Wednesday, October 22, 2014

John Dies at the End

Spoilers!!

You might wonder what acclaimed actor Paul Giamatti is doing in 2012's  horror/comedy film, JOHN DIES AT THE END. A low budget, recently minted cult item based on a way out there 2001 novel by David Wong and directed by Don Coscarelli, the guy responsible for the ridiculous PHANTASM franchise and the sleeper BUBBA HO-TEP. Is Giamatti slumming? The answer comes from the horse's mouth during one of the DVD's extras: "I wanted to do a monster reaction scene. Most scripts bore me after 5 pages in. This one was unpredictable."

No argument there. JOHN DIES AT THE END, which we'll henceforth refer to as JDATE for brevity's (and tired digits') sake, is an insane pastiche of science fiction and blood and guts horror. But also certainly a comedy, often funnier than most straight ones.  It proves to have many enviable, sometimes crazily brilliant, ideas, but is a real mess. It plays like a mash up of inspiration via the original EVIL DEAD, BUCKAROO BANZAI, and NAKED LUNCH, with which it shares a fascination with bugs.  Lots of bugs.

David (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), who perhaps not by accident reminded me of the TV show Psych, are best friends with psychic powers. They are first seen attempting to assist a woman who reports being harassed by her boyfriend, who's dead. The duo discuss the case and begin to realize they see the woman's features quite differently. It is at this point that the woman transforms into a monster comprised of frozen meat. A doorknob in the room turns into a penis. To the rescue is TV psychic Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown), who destroys the monster over the telephone. I detail this so as for you to decide early on in this review if this movie is for you.

The plot develops with many further amusingly disgusting set pieces. How many films have you seen with a bratwurst used as a telephone? The catalyst for trips into other dimensions and omnipresence that figure prominently in JDATE is an injectable drug known as "soy sauce", sold to John by a Jamaican dealer named Robert Marley (Tai Bennett). The resulting delusions come rapidly for both John and David, and the drug will prove helpful in the navigation of a plan to overthrow a militaristic computer called Korrok, found beyond the "ghost door". A dog called "Bark Lee" is a key ally in the plan.

The entire story, by the way, is told in flashback by David to a skeptical reporter named Arnie (Giamatti) in a restaurant. Arnie repeatedly has to be convinced of David's alleged powers, which does include that monster reaction scene.  And what of Arnie's certainty that he is a black man?

Got all that? Coscarelli's script makes it all somewhat clear, not that hard to follow.  But transitions among scenes are rough. JDATE plays like a collection of mostly good moments, but the film jumps from one bit of oddity to the next with little continuity. Like a series of goofy short subjects. By the time we reach the very last scene, a funny bit where David and John leave a group of rebels (in need of assistance to save their world) in midsentence because they're so verbose and annoying, I was smiling but strangely dissatisfied.

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