Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Club Dread (2004)

Club Dread (2004)

Rated R for violence/gore, sexual content, language and drug use

Score: 2 out of 5

Club Dread, a horror-comedy made by the Broken Lizard team (of Super Troopers fame), isn't a particularly good horror film or comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a... certain charm to it. As a slasher flick, it's got only a few decent kills, no real tension, and zero logic, and while it works a fair bit better as a stoner sex comedy, it goes for the easiest raunch over any depth. It feels like it was destined to spend its life in reruns on Comedy Central or Spike TV in the wee hours of the morning, and really, that's the best time and place to watch it: at an hour when you should be sleeping, and are probably blazed out of your mind. Its better qualities, such as its fun atmosphere and the late Bill Paxton playing a parody of Jimmy Buffett, help redeem it and make it perfect background noise for parties and get-togethers or for when you're trying to get some shut-eye. If you're not in the target audience, you don't need to seek this one out, but it's not one that I'd skip over on basic cable.

The film takes place on Pleasure Island off of Costa Rica, a tropical resort owned by the aging pop singer Coconut Pete, who has proudly taken the laid-back lifestyle of sex and liquor on the beach that he sings about and made it a reality. It's spring break, and a swarm of college kids has arrived on the island looking to live that lifestyle themselves, with the resort's staff members, many of them rather fucked up themselves, happy to oblige. And then the murders began. Specifically, a killer in a tiki mask is hacking up the staff for some reason, and he may be connected to a legend about a killer named Machete Phil, a staff member years ago who allegedly murdered all of his co-workers before chopping his dick off after they subjected him to a disgusting prank. It doesn't particularly matter what he's up to, he's killing people, and the dwindling club staff need to find out who it is before it's too late.

Look, this isn't anything new if you've ever seen a slasher flick. The opening scene in which Machete Phil takes out three horny young people who go out of their way to violate every horror movie survival rule in the book plays out almost like a parody of a slasher, the sort of thing they'd show the characters in a different movie watching while cracking jokes about the stupidity of the people who are about to die. The problem here is that, unlike in Scary Movie, the slasher elements are played almost entirely straight. Adding dark humor to an otherwise serious horror movie plot can elevate a good movie to a great one -- it's why Scream, the first and third Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Evil Dead II, and You're Next are so much fun to watch. However, you have to have a good movie to begin with. The underlying core of this film is rote and mediocre at best, leaving the comedy feeling less like toppings that complement the meat and potatoes, and more like fluff added to cover up weaknesses elsewhere. While the film otherwise wears its R rating on its sleeve when it comes to the sex and drug humor, the kills are tame and virtually bloodless outside of one killer moment during the climax involving a boat and its tether, with more than one of the deaths taking place off-screen, and the tension is non-existent and often undercut by jokes. The list of films above demonstrates that a fun atmosphere and horrifying bloodshed aren't mutually exclusive like the makers of this film seem to think. These problems might have been forgivable had this been a parody of the genre, but it takes the horror elements too seriously to really feel like such.

It's in the comedy where you can tell that most of the Broken Lizard crew's passion went. Honestly, had they just made a stoner sex comedy about a Jimmy Buffett-esque pop star running a spring break resort, without weighing it down with a subpar slasher movie, this film might've gone down a lot easier. Many of the characters are admittedly one-note -- Putnam is an uptight British tennis instructor who happens to look like a Jamaican Rasta, Penelope is a naive hayseed from Nome, Alaska waiting to unleash her inner sex kitten, the aerobics instructor Jenny is a vanilla final girl, etc. The cast, however, is absolutely down for the material and managed to keep me laughing for most of this film's runtime, with the standout easily being Bill Paxton as Coconut Pete. A man eager to present a fun-loving, easygoing image to fans and vacationers but who's a bit of a wreck beneath the surface, Paxton was clearly relishing the part, and he steals the show in every scene he's in; allegedly (at least according to the commentary track), Jimmy Buffett himself was a fan, and got permission to perform some of Coconut Pete's songs on one of his live tours. Paxton is easily the best part of the film, and always a hoot to watch.

The Bottom Line

The slasher elements don't work at all, but the comedy and Paxton are good enough to make this worth a watch if you stumble across it. It's not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, nor is one that you're going to remember for more than five minutes, but it's not totally irredeemable, either.

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