Sometimes there are these fleeting moments, so brief and subtle that I always wonder if I’ve imagined them afterward, when I suspect that buried deep in Jensen Ackles’ psyche is a modicum of acting ability that sometimes gets away from him and manifests onscreen for a split second before he stamps it ruthlessly back down.
No, I know how that sounds. I didn’t say it was a rational suspicion. It’s like that thing where sometimes when you’re drifting off to sleep on Christmas Eve you have that weird moment where you’re like “Hey, but what real reason is there, honestly, why Santa can’t exist? HUH?” Then you wake up in the morning and realize that by God there’d better not be some fur-wearing fat guy sneaking down your chimney in the middle of the night, and also that Ackles’ sole discernable talent is for reciting some of his lines louder than others and managing to look like an American Apparel model while his character is supposedly sleeping in his car. In short, he’s an utterly bland presence (Ackles, I mean, not Santa), and when your movie is already laboring under a brain-sludgingly dull script, poor pacing, and astoundingly unappealing characters, by God you better suck it up and pay Steve Buscemi to stand out in front of that shit diverting people’s attention.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the original My Bloody Valentine (1981). I love it. It’s a triumph of the schlocky filmmaker’s art, full of glee and ridiculousness and people getting shot in the forehead with nail guns, with some genuinely scary moments thrown in for good measure. In the original, a mining town has declared a moratorium on Valentine’s Day dances, because back in the 60s there was a mine cave-in on Valentine’s Day that resulted in the sole survivor, Harry Warden, cracking under the strain of his enforced diet of Soylent Green. Warden decrees that there will be No More Dances Ever, because that’s what the townspeople were doing when the mine exploded and he’s a little miffed. Twenty years later a group of middle-aged teenagers decide to hold an illicit rave in the mine on Valentine’s Day, with predictable and gory results.
Well, the 2009 My Bloody Valentine is sort of like that. Except without the dances. Or any real tie-in to Valentine’s Day. Or any explicable reason for the original Harry Warden to go off the deep end and cause hospital carnage so improbable that in order to make sense of it you have to pretend the movie is a crossover with Predator. There’s a mine explosion, okay. In this case it’s caused by Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), the owner’s whiny son, forgetting to do something technical I can’t even care about long enough to describe it. Hanniger disappears for a few years and comes back to sell the mine.
Unwisely, the creators of the remake chose to make the grindingly tedious selling-the-mine aspect the main plot of the movie. Even more unwisely, they spend what feels like ten thousand hours trying to get us to care about it. This involves endless, astonishingly boring conversations between Hanniger and his unwashed ex-girlfriend (Jaime King), who is now married to the town sherriff (Kerr Smith). Eventually, of course, people start dying, but without the whole arc with the Valentine’s Day dances they’re basically dying for no other reason than to give the movie a body count, which brings a certain sense of anticlimax to the whole thing.
The movie itself is unrelentingly glum and humorless. It’s filmed under constantly cloudy skies. Everyone is dressed like the only fashion game in town is the clearance rack at K-Mart. Lines like “I lost my way!” are uttered with apparent seriousness. Ackles plays Hanniger like an even flatter and less nuanced Dean Winchester, and it’s not like Dean Winchester has nuances to spare; while he did achieve brief shining moments of creepiness in Devour, he misses it by a mile here and winds up looking like the crazy eye-rolling opera diva in an Abbott and Costello movie. The killings are pro forma, uninspired, and mostly require everyone involved to behave like absolute morons. The 3D, which so rarely adds anything to a movie, adds nothing to this one either.
Was anything good about it? Well… Irene (Betsy Rue). Irene was fucking awesome. This movie needed way more people with enough panache to charge out naked into a parking lot and wave a gun in some skeevy trucker’s face. Aside from Irene, the only watchable element was Kerr Smith, who trudges grimly through the movie all but wearing a t-shirt that says “I don’t care how many varieties of shit this movie is, I’m going to goddamn act so I can look myself in the face in the morning.”
So what’s the verdict? One star. The only way to make watching this movie entertaining is to pretend it’s some sort of arthouse Fellini-tribute commentary on the grinding poverty of the decaying American infrastructure, and everything is all symbolic and stylized and you have to figure out what it all Really Means and how it relates to Derrida. And even if you do, you’re just going to wind up feeling like you’re watching two hours of people smoking at each other in black and white with flies landing portentously on ice cubes, and all you know is you’re bored to tears but you have a paper due on this shit in thirty-six hours and you want to shoot yourself for ever thinking “Metaphor in Cinema” would be a good elective to take. Watch the original instead.