Dir. Ronny Yu; writ. Damian Shannon, Mark Swift; feat. Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, James Callahan, Lochlyn Munro (R)
Few sorts of movies are as critic-proof as slasher films. While some horror fans might read a review to find out what's being said about a flick, they certainly wouldn't let some snooty critic keep them from seeing it. The dialogue stinks? So what. There's not a character in it worth watching? Who cares - they're all about to get sliced to ribbons anyway. It's not scary? Who told you horror movies were scary?
Those are all things you could say about Freddy vs. Jason, the latest gimmick in a more than 20-year stretch of gory teenage exploitation flicks that has abused moviegoers with one Final Chapter after another. Between them, these villains have visited outer space and ventured into meta-movie Adaptation territory; the only thing left is for them to meet Abbott & Costello.
Until then, we will have to settle for seeing them meet each other, which is evidently something for which fans have been panting. In this film's opening moments (which play more like a trailer than a feature), we see that Freddy has hung out with Jason for long enough in the afterlife to convince him to go back to Earth and put the scare into some kids; once they're frightened enough, Freddy will be able to re-enter their dreams. After this intro, we quickly see the only pair of breasts the movie has to offer, hear some familiar theme music, and get into the routine world of horror movie plots.
Diehard genre fans will of course wet themselves. The rest of us should stay far away. With genuinely scary stuff like 28 Days Later in theaters, who in his right mind would pay to see villains who stopped being frightening in the mid-'80s? — John Defore
Dir. Clark Johnson; writ. David Ayer & David McKenna; feat. Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J (R)
|S.W.A.T. Coutesy photo
It seems that the entire production team learned its trade from the institute of Baywatch, the bikini-clad television project of David Hasselhoff. This is not to mean that the actors strut around half-naked - expect that rabbit from the hat in the sequel. Colin Farrell, Sam Jackson, and the entire cast recite hackneyed lines (such as "Let's do this") with unconvincing inventive gusto.
Farrell and Jackson play two hard-working S.W.A.T cops who are always at odds with their superiors. Someone should tell these Hollyweird icons that they don't possess the talent to breathe new life into such cliché characters. The S.W.A.T team runs around in a movie that is no more than a lengthy collection of slick, 10-second visual bites that fail miserably in the action scenes. Apparently, an action scene doesn't have to be coherent anymore as long as the sequence ends with a bullet ripping flesh or some sort of explosion. Director Clark Johnson unfortunately spent more time framing the product placements than constructing a lucid movie.
However, the main culprits are the screenwriters who are, frankly, whores. It is not enough for product placements to be visually overt like an elephantiasis growth. Some of S.W.A.T.'s lengthiest dialogue is devoted to the product. The movie marks the day when the art of screenwriting turned into an advertising executive position. Apart from the plugging, the script wants the audience to believe that gangs from the 'hood and other thugs could possibly free a billionaire quasi-terrorist from police custody for a promised $100 million. The philosophy of honor among thieves is completely ignored in S.W.A.T. Bad acting, bad directing, dismal script: Expect it to be a box office hit. — Rich Perin
Dir. Alfredo de Villa; writ. Nat Moss, De Villa; feat. Tomas Milían, Manny Perez, Danny Hoch, Jude Ciccolella, Andrea Navedo (R)
Washington Heights, the feature debut of Mexican-born Alfredo de Villa, was screened last February as part of CineFestival. It returns for a national theatrical run.
When Eddie Ramirez (Milían) is paralyzed in a botched holdup, his son, Carlos (Perez), reluctantly steps in to run his father's neighborhood bodega. A talented commercial artist with ambitions of drawing his way out of the barrio in which he has spent his entire life, Carlos fumes over his predicament and spars with his stubborn father. So, too, does best friend Mickey Kilpatrick (Hoch), whose father, Sean (Ciccolella), disdains the young man's dreams of glory as a professional bowler living in Las Vegas.
De Villa's film offers a portrait of the artist as a young Latino rooted in and eager to escape the confines of Washington Heights, the largely Dominican neighborhood in northern Manhattan. "You're not an artist," proclaims his girl friend, Maggie (Navedo), in a pique over Carlos' wavering affection. "You're just somebody whose father owns a bodega." The lesson that Carlos learns, painfully, is that the two are not incompatible - that it is only by accepting and expressing his identity as a Spanish-inflected son of Washington Heights that he can flourish as an artist.
Washington Heights is a drama of infidelity, not merely in the fact that Eddie's adulteries against his late wife are a continuing source of friction with son Carlos, himself no paragon of sexual devotion. The film, which begins hesitantly but gains momentum as it approaches a powerful, violent conclusion, explores the continuing claims of community on a man who would transcend it. "We're better than this," says Mickey, convinced that bowling strikes will enable him to strike out on his own elsewhere. Washington Heights makes achingly clear that there is no elsewhere, that it is by looking within that we break out. — Steven G. Kellman