31

If Malcolm McDowell (no stranger to terrible movies) heeded the advice of the film agent he played on Entourage…well, he’d have told himself to pass on Rob Zombie’s 31, a boring, ugly, stupid, awful misfire that makes RZ’s Halloween reboot look like the summit of achievement.

31 sees Rob Zombie channeling Quentin Tarantino with another number— the 70s — rehashing the sepia and grunge that gave his earlier works their Texas Chainsaw Massacre aesthetic, + slick QT-talk like “the dirtier the work, the luckier you get.”

To quote Steely Dan’s Dirty Work,
“Times are hard
You’re afraid to pay the fee
So you find yourself somebody
Who can do the job for free…”

It’s pretty pathetic for someone as rich and successful as Rob Zombie to crowd-fund their art, essentially double dipping as it’s getting people to pay for a finished product, not once, but twice. Thankfully, this reviewer happened upon 31 through a library digital streaming service, Hoopla.

But no fanfare for this tale, about a bunch of carnival freaks in a touring van who are forced to fight to the death in a game of the same name — 31.

It’s painstakingly drab, cheap-looking, and not even juiced by the presence of a wrinkly, baked-in-the-hot-sun Meg Foster or a neo-Nazi midget (if you can’t shock with a neo-Nazi midget, then it’s time to find another line of work).

One thing 31 has going for it, sorta, is McDowell camping it up like a powder-wigged Amadeus harlequin, the Svengali figure who goes by the name of  Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder…Why? It’s just pseudo-smart syllable multiplication, speaking of numbers…

Harlequins, carny folk, big tops…It’d be nice to see RZ put aside his clown obsession. Then again, it’s even bled into his other business as well: he and his band performed the Grand Funk Railroad classic rock radio chestnut “We’re an American Band,” on Kimmel, bedecked in clown make-up, which provided more frights than this.

Variety nailed it with their take: [31 is a] “fanboy’s highlight reel of homages, without any of the credibility or context that made most of the films he’s inspired by so fine.”

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Listen to us talk House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects!]

Lake Placid

Placid rhymes with…and this limp d*cked effort, best described as Jaws with Claws, wastes a lot of top-drawer acting talent and awesome effects.

In fact, the above alone could count as a uber-succinct review of Lake Placid, but let’s dive beneath the brackish waters and explore a bit more, eh?

Maine has never been so mountainous (as cheapo movie aficionados, we recognize the locale as obviously British Columbia) and for a movie set in New England, there are no Peter Griffin accents, only central casting types.

There’s an attack in Black Lake, and the animal perp left a calling card: a tooth. A paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) is brought in from New York’s American Museum of Natural History to investigate, because as we know from the tour manager in This is Spinal Tap — nearby Boston is “not much of a college town.”

That sets off the Big Apple city slicker / hick cop dynamic, but not only is Fonda’s Kelly ill-prepared for the bush, she’s terrified of of the outdoors (seems like a first for a paleontologist).

A mythology expert, a croc-obsessed shyster Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt of Chicago Med) donates his time and equipment to help get to the bottom of…well, the mystery and um, Black Lake (“they were going to call it Lake Placid, but it turns out that already exists.”).

Meanwhile, a mammoth crocodile is taking out moose, and making cops half the men they used to be (there’s some dynamic practical / animatronic / CG effects courtesy of Terminator dude Stan Winston).

But what holds Lake Placid back, is the weird tonal dynamics. Sure, there are some amusing tongue-in-cheek humor, in keeping with the kind of thing you might get from John Sayles (Alligator), but it’s more goofy than gallows.

The cast, which includes Bill Pullman as a Fish and Game official, Mariska Hargitay as “the other woman” in New York and even Betty White, is game…but things get silly and sluggish.

Lake Placid has one fantastic set piece, which is not worth spoiling here, but is worth half a star in of itself.

**3/4 (out of 5)