Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Retro Review Double Feature: Death to Smoochy and Panic Room

 Or was it Panic Room and then Death to Smoochy? It's so hard to say these days, as memories get hazy... in fact, it's been almost ten years since both films were released. On the same day (March 29th, 2002), which was why we determined that it MUST be a double feature we attended. Who is we? Well, it was broken up into two groups - the folks who went to see Death to Smoochy and the folks in for the long haul: all 221 minutes, plus trailers, ads, and the period in-between films at the Grande*.

 It was necessary to make this a double feature for the following reasons:

 1. Panic Room was David Fincher's follow-up to Fight Club, a movie we'd seen three years before and been blown away by. While the two films only featured one actor (Jared Leto, who suffers brutal disfigurement in both movies), Panic Room was being described as Fincher's "Hitchcock" and we were on board.

 2. Death to Smoochy starred Edward Norton (Fight Club), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns), Jon Stewart (The Faculty...?), and Robin Williams, who would go on to have a banner year by adding One Hour Photo and Insomnia for a "comedian playing psychopaths" hat trick. Oh, and DeVito directed Death to Smoochy, an R-rated film about children's television.

 3. I love double features. As time goes on, it's probably become abundantly clear that's the case, but even now it's something I consider a luxury in theatres. It's certainly not cheaper now, but I'd like to try one again sometime soon if the right movies were playing in conjunction. Anyway, that's neither here nor there in a Retro Review. We went to see these movies because they looked like fun, like it would be a twisted / suspenseful / hilarious double feature. There was nary a hint of irony in seeing two disparate genre entries (black comedy and thriller), in spite of our post-Phantom Menace / pre-Attack of the Clones malaise.

 Death to Smoochy had the great benefit of being unable to accurately portray what a filthy, irreverent, at times brutally violent, and profane film in its trailers. This can work against many R-rated comedies, and I believe it had an adverse effect on Shaun of the Dead, Bad Santa, and Pineapple Express initially. They all had word of mouth and the internet to help with that, but Death to Smoochy is still kind of regarded as a stinker. It sold itself as goofy, only to welcome audiences with a litany of profanity as soon as Rainbow Randolph (Williams) was no longer on camera. The mean-spirited nature of the film turned critics and audiences off alike.

 We loved it. The film is unabashedly cruel to all of its characters from beginning to end, and if you like movies like Heathers (or later, World's Greatest Dad) about misanthropes being horrible to each other in bitterly funny ways (as opposed, to say, anything Lars von Trier ever made, which is exactly the same without the "funny" part), Death to Smoochy is for you. It's probably very easy to find out DVD, so go pick it up.

 Panic Room, which I really think was the second film, was our first brush with disappointment and David Fincher. After Seven, Fight Club, The Game, and even Alien 3 (which many of us argued was flawed but more interesting than Aliens) seeing a young director stumble wasn't much fun. Panic Room isn't a bad movie necessarily, but it's not a very good one either. At nearly two hours, it drags out the tension for too long and doesn't do enough to keep viewers invested in the narrative. Yes, the cast is pretty good: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, and a pre-Catch That Kid Kristen Stewart are all pretty good. The visual trickery, camera angles, and seamless digital effects are all cool beans, but for the life of me I can't get or stay excited about Panic Room.

 Fincher bounced back in a big way with Zodiac in 2007 and I liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button even though most people I know won't even watch it. Everybody seemed to enjoy The Social Network (including the Cap'n) and I haven't seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so I can't comment on that. But Panic Room? I haven't seen it all the way through more than once since then. I hesitate to even suggest I DID see it again because while I know (as a completist) I owned both the "Superbit" and 3-Disc "Collector's Edition" of the film, I don't remember wanting to sit down and revisit Panic Room. By comparison, I've seen Seven, Fight Club, Alien 3, and The Social Network more than once since initial viewings.

 I've seen Death to Smoochy again since as well, and am wondering if I should drive over to a local used cd / DVD store to see if I can find a copy tonight or tomorrow.... Hrm...

 Next week I'll jump even further back, to an even more improbable double feature: Being John Malkovich and Dogma.

 * That's my way of saying "I don't remember exactly who was there for both films." Sorry.

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