a major Hollywood distributor, some sort of acting quality is to be expected. Hell, even something like “Torque” contains at least one good performance from a bit player, if you look hard enough. But “Saw?” Holy cripes, this is one production that’s lacking a single usable cast member.

The crime is worsened by the identity of those committing it. Cary Elwes is a guy we want to love, what with his being so wonderful back in “The Princess Bride.” But peeks at his efforts in recent stuff like “Kiss the Girls” and “Ella Enchanted” prove that Wesley may have been a fluke (c’mon, the guy even stunk up “Liar Liar,” in a fairly vacant supporting role that should’ve been a cakewalk). Now comes “Saw,” which finds us, the movie loving public, staring at 100 minutes of the most laughably sincere overacting since, oh, I dunno, I’m going to have to go back to Bill Paxton’s “you can’t predict it” speech from “Twister” for this one. Yeah, that’ll do - imagine that scene, drawn out for an entire feature. Ouch.

Sure, the rest of the cast is bad, including Danny Glover as an obsessed cop and Monica Potter as a harried wife. But Elwes takes the cake, topping such heelarious performances such as Jim Caviezel in “Highwaymen” and Sharon Stone in “Catwoman” as this year’s absolute most embarrassing turn by a professional actor.

So it only makes sense that such a horrible performance would accompany such a moronic character. No kidding, folks, the people who fill up this story are shockingly dumb, so much so that the only way the twist ending can possibly fit into any remote form of logic is for every single person in the film to be clinically retarded.

It’s this finale that clues us in on just how badly thought out the whole movie is - here’s a scene that probably sounded cool when it was written, but only on the surface. Place it in context of the rest of the movie and it completely falls apart. But then, the whole rest of the movie falls apart when places in context of the rest of the movie. A lame combo meal ripping off “Cube,” “Seven,” and any Morgan Freeman thriller, “Saw” is a picture filled entirely with derivative pieces. It’s a movie in which writers James Wan (who also directed) and Leigh Whannell kept stacking up a list of Cool Scenes They Liked In Other Movies And Could Possibly Use Again Here, as well as Any Other Bits That Sound Cool When Talking About The Script Over Beers At Two In The Morning, without bothering to put them together in any real workable manner.

To explain this, I need only describe the plot. Two guys (Elwes and Whannell, who, sadly, acts even worse than he writes) wake up in the stinkiest bathroom in the world, chained to the walls and, thanks to a tape recorder left behind, they learn that “the Jigsaw Killer” wants one of them to kill the other within eight hours. The basic premise kicks ass (two strangers have to devise an escape, which may entail sawing off their own legs in order to do so), but then it’s all downhill, baby. We learn more and more about the Jigsaw Killer (a generic name if ever there was one), who goes to elaborate lengths to put victims into deadly traps, something about teaching them to value life, or whatever. It’s another movie killer who has endless time and money to devise wicked ways of killing people; this baddie is so detailed in his Riddler-ness that his workshop is filled with detailed miniature dioramas of his death traps. What, is he putting together a class project on his killings?

We also learn about the victims’ pasts; Elwes is some jackhole doctor, Whannell the photographer hired to spy on him. Oh, and Glover, who in later scenes gets to play it crazy (don’t even ask; it’s so laughable that it defies description), is the renegade cop who’s certain Elwes is the killer. And he could be, since we only see the killer when he’s done up in a hooded cloak.

And these are the smarter parts of the film. We learn of previous victims, we watch as Glover’s case unfolds, we wonder when any of this is going to become remotetly scary. Yeah, it’s supposed to be a horror movie, but it comes off like a cheesy Nine Inch Nails video wannabe. Lots of shadows, lots of sewage. Eh, whatever.

Add in that colossal bit of bad acting and you’ve got yourself a memorable entry into the Bad Movie Hall of Fame. Between Wan’s failed attempts at sincere thrills, the script’s failed attempts at groovy surprises, and the cast’s failed attempts at anything remotely watchable, “Saw” becomes a masterpiece of lousiness, a wretched mess that provides nothing but unintentional howls. I couldn’t stop laughing through the whole damn mess, and unless you have a high tolerance for pretentious, nonsensical, unscary crap, you’ll be laughing, too.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.