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

Scandinavian-focused streaming service Viaplay enters the original-movie fray this week, along with the latest quickie Tubi production and single-location thrillers set at a hotel-casino, an English country estate, and a remote coastal cottage.

Blood, Sweat and Cheer (Tubi April 15): The concept here isn’t much different from other Lifetime-esque Tubi originals, but director Traci Hays approaches it with a sly sense of humor that turns a suburban-mom-gone-wrong melodrama into a campy, candy-colored dark comedy. Pretty Little Liars’ Tammin Sursok gives a delightfully unhinged performance as the overbearing mother to an overworked teenage cheerleader. Sursok’s Renee loses her vicarious high school experience when her daughter Cherie (Monroe Cline) decides to quit the dance squad and move in with her dad, so Renee puts her hair into pigtails and registers for a new school under Cherie’s name. No one seems to notice that this alleged transfer student is pushing 40, and Renee relishes her role as a teenage mean girl, eventually dabbling in some light murder as she pursues her dance dreams. The plot and supporting characters are pretty threadbare, but Sursok’s commitment and Hays’ playfulness mostly make up the difference. Grade: B

The Best Man (VOD and select theaters April 21): A prime example of the This Location Was Available cinematic genre, The Best Man is set at an isolated hotel-casino that has been conveniently cleared out for the wedding of a wealthy oil baron’s daughter. Saving money on extras doesn’t seem to have given the producers a bigger budget for stunts, though, and this supposed action movie contains exactly one explosion and a handful of frugally placed shootouts. Mostly the characters skulk through corridors as former private security operator Cal (Luke Wilson) tries to protect his bride Brook (Nicky Whelan) from an old associate out for revenge. Dolph Lundgren is underused as Cal’s weary right-hand man, and neither Wilson nor Brendan Fehr (as the ostensible title character) appears comfortable with combat. Scott Martin makes for an underwhelming villain, and the performances range from painful to passable. At least the actors don’t have to deliver any of the terrible dialogue during the mediocre fight scenes. Grade: C-

The Tank (Select theaters April 21; VOD April 25): After inheriting an abandoned, dilapidated cottage on the rural Oregon coast, Ben (Matt Whelan) of course immediately moves his family right in, despite plenty of standard horror-movie warning signs. The property includes a derelict water tank that Ben obliviously reactivates, reviving the home of some subterranean amphibious monsters. Writer-director Scott Walker spends a lot of time teasing various explanations for the house’s disturbing past, which is tied to the deaths of Ben’s father and sister and his late mother’s descent into madness. The family legacy themes fall away once The Tank reveals itself as a rather dull creature feature, with monsters that look like more phallic versions of the Alien xenomorph. The characters run in circles around the house and its environs, with haphazard efforts to defeat the creatures and escape. The Tank is rarely scary and never emotionally engaging, and its early mild spookiness quickly gives way to tedium. Grade: C

R.S.V.P. (Viaplay April 25): Set during nine varied social gatherings over the course of several years, this Swedish romantic comedy is likable but meandering, taking a circuitous route to its obvious outcome. There’s no question that as soon as flighty perpetual singleton Klara (Lisa Carlehed) meets flustered introvert Victor (Oscar Töringe) they’re destined to end up together, but they still go through the requisite denials, flings with other people, and bitter misunderstandings. Carlehed is charming as the exuberant Klara, who can’t hide her insecurities or her passions, but the larger ensemble is less compelling, especially as different combinations of characters show up at different events. The story gets maudlin and manipulative as it goes on, losing its early effervescence, even as Klara’s focus on finding love remains intact. It all feels like several seasons of a soap opera crammed together, although there’s still satisfaction in seeing two pleasant people who are clearly meant for each other finally figure that out. Grade: B-

Invitation to a Murder (VOD and DVD April 25): Mischa Barton is ill-suited to the role of a genteel Agatha Christie-style detective, but this old-fashioned 1930s-set murder mystery ambles along amiably for a little while anyway. The set-up is unoriginal but sturdy, as Barton’s florist and amateur sleuth Miranda Green is summoned along with five other not-so-random people to the expansive yet empty estate of a reclusive English lord. Once they arrive, they learn that their host has been indefinitely detained, so they mull about until one of them inevitably turns up dead. Barton struggles through far too many Poirotian expository speeches as she ploddingly puts together clues and ferrets out the murderer, and the rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. The more Miranda discovers, the more the filmmakers lose the plot, relying on bizarre anachronisms and questionable romantic entanglements. The movie ends with a tease for more Miranda Green mysteries, but it seems likely that this will be her only case. Grade: C

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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