Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton Get ‘Freaky,’ and a Bloody Silly Time Will Be Had By All

1 Comment

Freaky (CREDIT: Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Alan Ruck

Director: Christopher Landon

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for Stunningly Over-the-Top Gore and Bluntly Disturbing Profanity

Release Date: November 13, 2020 (Theaters)/December 4, 2020 (On Demand)

When the elevator pitch for a movie is “A serial killer swaps bodies with a teenage girl,” how could its title be anything other than “Freaky Friday the 13th”? Maybe litigiousness was a concern, or perhaps brevity really is the soul of witty knifeplay, as co-writer/director Christopher Landon and company ultimately settled on the shorter moniker Freaky for this breezy and deadly concoction. Landon is best known for mashing up slashers and time loops in Happy Death Day and its sequel, and now he’s got another unlikely complement for his preferred horror subgenre. The hallmarks of the two formulas mix together mostly seamlessly, as mystical mumbo-jumbo and a race to a point-of-no-return countdown are punctuated by buckets of gore.

The teenage girl in question is Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), who’s been going through life in a bit of a daze ever since her dad died about a year ago, while the serial killer (Vince Vaughn) is known as the Blissfield Butcher, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about him. Freaky‘s slasher approach is most directly inspired by the Friday the 13th franchise, particularly the early sequels in which the be-masked Jason Voorhees’ motivation gradually drifts away from revenge and more towards a general unquenchable thirst for killing. For Newton, that means playing the Butcher in Millie’s body as mostly a silent stalker, while occasionally dropping piercingly vulgar threats of violence. If the Butcher is motivated by anything, it’s shiny objects, as he is positively entranced by a beautifully kitchen knife, while his fashion sense leads him to outfit Millie’s body in a striking blood-red jacket.

Vaughn has a much more effervescent role to play, which he tackles with a level of relish that is always ready to be tapped whenever he’s given the right material. With arms akimbo and his heart on his sleeve, he nails the looseness of someone who suddenly finds herself a foot taller and about one hundred pounds bigger. Millie’s fascination with all the nooks, crannies, and appendages of her new body is infectious and an inspiration for all of us to celebrate the vessels we’re currently living in, body swap or no. Good on Vaughn for being so fully up for anything!

As for the actual story, Freaky lacks the emotional oomph present in the best of the body swap genre (or the best of the slasher genre, certainly). The thematic heft of the body swap tends to be driven by the swappers ultimately coming to an understanding with each other, but that’s not exactly going to work when one of them is basically an embodiment of pure evil. So we must be sated by the goofball charm, of which there is plenty, and the absurd graphic violence, of which there is even more. Landon is clearly here to revel in the most baroque excesses of the slasher world, as the Butcher utilizes the likes of a toilet seat and a tennis racket in profoundly lethal ways. Also there’s apparently a cryogenic chamber in a high school locker room. All that AND there’s a “Que Sera Sera” needledrop. Quite frankly, I think Freaky knows exactly who its audience is.

Freaky is Recommended If You Like: Friday the 13th Parts 3 through 6, Grindhouse-style gore, The continued relevance of Vince Vaughn

Grade: 3 out of 5 Magic Daggers

Mini-Movie Review: Aliens Take Over a Very Gray Chicago in the Intermittently Promising ‘Captive State’

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Parrish Lewis/Focus Features

Starring: Ashton Sanders, John Goodman, James Ransone, Jonathan Majors, Machine Gun Kelly, Vera Farmiga, Alan Ruck, Kevin Dunn, David J. Height, Madeline Brewer, Ben Daniels, D.B. Sweeney, Kevin J. O’Connor, KiKi Layne, Marc Grapey

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Occasional Explosions and Minorly Disturbing Sci-Fi Flourishes

Release Date: March 15, 2019

Captive State reminds me of 2010’s Skyline, a pretty awful movie that was at least fascinating for how it attempted to craft a genuinely compelling alien invasion with a fairly small budget. Captive State is a little more competent, but it has that same vibe of a director who is burning with a unique vision that he simply must deliver to the world no matter what the handicaps. That director is Rupert Wyatt, and his vision is a version of Chicago enslaved by aliens who want humans to pretend that this is actually an arrangement of unity. There’s clearly some commentary about conformism at play here, which in past instances in this genre has been about the likes of communism and consumerism. But in this case, it is not clear what the target is. (Maybe blind patriotism?) And that really sums up Captive State as a whole. You can feel that there is a plentiful mix of ideas, and even an admirably ambitious combination of genres (chase-filled actioner, paranoid thriller, even a bit of a heist flick), and the surprisingly robust cast is here to give it what they’ve got. But alas, the overall effort never quite coalesces into something with a fully fleshed-out overarching purpose.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Implant Trackers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Gringo’ Finds Humor and Redemption in a World Gone Mad

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Yul Vazquez, Harry Treadaway, Alan Ruck

Director: Nash Edgerton

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Corporate Profanity, Office Sex and Euphemistic Propositioning, and a Few Gunshots and Amputations

Release Date: March 9, 2018

Gringo exists mainly to stoke the ire of anyone who believes that the insurance industry is the greatest scam in the history of humanity. I am sure that there are some agents putting in decent work, and there certainly have been times when a smart policy have bailed folks out of emergencies. But why do have to put money aside (or pay folks off, in cynical parlance) to ensure all that? Why can’t we as a species just agree to have each other’s backs as part of the human contract? I suppose that the insurance industry is meant to be that agreement, but as Gringo proves, there are plenty of opportunities for abuse in its current form.

A less humanistic film than Gringo would have Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) seeking his revenge on the world for being constantly taken advantage of or falling into a pit of despair over how nice guys finish last. But instead, it is about how he realizes how he is rich in what truly counts in life through a chaotically dangerous, screwball journey. He is a mid-level businessman at the drug company Cannabix who is just a little too trusting of everyone around him. He catches wind that a lot of jobs are going to get cut very soon in unscrupulous fashion, and he is shocked that his boss Richard (Joel Edgerton) would ever do such a thing. But that bit of news should not be surprising to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with this most weaselly of alpha males. Furthermore, Harold and his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, mostly due to her highly irresponsible financial habits. Plus, she’s cheating on him (take a wild guess with who), and she’s kind of taking pity on how much he’s been letting this all happen right under his nose.

As Harold begins to learn the truth, Richard and his other boss, the more openly terrible Elaine (the scary when she’s funny Charlize Theron), bring him down to Mexico for a little business trip, making it the perfect time for Harold to win back a little of his dignity. So he fakes his own kidnapping in a scheme to make off with a ransom of $5 million. Such a kidnapping is believable, as the company has recently developed a very valuable product (medical marijuana in pill form), and they do business with a cartel. At first Richard and Elaine are willing to play ball (sort of) to get Harold home safe. But when it turns out that Cannabix’s insurance policies make it more valuable when an employee dies, things really go topsy-turvy.

Not that they ever weren’t pear-shaped in the first place. Harold may be faking his kidnapping, but he actually has been targeted for capture by the cartel, who mistake him for the boss. Adding to the fun are his run-ins with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), a sweet and naive guitar shop employee who does not realize the extent of her boyfriend’s (Harry Treadaway) drug dealings, as well as Richard’s brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a sort of private special ops extractor who weirdly but effectively has some of the most integrity of any of the characters.

There is a lot of explosive coincidence in Gringo, but it is justified in that it is what ensures the hilarity. The humor is morally satisfying, as the worst actors are forced to reckon with what they deserve, while the lessons imparted are not overly didactic. Kindness is rewarded, as epiphanies emerge to show that life’s cruelty can be laughed upon. This is quite the loony bin of a cast, but ultimately this is The Manic High-Wire David Oyelowo Show, and he sells it with a supremely cool final shot.

Gringo is Recommended If You Like: Coen Brothers Crime Comedies, The Kind of Movie Wherein Gunfire Leads to Hilarious Screaming, Satisfying Morality

Grade: 3 out of 5 Gorilla