Screens New reviews

'Kingdom of heaven,' 'House of wax' and 'Mindhunters'

Kingdom of Heaven

An idea whose time has come: In Kingdom of Heaven, the enemy is fanaticism.

Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. William Monahan; feat. Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud, Martin Czokas, Brendan Gleeson (R)

It's been a bad run for period warmongering epics lately, from the big bore King Arthur to the laughable Alexander. Some people would suggest it is time to retire the category. But for those of us who hate to see almost any movie genre die, Kingdom of Heaven is very welcome indeed: an emotionally satisfying tale, told by a fine craftsman and gifted cast, that finds room within its walls for both contemporary and vintage values.

Whether the people and events of Kingdom are true to history is a matter that even scholars could debate (this layman was surprised at the number of its Crusade-era characters who expressed tolerance for other faiths). But the film - contrary to some anxious advance press - could hardly be less likely to inspire religious or ethnic hatred. The enemy in Kingdom is not one religion or another but fanatacism in all forms, and when our European heroes (along with the mixed-race inhabitants of Jerusalem) are forced to do battle with Muslim attackers (who in turn have been provoked by Christians), there isn't an ounce of fun in it.

But a lack of bloodlust certainly does not make Kingdom of Heaven an unengaging film. It hits all the notes one wants from this sort of tale, in which a troubled French blacksmith eventually rises to become the most important knight in Jerusalem. Director Ridley Scott uses less bombast and more philosophy than he did in Gladiator, and this tale's complexities are matched by a more sober tone, but Kingdom of Heaven is both accessible and intelligent enough to suggest that the historical epic shouldn't be declared dead anytime soon.

John DeFore

House of Wax

I'm melting: A mannequin in her own right, Paris Hilton stars in House of Wax.

Dir. Jaume Serra; writ. Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, based on the story by Charles Belden; feat. Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki (R)

Midway through House Of Wax, imminent victim Wade (San Antonio's Jared Padalecki) discovers the titular house is "like, literally" made of wax. He might as well have been talking about the film itself, which, like the house and its paraffin-coated inhabitants, appears real on the outside but is actually a rotting corpse on the inside.

Calling House of Wax a remake of the 1953 Vincent Price classic is criminal, since any traces of the original's plot and atmosphere have been replaced by a heavily trod "brothers get revenge" plot and generous amounts of gore. Warner Bros. merely slapped a nostalgic title on another in a series of undistinguished teen horror romps and threw in Paris Hilton to draw the rubberneck crowd. Since getting into character requires a non-shopping-oriented effort, Hilton can't be bothered with it and reads her lines like she would a brochure on foundation repair. The rest of the cast fares little better, with Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray emoting selectively, and Brian Van Holt swinging wildly from an Elvis-meets-Johnny-Cash gas station owner to an evil, hillbilly-ized Bruce Campbell and his wax-murdering twin.

There's so much wrong with House of Wax that it seems quaint to say it's a disaster. There isn't an exciting, scary, or even happy moment in the entire film; it slides from dark and cynical to fantastically violent and boring. The only scene that provoked a substantial response was when one of the ill-fated day-trippers (for spoilers sake let's call her Marseille Holiday-Inn) takes a pipe through the brain. That the audience was so willing to turn on the victim and momentarily root for the killer is more frightening than any shock the film could deliver.

By Aaron Block


If the screenwriter only had a brain: Val Kilmer trains LL Cool J for the FBI's serial-killer profiling program in the mind-numbing Mindhunters.

Dir. Renny Harlin; writ. Wayne Kramer, Kevin Brodbin; feat. Eion Bailey, Clifton Collins Jr., Will Kemp, Val Kilmer, Johnny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Christian Slater, LL Cool J, Patricia Velasquez, Cassandra Bell (R)

Imagine if, when Scooby Doo and the gang were trying to solve the mystery of the ghost clown, instead of working together they viciously turned on one another and spent and hour and a half standing around screaming until, one by one, they died. Replace Scooby, Shaggy, and the others with a team of F.B.I. agents in training to become profilers, and you have Mindhunters. Federal task-master Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) takes his trainees and mysterious detective Gabe Smith (LL Cool J) to a training island to test their merits in a simulated serial-killer scenario. Unfortunately, one of the team ends up the victim of a trap, and the bureau's best combine their skills to solve the mystery.

Well, not really. Actual criminal profiling falls away in favor of waving guns around and making vaguely threatening statements until someone else dies. The finale falls into the "Please, don't reveal the secret ending" category, but the film remains entertaining despite an illogical conclusion and Bruce Willis-style scenery chewing courtesy of Ladies Love.

The real surprise is the intense paranoia that pervades every scene. Friends don't trust each other, students don't trust the teacher; even government agencies don't trust one another. In an age when personal information is readily available on the Internet, I suppose a little healthy suspicion wouldn't hurt, but when no bond exists between the victims, the audience is left with nothing but superficial reasons to lament the most recent killing.

By Aaron Block