Saturday, January 26, 2013

Second Opinion - John Dies at the End




Having never read David Wong’s novel, John Dies at the End, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch this movie. The film is funny, crude, crass, gross and interesting, though I can’t say I was able to follow everything that goes on.

The film reminded me of The Monkees' Head (1968), the made-for-TV pop group that tried to go legit. Not that there is anything remotely like Davy Jones running around in this, but that the film has a stream of consciousness flow to it. While the movie has a beginning, middle and end, I can’t say that any of it is expected or conforms to a standard three act plot.

The acting is good by the leads Chase Williamson (David Wong) and Rob Mayes (John Cheese), who make a likable pair of recent high school drop outs who find themselves thrust into a battle with an alternate universe. (And no I don’t think I’m giving away anything to do with the plot.) David is telling his story to news reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), who always looks like he’s slept in his clothes.

The world in which David and John reside has an unusual collection of fellow travelers: Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown), a Tony Robbins type motivational speaker; Robert Marley (Tai Bennett), a fortune-telling  Jamaican who will trade insight into your soul for a beer; Amy Sullivan (Fabianne Therese), David’s one handed love interest and assorted other friends, who play roles are either of little importance, Fred Chu (Jimmy Wong), or great importance, Justin White (Jonny Weston), depending on what moment it is in the script.

A lot of the action is clearly delusional, as our heroes have come under the spell of an alien drug called the sauce, which allows them to do things like make phone calls on bratwurst; talk to the dead and see the way to another dimension; one ruled by Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). To discuss more would be to give away too much of the story.

The humor goes from being the truly inspired all the way down to dick jokes, the type of humor I’ve come to expect from the writer of the novel the movie is based on, David Wong. While I have not yet read this novel, I do know his work on the Cracked.com website.

For a low budget the movie the special effects are just about right. They have a Dr. Who quality about them, which really fits the tone of the film. There really isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but the movie is not about the special effects.

The film does sometimes get a little gross, which is not something I really enjoy. I will say that the gross scenes are surprisingly minimal and they never get to the make-you-squirm level. On the plus side, there is a little, perhaps gratuitous topless nudity, so I guess things even out.

The director, Don Coscarelli is perhaps best known for his film Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), in which Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) retired and living in an East Texas nursing home, teams up with JFK (Ossie Davis) to fight off a re-animated Egyptian mummy who is feeding off the souls of the elderly residents. Based on that film, it is easy to see what would have drawn him to this project. John Dies at the End shares the same sort of quirky unpredictable plot line.

If you’ve read David Wong’s book and enjoy the work of Don Coscarelli and have always dreamed of them teaming up, then you are certainly in luck with John Dies at the End. Otherwise, go know that you’re seeing a film that is not like anything else you’ve seen in a while. (I was gonna say this year, but we’re not even a month into it.) The film has its ups and downs, but in the end, I would say that it was better than I expected.

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