RIORI Vol 3, Installment 68: Frank Oz’ “The Stepford Wives” (2004)

The Players…

Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close, with Faith Hill for some reason.

The Story…

After power player, big deal TV exec Joanna suffers a nervous breakdown (as well as getting “let go”), she and her hubs Walt decide to get away from it all. Leave the Big City for the quaint suburbs, get away from the scramble of urban chaos.

Walt found an ideal place. A subdivision in Stepford, CT, far enough away from what ails Joanna. A nice place, populated by nice people. Especially the resident women whom are quite nice.

Very nice, in fact.

Very nice.

Joanna’s scared by this.

Very scared.

The Rant…

Let’s, you and me, talk about feminism.

*collective groans*

Now don’t collectively groan. The thing ain’t always about Gloria Steinem, unshaved armpits and Gloria Steinem’s unshaved armpits. Really. Overplaying my hand outright, I was the only male in my college’s Feminist Collective.

Why? Uh-oh, a story. Remember where you are. I get to editorialize from three to infinite paragraphs alluding ever so slightly to this week’s film proper, and you gratefully accept the bitegaurd and smile through your tears. Okay. Much thanks. Now into the pits. So to speak.

Back in school I was a philosophy wonk. Shocker. I attended so many of such classes I earned a minor in the field. Shocker. I swamped my brain learning about how others thought and felt. Figured if I gleaned onto enough smarter people than me, their thoughts might bring about some scent of enlightenment.

Well, nope. I just learned how jerky people could be. Folks who signed up for either a quick, nice, subjective grade or an opportunity to spew bile and generate fear and trembling. I did both.


I was the eldest of three children. Me the son buffeted by two younger sisters. I was and still am courteous enough to lower the toilet seat, even though I live alone now. Don’t ask. I’ll just shrug. But that being said, with Tweedldumb and Tweedledumber being at my hip, I was in the prime position to get exposed to all the trials girls had to deal with in our polite society. Cutting to the chase, I had to  instruct my middle sis how to use a tampon from the other side of the bathroom door against her squealing in embarrassment. Against my squealing in embarrassment. Just make sure the string hangs out.

Too much? Then you never had two sisters. Don’t get me started on the proper way to shave the legs. I was then learning how to not chop up my face. One would assume I learned something from that other than Cottonelle tabs make for the best impromptu bandages.

I’ll stop now.

Back to this Feminist Collective. I took this women’s studies class as part of the minor and as partly out of curiosity. I knew a lot about the male psyche already, and after reading wads of Sartre and hearing about his philosopher non-wife Simone de Beauvoir, I figured I’d set a toe in the deep end of the pool. The class was pretty cool. Not surprising, feminist philosophy was quite different than the overwhelmingly male schools of thought. That and a lot more political/steeped in social commentary. Makes sense. “The second sex” had gotten the short shrift in…well almost everything when it came to deconstructing social hierarchies, mores and what it means to be…you. The “you” in that case were the dozens of young women who had signed on. I was, like, one of four guys in the class. Got the feeling the other three were just fulfilling a credit. Just.

Save one guy. Memory is lost on me what his name was, but he was a real piece of work. Quite the provocateur. I wasn’t sure if his blatant chauvinism was genuine or he just liked stirring the soup. Either way his endless prattle did evil wonders in generating discourse. Well, rancor would be a more apt term. God, he used to get the class so riled with his snottiness; his self-rightoeus notions about how women thought and how women did and maybe he just could never score a date without a handy-dandy chloroform soaked hankie at the ready. At any rate, his comments were oddly well thought out, albeit sub-50s idea of who goes where. He may have made some blatantly sexist comments about man and God and law, but he was articulate. Actually, as my daughter is wont to say, “cringey” is a better term. He baited all the “serious” feminists in the class (including the prof) into raving loons. Well-meaning, dedicated loons, almost confirming his accusations. When he got going, I kept quiet, rolled my eyes, grew bored and heard my tuition going down the drain. Still a cool class, though, which led to this whole Feminist Collective thing and how I ended up being the only male member (get it?) of the group.

I was that enthused by the class, and if only to thumb my nose at the guy’s ancient and obnoxious views that cluttered the class I signed on to the professor’s roster of her idea of a casual klatch of like-minded casual feminists. Just to hang out, discuss philosophy and go to relevant performances like readings, “happenings” and concert dates. Happenings like the Take Back The Night rally, promoting rape awareness and the occasional Ani DiFranco club date. That was the time that I really felt part of the group and not some anomaly. Namely, not chasing well-educated tail.

The Collective wasn’t a large group. The class had like almost 40 students. Our mere think tank had like a dozen members, and me the rogue monkey in tow. But me and the females got on well, shared ideas freely and got well-caffinated often. That was status quo at the DiFranco gig we travelled to (with the prof along to make it legit. She scored the tickets). The major topic of conversation wasn’t de Beauvoir or how to properly pronounce her name. It was “that guy.” He was a dope, a pig, a disruption. I defended him as best I could. Poorly.

Now I ain’t saying I agreed with his palsied, hidebound barbs. I am saying he offered a tonic to the all to often heady tones that bubble up in any college philo class, feminist or otherwise. My worthy vagina-owning constituents didn’t really agree. He was a dope, a pig, a disruption. All true, but he did have the right to speak his crude mind. It made for lively class discussion. When he’d shut his trap.

They suffered my treason well, and laughed at me. Hard to not be humble as a guy when poked at by very non-guys. I still argued the value of his discourse. I was outnumbered, and their flak almost, almost justified my argument. Their vitriol came perilously close to confirming the squirmy worm’s accusations, and here the sole male in a Feminist Collective I was automatically outnumbered and very, very wrong. Still an interloper with fellow classmates for a full semester. Still a guy. By proxy, I couldn’t properly absorb the women’s outrage, nor could they like the cut of my jib.

DiFranco eventually took the stage. And all went away, seemingly forgiving.

But is that the trick? Regarding the eternal “battle of the sexes” was I off the mark passively defending the dork’s views, or was I just stuck with my XY chromosome, inherently sympathetic to the “first sex?” It was the whole “nature vs nurture” argument, despite me ultimately plopping myself into a group of educated, driven females out of curiosity. When you think about it, twenty years on it sounds like naivety and Fail.

Then again, it kinda now jibes with the subversive message of Oz’ adaptation into film for an umpteenth time Ira Levin’s classic cautionary/feminist tale of subservient women serving dismissive men their every want and need no matter how petty or idful. Did I really tag along for enlightenment, or did I arrive with a notion of impressed intelligent women with my gumption?

Maybe a bit of both. I’m a guy. We have that genetic imperative we’re almost always trying to suppress. We want to understand, even empathize with the other, but then again we refer to women as “the other” so that’s a strike. This disconnect between the sexes, be it philosophical, domestic or genetic creates all sorts of delicious tension. It’s based on the unknown, the misunderstood. The perceived understood.

Guys want to assume/know what “the other” is thinking. Why? Talk truth guys, disregarding the DiFranco gig (which was great, BTW), we all wanna know what they want so that they may know what we want. In simpler terms, it goes like this: a woman wants a man to satisfy her every want and need. A man wanys every woman to satisfy his one want and need.

No matter how much I took away from that class and my naive involvement in Syracuse University’s short-lived Feminist Collective, no matter how much I marched in Take Back The Night, no matter how much I debated Adrienne Rich’s bilious screeds I’m still a male. In hindsight I was “passing.” Here’s the ugly truth: most men are passing (again: in order to try and understand the fairer sex as a means to sample real sex. Sorry. Cat’s outta the bag. With or without a first pressing of Not A Pretty Girl on hand.

That piggy guy may have been piggy, but at least he was honest. At least within his ancient male sense of entitlement. But truth be told, all guys no matter how (weakly) enlightened have that churning to keep at bay. And we’re not talking about the baffling, signature morning wood phenom. We’re talking about convincing female to what we guys are all screaming about.

Namely, crude and honest, park it.

Maybe somewhere near Stepford, CT…

Being a career climber can get exhausting, Especially when you’re a first tier, go-getter, cast iron bitch like Joanna Eberhart (Kidman). Her high-ranking cachet of money-making TV producer has worked well for seasons, indicated by the cracks at the corners of her eyes. Her eager fall season plans of plenty of “reality shows” wrestling with the age-old “battle of the sexes” dynamic. It’s a formula that works well, until it doesn’t. And when it eventually doesn’t epically, Joanna gets let go and she let’s go. Hence all the screaming.

Her husband Walter (Broderick), kind nebbish that he is decides to scoop up Joanna and their family to relocate to Connecticut. To get out of the City, leave their broken, exhaustive urban lifestyle behind. Quaint suburbia awaits, the best outlet.

Joanna ain’t quite cool with this. The suburbs? Well-groomed lawns and bake sales? Nuh-uh. But Walter has spoken and Joanna needs to decompress, spend time with her alienated family, soak up some sun. Get her proverbial sh*t together. And Stepford’s welcome wagon is only so gracious to help.

The wagoneer is Claire Wellington (Close), so friendly and squeaky clean as she. She assures the new family that they’ll fit right in with such cheer it’s not so much disarming as disabling. She assures the wounded Joanna will love it here, with Stepford’s well-groomed lawns and bake sales. Every step’s a yes here in Stepford.

That gets to Joanna, as well as Walter. Opposite ends of the spectrum, though. Joanna meets and greets with the local wives, and all of them a very nice. Vacant, subservient and kinda dumb, but very nice all the same. As well as all competing in the World Series of Barbie look-alike contests.

This ain’t Joanna’s scene. Neither is it Bobbi’s (Midler), a bawdy writer who’s quick to take Joanna’s elbow and warn her about the eerie kindness that oozes from these willing voidoids. Not is all that it seems here in Stepford she warns. It always feels like inches away from taking the Kool-Aid the women folk, and that clandestine Men’s Club on the hill bids ill will to any female with a working brain.

For Stepford’s husbands this sounds like an ideal place to hang. Walter, too. The division between the sexes is cut in stone here.

Good thing strung out Joanna packed her jackhammer…

Another movie, another 21st Century remake. How novel and yawn.

I might have mentioned this before here, but with the blatant proliferation of movie remakes, reboots sequels and prequels mostly becoming swift moneymakers in our new dawn (a flying in the face of a generation raised on the Internet, all the knowledge in the world custom delivered to your iPhone) that present impatient audiences are so potentially informed and so much more uniformed, only pursuing data that sates their ADD FaceBook ego, that Hollywood has been swift to tap the ignorance of the Information Generation to smack ’em upside the jaw with weak scripts and derivative acting to invite movie gold. Did you know that Gone In Sixty Seconds was a remake? Neither did you.

I think I might have mentioned that before.

Anyway, I’ll reel it in. This version of The Stepford Wives is another in a long line of remakes and reinterpretations of Ira Levin’s seminal novel about crushing feminism in general and women in specific outright. The original 1975 (yes, they did have movies then pre-Netflix) version was a chilling, harrowing deconstruction of both chained-to-the-stove and it-can’t-happen-here. The film was about gender roles, slavery and Katherine Ross getting shared sh*tless.

The 2004 adaptation lost that. Oz traded in passive feminist theory for black comedy. Very black. We’re  looking soot here. It had its moments, but ultimately this version of Wives played funny against chilling. It works in fits and starts, but the end result is for lacking. A lot like that dolt in the class, Oz tries to ram down a point bathed in screwball and the terrifying message gets lost.

That might’ve been the point. This take on Wives has the barest scintilla of social commentary the original was awash with. Unsure why. What I took away from the Feminist Collective is that the magnifying glass on this sort of class war is sorely needed in this age of…well, everything in our media-saturated sub-existance, where the divides are greater than ever and why I can’t find a decent parking spot at Wegman’s and where the hell did the remote go and why am I so bothered by such trivial sh*t?

Where was I? We were talking about sexual politics? We were? Can’t recall. Must’ve been hip deep in checking my FaceBook feed. Anyone seen my wife lately?

Sorry. But here director Yoda had a prime slab of real estate to make a wave and opted instead to halt any social commentary and instead drench brain-dead audiences with coal-black humor lost on folks who don’t recognize coal-black humor. No shock I did notice, both within and without, still this Wives wasn’t all bad. Just not fleshed out very well. Like I said, it works in starts and sputters, but the endgame feels like us viewers missed something. Like coherence.

I had to give Oz props for keeping the funny, sometimes goofy atmosphere creepy. The air of “all is not as it seems” hangs over Wives like a fluffy pall. There’s a slow burn in effect here that the unknowing might find odd, if not unsettling. We’re so damned cynical these days…okay I’m so damned cynical that what spell was cast here wasn’t easily cast aside. Namely, was Oz trying to skewer general notions of polite gender equality? Or was he trying to satirize feminism’s shortcomings outright? Both questions feel out of joint here, since the director was just attempting a flick that was blackly funny.

Simply put, kinda, is that don’t look too deeply here, but keep the blinders off. Be aware of the message, but don’t buy into it. The movie’s kind of cartoonish, but was that part of said (passing) message? Take away what you would, but it’s hard to deny the sexual politics under the microscope here, even with a kooky delivery.

Speaking of delivery (and since Wives is also sort of a warped character study), our cast fits perfectly with the story. It’s in a rather square peg fashion; juxtaposing Alex Forrest against June Cleaver on PCP is a prime example of mixin’ the colors. Her Claire is f*cking creepy; actually almost the flipside of Fatal Attraction. She seduces with nice, a pastered-on smile and a hidden agendum so deep it’s painfully obvious. Another is letting stuttering Walken be the penultimate word on male rights/cult leader (then again, that may not be that much of a stretch). Kidman’s not known for comedy well, but take a nod to To Die For and you can jibe where her neurotic Joanna comes from. She does well here. Funnier than Eyes Wide Shut anyway.

There’s this degree of corniness that acts as an ideal portent. I’m talking foreshadowing here. All is too well in Stepford, the mirror reverse of Joanna’s Big City. And she resists almost every step. I must nod to her trepidation to take this idyll at face value. We the audience know at the outset that Stepford’s f*cked up, well before the Claire Clones come to the fore. The slow burn I spoke of is Joanna’s deconstructing the mystery and discovering/succumbing to the horrible truth. She doesn’t want to be a part of Stepford, she doesn’t want to mingle with these weird locals. The only person who smells of her lost cosmo, go-getter life is Bobbi who in turn becomes Sherlock to her Watson. Granted, Wives is a dark comedy, but it also has the air of a mystery, which is rather cool.

Again, we the audience know something’s rotten in Denmark, or at least this hamlet (ha!), but when Bobbi and Joanna take to task to getting the meat of the matter, it’s rather fun. Give Oz credit: he keeps the cards close to his chest, and when the big reveal hits it’s pretty…revealing (trick: Joanna looked better as a brunette despite Kidman’s natural strawberry blonde. It’s the small things). In a silly way, all of it casts a weird, big budget Addams Family ep aswirl with lo-fi feminist derring-do/how petulant, middle schooly guys can get when allowed to get. Quite the cocktail.

Sure. Weak social commentary, muddled by bleak humor, eventually screaming witch trial at demon technology (that’s not really a spoiler, it’s just a great endgame to a very demented game overall). However, Wives well indeed has it charms. It’s not a great flick, but that’s if you look for said Steinem-esque pits. Or ever spent and airless hour in a basement classroom with 40 pissy feminist philo women who just want to speak their minds. Only to have a single doosh continuously drag the needle across the record.

There’s a mean streak belying Wives, you bet. But it’s funny, vacant and rather dark. I’ve been lamenting the overt lack of social commentary in lieu of twisted jokes, but maybe that might me subversive enough in its own right to warrant Wives a nod at the horror Ross faced three decades hence. We have a mixed bag here, and you take away with what you wish based on your outlook.

Mine? I’ve read too much Ettinger and heard too much DiFranco to be unbiased. Is my worldview of feminist theory is already very sound? Very, but not valid. I don’t want to fall into the camp that wanker lorded over in my class, but then again I listened to him as much as the women. I guess I wouldn’t’ve appreciated Wives as well as I did without both sides of the coin.

But a doosh is a doosh, and I’d rather not consider his frame of mind to deeply. Either my mind would’ve turned to putty, my GPA would suffer (more than it did) or have a gang of solid women friends vote me off the island. But I kinda enjoyed Wives. Not for Mike Wellington’s awkward charm (or Walken’s awkward charm, for that matter) or the classic dark humor. No. I liked the somewhat objective platter, doubtless inviting my viewpoint via a chummy DiFranco show that I saw gratis.

I’d hate myself for denying that. I already harbor loathing on the other side of the bathroom door.

Strings out!

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Take it for what it is in small doses: a black comedy wobbling on the edge of social commentary. You want feminist theory? Best go look elsewhere. Like a few castrating paragraphs from Adrienne Rich. Mike Wellington? Take…heed.

Stray Observations…

  • “…That was usually Hank.”
  • Saw that scream coming, and it was damn good, too.
  • As my kid regards my music collection she’d regard this film as “cringey.”
  • “Did you finish the laundry?” “No, I finished a chapter.” Snap.
  • “Ever since I was a little girl.”
  • Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Okay. Shut up. And…
  • “She gives singles!”
  • You were right, Jill. Cringey.

Next Installment…

Hugh Jackman travels between time and space in search of The Fountain Of Youth. Turns out to be a tree. No wonder Ponce deLeon couldn’t find it; then again he thought Florida was an island.

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 24: Joel Schumacher’s “Trespass” (2011)



The Players…

Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Ben Mendelsohn, Liana Liberato and Cam Gigandet, with Jordana Spiro and Dash Mihok.

The Story…

When wealthy diamond merchant Kyle Miller returns home to his personal Fort Knox one evening, he finds more than a lukewarm pot roast awaiting him. A typical night after work in his fortress becomes a hostage crisis of the first order.

Thieves infiltrate his home, take him and his wife hostage and proceed to dissect the house for a serious diamond score. But it quickly escalates from a battle for the Miller’s freedom and possible lives to a battle of wills. Turns out the Millers and the thieves have very divergent reasons to keep the diamonds with their rightful owners.

Namely nobody.

The Rant…

All right. Let’s talk about directing.

I guess it’s weird for after nearly a jillion installments of RIORI that your sometimes humble blogger is getting around to how a film is directed. I admit I don’t know the barest scintilla of rodent rectum about how a film is, well, filmed. I understand it involves some guy (it’s almost always a guy. Womens’ Lib only got as far as the boardroom it appears in ol’ Hollyweird), that lens hanging from his neck and possesses an imperative to shove actors around as his charges to speak and move to best move the script along. I’m paraphrasing here. Remember: rodent rectum.

I’ve heard of an old saw saying that the director is the “author” of the movie. All that prodding and chess-like moves amongst the actors, camera techs, writers and caterers converge to create a story. This concept is often referred to “auteur theory.” The whole “directer-as-author” of the movie.

I think this is all bullish*t. If you’ve ever stuck around for the end credits rolling—and watching Ferris Bueller for the umpteenth time don’t count, sorry—there is this massive list of folks that had a hand in making a movie possible. Hence the term credits. Plural. And the director’s name isn’t often listed then, save if it wasn’t dropped in the opening credits. My point is dozens of people contribute to getting the movie from stage to screen. Why does the director get almost all the credit?

I think it has something to do with creating a signature. All that pulling and poking ultimately makes the final say (pre-editing, o’ course) in what makes the final cut. But just the director? What about the scenarist? Without a good script as the baseline—you know, the f*cking story?—where does the director start?

This undoes auteur theory (and Peter Bogdanovich can go suck it) as far as I’m concerned. But the signature thing remains. I mean, when you watch a Martin Scorsese movie, be it Taxi Driver or GoodFellas or even The Age Of Innocence, you know damn well as fast that it’s a f*cking Scorsese film. There’s a signature. A feel. It’s what gets butts in the seats as endgame. An amalgam of writing and prodding. Direction. And in the final analysis, the pairing of these two elements create said signatures.

Hold on. I hear some you bitching, “Wait. What about genre directors, like James Cameron with his SF/action-adventure pics (and yes, that includes Titanic, sorry to admit if only for the third act)? Or John Hughes with his teen comedies? Or even Scorsese himself with his urban dramas, Johnny Boy? What about them, smart guy?”

Okay, first gimme back my beer. Second, genre doesn’t dictate signature, you follow? Spielberg, Zemekis and Gilliam have all tackled different genres. But they all have a unique spin and style. Comic book and SF writer Peter David (met the man once. Cool dude with a jaw that would not quit. Not that way, you perv) dropped this science once saying that not only is auteur theory bunk, but also making a film is really a collaboration between director and scenarist that “writes” a movie. If you want to properly credit the masterminds behind a movie, the opening should conclude with “A Film By Whoever and Some Other Guy.” Between such two nabobs—splat—we get either Oscar gold or Velveeta.

It depends on the meeting of the minds in how the aforementioned signature is created. Really classy directors bring aboard really sharp writers to make their vision come to life. Like Scorsese and Schrader. Or Cameron and Hurd. Or Zemekis and Some Other Guy. Banging those yin/yang heads together can make for some really good movies.

However—and there is always a however here. It’s almost RIORI’s reason for being—there are some director’s signatures that are at best infamous and at worse insulting. Like “Here America. Some more mindless pap designed to make you feel ever stupider and rob you of your cash/time. Again. More nachos?” I think such sh*t directors are less than discerning when it comes to scripts. I ain’t talking the journeymen guys who show up to just get the job over and done, only later to queue up for the paycheck, well aware merch with cover the budget over actual ticket sales. Also perhaps such hacks have such a dangerously fevered imagination that their latest work may be the pinnacle—their cherry on the sundae—of their legacy. Stupid egos that desperately need deflating, but there’s nary a needle in sight.

I’m looking at you Schumacher. So have a lot of other movie fans.

Joel Schumacher is the consummate hack. He churns and burns. He cranks out derivative movie after baffling movie. When his stuff is good, it’s okay. When it’s bad (and it often is), it’s insulting and embarrassing. Here I will mention Batman And Robin and that will be all. I don’t think his output hangs on his scenarists. I don’t think he cares.

Granted a lot of directors hire on questionable screenwriters. I mean, although I enjoy quite a few of Roland Emmerich’s potboilers, I don’t think the guy gives in to lousy scripts. He just puts them into his Cuisinart and cranks out fun, for good or for ill. Schumacher on the other hand seems so blinded by his maverick and alleged talents that any ol’ scribbles will satisfy his fevered muse. See Mommy? Look how clever I’m directing! Christ.

It’s amazing how with the first shots of a movie a director makes his signature known. If you’re familiar with a given director—cinephile or no—you can figure out in second-31 what you’re in for. Again with the examples: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with its rain. Cameron’s The Abyss with its claustrophobia. Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark with its Amazon tomb.

Can any one of you recall an inviting opening in a Schumacher film? Probably not. But you have an indelible image of bat nipples forever scarring your brain. Now there’s a directorial signature, regardless of the writer. Regardless of anything resembling considerate filmmaking.

Hey, Mom! Lookee what I’m directin’ now…

A man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes. For affluent diamond merchant Kyle Miller (Cage), his home is more like a fortress.

Miller has been a prominent, if not the prominent diamond dealer on the West Coast millions, millions of dollars in industrial grade diamonds have passed under his monocle over the years. To say his reputation precedes him is akin to saying the Sahara is a tad warm.

With all that money and all that responsibility, Kyle’s spacious mansion serves as the hub of his business. The man needs to keep his property under tight scrutiny, and his state-of-the-art “smart house” not only provides home and hearth for him, his wife Sarah (Kidman) and teenage daughter Avery (Liberato) but also every angle of modern security systems that tech can offer.

Neither his wife nor daughter are completely aware about the delicate balance Kyle must maintain between security and “security.” Nor do they fully understand Kyle’s obsession with “need to know” information. There’s the matter of business security, but virtually blocking out the world? They suspect Kyle is hiding something beyond the diamond vault.

Actually, it’s more like they’re all hiding something. And what they’re hiding is just what master thief Elias (Mendelsohn) and his crew aim to find out.

A man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes. But with the Miller’s high-end, Fort Knox-esque compound riddled with (almost) impenetrable security protocols, their castle may just end up being their—and their intruders—prison.

On second thought, crucible seems more apt…

Like with The Watcher, there was a good idea under all the gunk in Trespass. Where the former film was cluttered with cliches and lackluster acting that brought the film down, Trespass took a left turn. Its plot was a good one, and has been applied forever before. Crime caper with psychological drama generated by a Stockholm Syndrome hostage crisis shaken and stirred with a Rashomon-like multi-perspective story device. To greater or lesser degrees, Courage Under Fire, Memento and even Clue were pretty decent examples. Despite those movies’ possessing the above criteria, regardless of genre, they made senseTrespass played out like a poor man’s Panic Room slapped together against a circus-like version of Misery. This should sound cool. It ain’t.

Before I go off on a (further) rant, let’s carefully take Trespass apart, top to bottom.

First, the core of a good idea getting lost in the shuffle. Trespass had a very good storyline, used before and mostly foolproof. Hostage crisis getting increasingly tense played against a heist that goes awry. Pretty basic stuff, until the histrionics start. Referring back to Rashomon—essentially a murder mystery—the small cast does a lot of finger pointing as to who killed whom and for what reason. All the dramatis personae have highly personal reasons to unravel the truth/mete out justice (or at least just deserts). Rather simple in the endgame.

Trespass was decidedly not simple. The film had its expected twists and turns when it came to a mystery movie. We had that whole basic hostage crisis thing going on and a pseudo-Stockholm plight (poor Sweden) allowing claustrophobic tension. Common tropes.

We also got Schumacher’s kitchen sink storytelling gone all pear-shaped. Trespass had to be the most convoluted movie of its ilk, and to stir the soup further only in fits and starts. The movie was like an onion in reverse. Instead of peeling back the layers, Schumacher kept on adding layers only to later peel them back. And eventually cutting the proverbial onion in half come the third act. He made simple characters and their motives basic at first, then upped the ante with highly personal stakes, then tore them away and back, then laid the butter on thick, then crumbling the muffin up and descending into directing an action movie. There was such a rapid sh*tstorm of onion-flavored vinaigrette that come credit time I scratched my dizzy head and asked, “Um, what just happened?” And not in a fun way either, say like with the oddly amusing No Way Out or even the chilling Blair Witch Project. Trespass played like it had no way…okay, that’s cheesy. Well simply put, Schumacher tried to jam in too much into a film that required a scraped-to-the-metal execution. Worked for the Oscar winning Rashomon (and I’ll try to quit referring to that film from here on out. Try).

Next, the acting. Such a caper film demanded efficiency. The character’s backstories should’ve been stripped to the bone. Too much data overload and one tends to get lost. A lot of that doesn’t necessary pertain to the characters’ backgrounds per se. It’s how it’s conveyed, and a great deal of that depends on the actors themselves, or at least their acting styles. Trespass has the fortune (and perhaps misfortune) of two established Oscar winners as the leads. Despite the fact that Trespass is Schumacher’s attempt at a grim B-movie potboiler, some reliable A-listers signed on. We got Nic Cage (who has made questionable movie after questionable movie for the past 20 years ever since he got his statuette for Leaving Las Vegas) and Nicole Kidman (who looks like here she’s either chasing a paycheck or wouldn’t pony up for Swedish massage. I guess that’s sorta Stockholm-like). One has made a career of manic overacting to the edge of ridiculously entertaining. The other…is from Australia.

Speaking of chasing a paycheck, Cage hasn’t seemed to turn down a script in the past two decades either. Instead of tearing the guy a new one, I gotta face up and say that Cage is a hella fun actor. Sure most of his…okay almost all his roles have been dopey at best for years now, but he’s such a ham it’s hard not to like his work. Call it Shatner Syndrome here. His overacting is the stuff or greatness, and his exaggerated body language is almost clownish, but oddly effective (however I felt Nic’s injured, inflamed hand was a shade much). Here in Trespass, was Cage channeling H.I. from Raising Arizona in an upwardly mobile guise? How different is that character than manic, panicky, rubbery Kyle? Granted the motivations were different in Trespass, but a Cage performance is a Cage performance, tongue-in-cheek histrionics and all of that. As always, Cage is at least his most—wait for it—cagey (I regret nothing).

Kidman wanted to be elsewhere. Anywhere else besides the Trespass sound set. For such a dynamic actress, she sure was going through the motions here. From the glassy stares to the almost willowy presence to her stock damsel in distress cum mama bear stance all of it came off as dry, boring and not believable. A shame. I can understand a high-profile actor slumming once in a while for fun. I can even understand Kidman wanting to have a little fun like Cage has been (like he needs more fun in his work there, Johnny Blaze), but she sure didn’t look like she was having fun. She barely seemed awake.

Now, you wanna know what I think? I think Kidman and Cage were a ruse. Trespass was really a stage for newb actors, a launchpad. You know what a “springboard” movie is? Probably not, since I made up the term. But since I’ve seen more movies than Alex has raped, so I think I’m entitled to a few creative liberties here and there. So listen up, bitches. There is probably a proper term for a movie/role that brings attention to an actor. I’m calling it the springboard. I’m not talking about a “breakout role” here, like Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. I’m talking about an actor who rises above the dreck and stands out, maybe even eclipsing the big name stars. Mendelson did this here. His Elias was the only engaging character in all 91 minutes of Trespass. Sure, he might’ve had a young Tom Waits as a vocal coach, but Mendelsohn’s Elias infused the corny, often lame dialogue (amidst even the rest of the cast) with a degree of charm and and honesty that he was the only role that felt fleshed out, even if he was still the stock, desperate thief. Also, how he carried himself screamed desperate criminal (and the electrical tape thing was a nice touch). He and his fellow villains may be stock, and Mendelsohn comes across as a poor man’s Gary Oldman, but hell, at least the whole lot are interesting, if only for being campy. Like I’ve said, though: it ain’t the notes, it’s how they’re played. Mendelsohn gave us a good jam session in Trespass, and I’d like see him in more movies (just not like this one).

Now it be time for the technical stuff here, so let’s go to the tool bench. I said earlier that Trespass felt like Schumacher’s attempt at a B-movie potboiler. A deliberate attempt. He sorta succeeded here. Trespass possesses all the trademark cheese that comes with a low budget thriller, and these were good things believe it or not. Actually, the weak stuff balanced out the better stuff pretty well. It all resulted in some dumb fun, with the emphasis on dumb.

Trespass played out like a 21st Century take on Ten Little Indians. Except instead of murder, we got vengeance. Everyone in the cast—everyone—has their own motives to keep the diamonds where they are (even though the diamonds are a sort of Maltese Falcon seeing that REDACTED). I’ll tell you this, the body count is low, but in the tradition of most B-movie fodder, there is so much over emotive folderol the cheese level got raised to Pepper Jack Velveeta and whatever violence goes down it’s less cringe and more “Huh?” I figure there’s a time for Tim Roth’s dying words and one for a cream pie to the face.

The dialogue is incredibly lame and overreaching, but dotted with enough clever shots that the final result in overall corny, but not outright insulting. In other words, we got you the best knock-knock joke you’ve never heard. Curious? Where you going? Kinda funny sh*t, intentional or otherwise. And what makes it really funny is how overwrought it all was. Schumacher was attempting towards an intense, desperate measures duality thriller. How our cast expressed themselves played out like a fifth grade play, but so goofy you couldn’t help but play along in turn (check out some of the select quotes below).

I think the critic at AllMovie missed the point here. He lacerated this trifle. True, Trespass is a crappy movie, virtually branded with The Standard on its reel (or whatever they use these days. Holograms?). But maybe seeing this gunk required the proper lenses. Is there such a thing as a comedic thriller? Maybe, if you count every Friday The 13th installment after the one with Corey Feldman (it’s true. Look it up if I don’t believe you). Overall, Trespass falls under the aegis of the “Saturday Afternoon Movie.” You could crash in front of F/X come 2 PM and waste some time. You’d never drop ten bucks to see this stuff in the theatre. But maybe you could point your soon-to-be former friends.

So it goes. No worries. The next time out, Schumacher will get ever more clever and lure you in again. Maybe next time it’ll be Henry Ibsen with robots.

*spit take*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. You want a good, amusing diamond heist film? Try…anything but this. There is such a thing as trying to be too clever, cushioned by cheeze or…Gotta go. Mom’s pounding at the door, screaming about abusing creative license. And my REDACTED.

Stray Observations (No notable moments, just quotes)

  • “Mom’s being arbitrary and inflexible.” Hooked On Phonics worked for Avery.
  • “I stay stupid, you go to jail.” Stay stupid, Nic. Keep staying stupid.
  • “What’nd he good??”
  • “That’s the way you want it, yuppie?” Who uses the term “yuppie” anymore?
  • “Or the kid.”
  • “Hey buddy, cuz I want to tell you a story.”
  • “You have an assh*le for a doctor.” Not a bad thing for a proctologist though.
  • “Don’t ya just love surprises?”

Next Installment…

RIORI is gonna take a break for a while so me and the fam can take in some guaranteed fun films—ones that don’t (and shouldn’t) bear much scrutiny—for a change. I need to educate the wifey on the wonders that are the key James Bond flicks. Also, since the 8-year old has been pestering me about The Force Awakens, I feel obligated to introduce her to the original trilogy, as well as the prequels (shaddap).

So Merry Xmas for now. See you next year. When we return—and maintaining a sense of continuity, at least at my end—Star Wars fans asked what went askew with the prequels? It might’ve been a virulent Attack Of The Clones. Let’s misuse The Force now, dig it.