In this week’s marginal VOD releases, Dolph Lundgren shows off his directing skills, Jackie Earle Haley holds a telemarketer hostage, bargain-bin fascists take over America, and Grandma Incinerator headlines an epic concert.
Castle Falls (VOD and select theaters December 3): Dolph Lundgren, auteur? It’s not as unlikely as it sounds, although none of the veteran action star’s previous directorial efforts have made an impact, and Castle Falls is his first turn behind the camera since 2010. If nothing else, Lundgren knows his way around a fight scene, and when he finally gets around to the action, he delivers decent showcases for himself and co-star Scott Adkins. Unfortunately, Lundgren and screenwriter Andrew Knauer spend half the running time on tedious, unnecessary set-up, just to place MMA fighter turned demolition worker Mike Wade (Adkins) and prison guard Richard Ericson (Lundgren) inside a building where criminals have stashed $3 million. The bad guys want the money, our heroes need it for noble reasons, the building is set to blow up in three hours, cue kicking and punching. The haphazard plot keeps getting in the way of the action, though, and Lundgren can’t make the emotional beats land the way his fists do. Grade: C+
Red Pill (VOD December 3): Writer/director/star Tonya Pinkins undoubtedly has a serious political message to convey with this pointedly titled horror movie, but it gets lost amid incompetent filmmaking. The main characters are ostensibly progressive activists traveling into the South ahead of the 2020 election, although their political views are poorly conveyed even as they spend most of the movie arguing in circles among themselves. Pinkins doesn’t have the resources to take the action beyond the vacation rental house where the characters are staying, and the eventual slaughter by what appear to be cult members is full of laughable special effects. The climax abruptly shifts from a single-location slasher movie to a grand dystopian vision, mostly borrowed from The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games, with a series of nonsensical twists. By the time Pinkins gets to the stock footage of Hitler’s rise to power, the movie has entirely run out of both ideas and budget. Grade: D+
Death of a Telemarketer (VOD and select theaters December 3): Its title alludes to Death of a Salesman and its setting conjures up Glengarry Glen Ross, but writer-director Khaled Ridgeway’s debut feature doesn’t come close to the pathos or savagery of those classics. Lamorne Morris throws himself into the role of the title character, the top sales agent for a shady company selling cable/internet/phone bundles. Desperate to win the monthly sales contest so he can buy an engagement ring for his justifiably unenthusiastic girlfriend (Alisha Wainwright), Morris’ Kasey pulls some underhanded sales tactics on the wrong target. Soon, unhinged Asa (Jackie Earle Haley) and his delinquent son (Haley Joel Osment) are holding Kasey at gunpoint, demanding he atone for his sins of deception. There might be enough material here for a clever short film, but the concept quickly wears thin, and Morris, Haley and Osment can’t salvage it via hammy overacting. The satire is weak, the sentiment is unearned, and the resolution is both protracted and unsatisfying. Grade: C
Are You Happy Now (VOD December 7): Nobody seems happy in writer-director David Beinstein’s desultory rom-com, starring Josh Ruben as an immature, insecure, irritating screw-up who somehow manages to marry a gorgeous and unbelievably patient acupuncturist (Ismenia Mendes). When her patience finally runs out, he spends the rest of the movie acting put-upon and petulant, making no effort to improve himself as he whines about the unfairness of his circumstances. Beinstein devotes as much time to the tiresome antics of Ruben’s Adam and his goofy fast-food co-worker Walt (David Ebert) as he does to Adam’s romantic troubles, making the inevitable reconciliation even less convincing. There are half-formed themes about mental illness and relationship compromises, but even intermittent narration from Mendes can’t make Beinstein’s concepts clear. Himself an accomplished indie filmmaker, Ruben can be endearingly smarmy in the right context, but here he just comes off as the embodiment of mediocre male entitlement. The most satisfying moment is when someone punches Adam in the face. Grade: C-
Death to Metal (VOD December 7): Director and co-writer Tim Connery brings together the holy trinity of gore, boobs and metal in this entertainingly scuzzy horror comedy. A fire-and-brimstone Catholic priest has an encounter with some conveniently discarded toxic sludge and turns into a monster of vengeance, going on a rampage at a heavy metal festival. Connery provides the requisite gross-out violence, along with a bitchin’ soundtrack featuring bands (both real and fictional) with names like Mutilated by Zombies and Grandma Incinerator. What’s more surprising is that the low-key comedy between sensitive metalhead Zane (Alex Stein) and his metal-averse best friend Mariah (Grace Melon) is so appealing, with sweet, easygoing performances from both Stein and Melon. Connery spends more time on character-building hangout moments than is probably advisable, and it takes a bit too long to get to the promised metal massacre. But unlike most micro-budget genre filmmakers stretching their movies to feature length, Connery fills the extra space with something that’s actually worth watching. Grade: B