Monday, November 19, 2012

The Cinema File #28: "Dark Shadows" Review

Weirdly enough, when you say the name of this movie three times, Beetlejuice still appears, but instead of scaring humans, he just cockslaps you in the face.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Tim Burton, though in the last decade or so, its fallen a lot farther onto the hate side of that line. Still, despite his recent rash of remakes and re-imaginings, applying the time tested Burton style to properties that don't need it and are lesser for it, you can't deny the man's talent and vision when it does work. Granted, it hasn't really worked since the late 90's, but I really can't turn my back on the guy who gave us Beetlejuice completely, and I'm always looking forward to the Tim Burton movie that recaptures that playful and original Burton spirit that I used to so enjoy.

Dark Shadows is not this movie. Holy fucking shit balls is Dark Shadows not this movie. I can't quite say that its the worst movie I've seen all year, because I did sit through Arachnoquake, but it might just be the worst one I saw in theaters (even if the chasm of lost potential led me to be more disappointed in The Avengers). If you haven't seen it or seen the soap opera upon which it was based (both versions of which are available on Netflix I believe) Dark Shadows follows the Collins family living in a dilapidated mansion, dwelling in their faded relevance until they are joined by their vampiric ancestor Barnabas, who makes it his mission to reclaim his clan's former glory. Its a solid premise that falters in execution, setting up several characters that should by all rights be fun and interesting, but fail to encourage even the slightest bit of enjoyment.

If On Stranger Tides didn't start the ball rolling on your Johnny Depp fatigue, I don't think you can get out of this movie with your love of the man still intact. Given the movie's soap opera roots and the fact that its about an ancient vampire in the swinging 70's, perhaps its unfair to judge the man for overacting, but sweet Jesus is this some of the hammiest shit I've ever seen from someone so otherwise self evidently talented. The fact that he's probably the most entertaining character of the movie is a testament to how either bland and/or annoying the other characters are. Give me a movie with vampires or ghosts or what have you, and I'm usually pretty easy to win over. Fuck, I just raved about a movie with a werewolf hunting Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The fact that I'm even talking about how bad the acting is in this movie is really saying something.

So much of the humor is dependent on the fish out of water set up of someone from the 1800's finding himself in the 1970's with jokes about hippies and lava lamps and so forth, but its all just so forced and unfunny. Every joke is either telegraphed a mile away, or so obvious that it might as well have been. And forgive me if I can't become emotionally invested in the great epic battle of rival, supernaturally financed fish cannery businesses. And for that matter, fuck that ending all the way up its ass. Without spoiling anything, Dark Shadows has one of those presumptuous teaser endings that's meant to set us up for a sequel. This kind of thing is bad enough in good movies that actually deserve sequels, but to give us this shitty movie and then promise more to come is just insulting.

If this movie has one thing going for it, its that this is the first movie I've seen in a long time, probably since Sleepy Hollow, where I actually thought that the dark, oddball Tim Burton style actually worked in a movie. Visually speaking, a lot of the supernatural elements reminded me of classic Tim Burton, from the extra joints in Barnabas' claws to the cracking porcelain-like skin of the main antagonist. At one point, a werewolf is introduced, and while in the context of the story it is just a giant fuck you to the audience, at the very least it looked really cool. There are a lot of things like that in this movie, designs and ideas that are interesting to look at, but that I really wish were in a better movie. The style works, but that's all there is. There's no story, no characters worth my time, and nothing of substance that I can even begin to want to enjoy.

In short, Dark Shadows is a sometimes good looking mess that is really not worth the time it would take you to experience the few and very brief entertaining bits. I'm still waiting for that good Tim Burton movie where he's back to form and giving me something to wake up that little Beetlejuice loving 8 year old inside me, but I have to say, one or two more movies like this, and I just might give up the ghost for good.

Though I'll never give up on Beetlejuice, even if he does someday go Hawaiian.
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