“JOHN DIES AT THE END” My rating: C- (Opening March 1 at the Screenland Crossroads)
99 minutes | MPAA rating: R
“John Dies at the End” is about a mysterious drug called Soy Sauce that, once ingested, takes the user on an out-of-control mind/body trip that may result in transportation to another dimension.
At least I think that’s what it’s about. Hard to say, since the latest film from the idiosyncratic Don Coscarelli (the “Phantasm” series and the moderately enjoyable “Bubba Ho-Tep”) is so narratively convoluted and emotionally detached that I was unable to fully connect with it on any level.
The film begins late at night in a seedy Chinese restaurant where a reporter for a local paper (Paul Giamatti, clearly slumming) attempts to interview the twentysomething David Wong (Chase Williamson) – who is not Asian — about his partnership with John (Rob Mayes) and their business as psychic detectives.
The bulk of the film is a flashback about how David and John stumbled across the potent Soy Sauce, which transformed their lives and made them open to psychic and supernatural influences overlooked by normal humanity. Sometimes they fight zombies. Or Lovecraft-ian creatures from another dimension. There is abundant movie blood. And a lot of naked women wearing masks.
True to the film’s title, John does die…although not at the end (more like halfway through). Plus he is quickly resurrected. Whether this constitutes false advertising I will leave to the best legal minds.
I think “John Dies…” is going for a hip, darker variation on the Bill & Ted vibe, with a couple of glib slackers wandering deadpan through a wild walk on the metaphysical other side.
It starts out OK, with David breathlessly relating to the newspaperman his recent nightmarish escapades, but the movie’s attempts at humor become increasingly strained and leaden.
“John Dies…” isn’t helped by the general lack of charisma of the two leading men, who are such laid-back slackers as to evaporate before our very eyes.
Good thing, then, that a couple of veteran actors show up to show everyone how the job is done. When Glynn Turman is on screen as a weary homicide detective, or Clancy Brown as a demon-slaying New Age TV evangelist, you at least feel that someody’s in charge.
The rest of the time, not so much.
| Robert W. Butler