VODepths: What to See (and Avoid) On Demand This Week

This week’s low-profile VOD releases travel the world, showcasing martial arts in Malaysia, a lemon grove in Sicily, and genetically engineered dinosaurs in the U.K.

Scenes From an Empty Church (VOD and select theaters July 2): Like a lot of pandemic-related pieces, writer-director Onur Tukel’s film already feels quaint and dated mere months after it was produced. It’s set in the early days of lockdown in New York City, when that was the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., with Kevin Corrigan and Thomas Jay Ryan as  a pair of Catholic priests struggling with faith and self-doubt in the midst of the crisis, which forces them to close their church doors. For every meaningful moment of introspection or theological inquiry, there are just as many awkward moments of attempted topical commentary, including an unfortunate tendency to denounce basic pandemic precautions. The movie takes an even more awkward turn toward the explicitly supernatural in the final act, but the most affecting scenes are the simplest, highlighted by a lovely conversation between Corrigan’s Father Andrew and Paul Reiser as the Jewish dad he disappointed by embracing Christianity. Grade: C+

Hatched (VOD and DVD July 6): Say what you will about the lax security at Jurassic Park, but at least John Hammond created his genetically engineered dinosaurs in a laboratory on a remote island, not in a shed in his backyard. Vaguely qualified scientist Simon David (Thomas Loone) does not follow such guidelines, and thus it’s not surprising that his homegrown dinos are easily able to escape and wreak minimal, low-budget havoc. There’s some amusing camp value to the scenes of Simon engaging in scientific activities like examining things with a flashlight, but overall, Hatched takes itself far too seriously. As Simon’s estranged family members stumble into danger when they try to visit him, directors Scott Jeffrey and Rebecca J. Matthews focus more on poorly rendered melodrama than on poorly rendered CGI dinosaurs (which can apparently only be shown onscreen one at a time). Only the latter carries even meager entertainment value, though. Grade: D+

Silat Warriors: Deed of Death (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray July 6): There’s some excellent action in this Malaysian martial-arts movie, featuring actual practitioners of the art of silat. Everything in between the fight scenes is pretty tedious, though, from the cheesy family drama to the cliched gangster posturing. Gambling addict Mat Arip (Fad Anuar) is deep in debt to a local loan shark, who uses the leverage to demand the deed to Mat Arip’s family’s land. The only way out of this predicament is lots of kicking and punching, of course, although the disjointed first hour is a bit stingy with the fighting, bogged down in a subplot about car-racing that is neither fast nor furious. Director and co-writer Areel Abu Bakar makes up for it eventually, and the action is swift, exciting, and clever, especially from Feiyna Tajudin as Mat Arip’s confident, composed sister, whose hijab never wavers as she takes out bad guys. Grade: B-

Road to the Lemon Grove (VOD and DVD July 7): A cringe-worthy vanity project for Canadian stage actor/psychology professor Charly Chiarelli, this broad, sentimental comedy might have worked better as a theatrical monologue. Chiarelli takes on multiple roles, Eddie Murphy-style, which allow him multiple opportunities to wildly overact. He plays newly deceased Italian immigrant Antonio Contatini as well as Antonio’s American-raised son Calogero, interacting with himself via shoddy special effects. Antonio returns to haunt Calogero because he can’t get into heaven unless Calogero embraces his roots and travels to the family’s ancestral home in Sicily. The Contatinis have a longstanding feud with the family of Antonio’s late wife, and Burt Young (giving his entire performance seated in the same chair) and Nick Mancuso play the relatives on Calogero’s mother’s side who are after a supposedly sacred lemon grove. The details of the feud and its eventual resolution are confusing and vague, although there is plenty of lovely Sicilian scenery along the way. Grade: C-

Love Type D (VOD July 9): After her latest boyfriend dumps her by sending his 11-year-old brother to deliver the message, perpetual singleton Frankie (Maeve Dermody) learns about a group of researchers who claim to have discovered a “dumpee gene” that explains why certain people are always unlucky in love. Obsessed with curing her affliction, Frankie teams up with eager young scientist Wilbur (Rory Stroud), the aforementioned 11-year-old, to investigate the gene and figure out a way to counteract it. The already silly premise eventually encompasses ghosts, hypnosis, and ultra-powerful pheromones, and it doesn’t all fit together seamlessly. But writer-director Sasha Collington keeps it grounded in Frankie’s identifiable longing to love and be loved, and her journey to accept herself and take responsibility for her actions. It’s also consistently funny, with great chemistry between stars Dermody and Stroud. If Bridget Jones starred in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the result might be something like this. Grade: B

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of 'Las Vegas Weekly' and has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.

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