Every once in a while I stop and realize I've given a few too many good reviews lately, having chosen somewhat wisely at the box office. So, I go on a hunt for what I'm quite sure will be a big, itchy butt-nugget in the undies of Hollywood to lambaste and slow roast, much like I did that puke-making remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This week I discovered Venom, which was pretty bad. But seeing as how I predict a few decent flicks on the horizon, by Gravy I had to find another skid mark.
So, to Cry_Wolf we went, and I have to say, I was very disappointed. Why? Well, while it's true, this isn't a really great film, it's not all that bad either, and had a confounding way about itself to exceed expectations. So, am I saying I was disappointed about not being disappointed? Indeed. In a movie that features a cameo from Gary Cole in which he does a better British Accent than the actual British Kid, (Julian Morris), a plot that feels a lot like the original Scream, a big part for Jared Padalecki, whose last foray into horror was the derivative House of Whacks and the added insult of a starring role by Jon Bon Jovi (I kid you not), I would have expected to walk out laughing at it like a naked hyena being tickled by down feathers after one frig of a dose of nitrous oxide. I didn't laugh that hard.
Cry_Wolf is the tale of a group o' bored boarding school socialite richies who resort to midnight mind games to pass the time in the one-whore town they've come to spend their semesters at. However, when a local townie is murdered in Serial Killer fashion, just as the new kid shows up in town, the game kicks into high gear.
The group, led by the disturbingly beautiful Dodger (Lindy Booth), decides to take their game of deception to the macrocosmic level and escalate this new serial killer story into the tale of a traveling butcher who picks off the same cliques at ever school in every town. But where does the truth lie in all this? What of the new boy, Owen (Morris) who arrives just as the killings begin? Is he innocent bystander and newbie to the clique, or does he know much more than he lets on? And when the actual killer they created starts to come after them one by one, is it a prank pulled by the pranksters, or has the nightmare come true, like when they made AfterMASH? If the kids cried wolf once, who is going to believe that there really is a killer out there now?
Believe it or not the film does keep you guessing. Yeah, it can be somewhat predictable, and yeah, there are clichÚs and the whole "EVERYONE'S A SUSPECT!" car wreck some of the time, but with some exceptions, the predictions prove wrong. The use of Instant Messaging (credited for a fee, I'm sure, to AOL's AIM system) as a method of taunting the victims is pretty cool, but comes off sort of like a post-modern version of the Cell Phone calls from the Scream movies.
The problems here are not the ideas, because they've got some really great ones (no, I'm not just being lecherous about actresses Lindy Booth, Sandra McCoy and Kristy Wu, but now that you mention it...). No, the problem here is how those ideas translated (or failed to translate) to the screen. From the opening set-up to the final clincher surprise (even if you figure it out and see it coming), the critical viewer will appreciate the subtext, but cringe at the delivery. Director Jeff Wadlow (who co-wrote Cry_Wolf with Beau Bauman) is doing his best to Babel-Fish this mysterious cat-and-mouse thriller into a mindbender that keeps the writer and the Killer one step ahead of the audience and the victims. He doesn't always succeed however, and where logic transfusions are needed, clearer detail and smarter development would help even more.
Cry_Wolf is, in essence, an Independent film (they even thank a film festival and Universal Studios, though this was released by Rogue, a smaller distributor), and it looks like one. Sure, it's an indie that managed to get Gary Cole and Bon Jovi (not that he's in demand after Vampire$ 2), but with a budget of one cool million, the film doesn't really compete with the crisp look of modern Hollywood. That's a good thing, though. Wadlow's film looks a bit cheap, but he tells a good story on it, without resorting to uncommon glitz and perfection to do it. Nor does he resort to the idiotic current trend of "Documentary Style" film making, distracting the audience from the imperfections of the film stock with nausea. Taking this with a grain of salt, it's easy to grade this flick on a curve.
What's more, in spite of its flaws, the film is pretty well cast. The gang, consisting of Owen, Dodger, Tom (Padalecki), Mercedes (McCoy), Regina (Wu, and Wu, Wu, Wu!), Randall (Jesse Janzen), Lewis (Paul James) and Graham (Ethan "She Kicks High" Cohn), all look like the stereotypes they play, but either from budget, timing or simple lack of skill, at times they don't seem to act it out all that well. Morris especially seems thick tongued with much of the dialogue and struggles for clarity with most of his sentences. On the other hand he did make "The Jove" seem like a better actor in their scenes together!!! I thought that Gary Cole would end up with my new Goofy Cameo Award for his collective sixty seconds of screen time. In the tradition of Julia Stiles' part in The Bourne Identity, Cole doesn't even appear to be part of this movie. He receives a call, does a Pip Pip English Accent into it, repeats that again, and that's it. Sadly, in the very end he actually shows up to interact with Owen for a few seconds. Looks like someone told him what movie he was in. Good thing the new Family Affair was canceled, huh? All jokes aside, Lindy Booth is very good here, and completely different from virtually every role I've seen her in before.
In short, it's a well intentioned and overall pretty darned good little thriller, surprisingly satisfying considering its limitations, and it's much, much more than meets the eye. Are you going to see a great film? Perhaps not, but it's certainly a good one, and much fun to check out, even if parts of it are rougher than sand paper bandages. Two and One Half Stars out of Five for Cry_Wolf! It's a great big screen start for Film Fest dudes Wadlow and Bauman, and a hint that they might be going somewhere. It also proves that Lindy Booth had better be going somewhere, that Gary Cole has already been somewhere, and how he got here, we're still not sure, and that if Bon Jovi keeps coming back here, maybe it won't be so bad. At least we can look forward to hearing les "OO-Weh, OO-Weh, OO-OO-OO-Weh, OO-Weh, OO-Weh, OO-OO-OO-Weh!" for a while. Oh, Oh, great, damn it! Now "Livin' on a Prayer" is going to be stuck in my gosh darned head. I don't like this. See you in the next reel, Jon. (Damned hair song...)