Execrable: The Midnight Meat Train

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Clive Barker, Jeff Buhler
Produced by Clive Barker, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, Tom Rosenberg, Jorge Saralegui, Richard Wright, Beth DePatie, James McQuaide, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Joe Daley, Anthony DiBlasi, Robert McMinn, John Penotti, David Scott Rubin, Fisher Stevens
Starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Vinnie Jones, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran
His movies have only ever been tolerable — and occasionally enjoyable — for their expert choreography, involving production design and photogenic performers; with only the last of those three elements present in this dreary, typically overproduced American foray, the limits of Kitamura’s directorial deftness are particularly prominent. To satisfy the demands of an influential gallerist (Shields) and his ambition to capture treacherously intriguing imagery, a photographer (Cooper) stalks, then investigates a spruce, burly butcher (Jones) who extends his labor into an avocational late shift by hammering, hooking and exsanguinating passengers of a subway’s nightly route. Very few of Barker’s stories have been competently dramatized, and the antic appeal of Kitamura’s cartoonishly artificial CG and gimmicky, slow-mo or whirling panoramic and perspective shots mesh poorly with Buhler’s tiresomely prosy, humorless screenplay. Digitally rendered trains, bullets, blood, limbs amputated, organs eviscerated and enucleated appear doubly fake in contrast to several impressively realistic practical effects. In observance of two cinematographic trends, Jonathan Sela’s photography is nicely shot in very high contrast, but many scenes are ruined by their excessively applied tints. Cooper and most of his co-stars have screen presence to spare, but they’re unmemorable for dialogue so musty that it sounds like mad libs. Shields makes the best of her role as an imperious socialite, and thewy footballer Jones is certainly imposing as the industrious serial killer, but neither are framed effectively. Now lagging well behind Larry Fessenden in their unwitting(?) undertaking to match John Hurt’s mortal onscreen record, Ted Raimi again plays one of several brutalized victims. This is somewhat engaging until its insufferably inane third act, which leads to a predictably cyclic conclusion from which the Lovecraftish abominolatry of Barker’s short story was expunged in favor of still more gore that’ll only satisfy the most undemanding splatterhounds.

Instead, watch The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or Train to Busan.

Favorites: Freaked

Freaked (1993)
Directed by Tom Stern, Alex Winter
Written by Tom Stern, Alex Winter, Tim Burns
Produced by Stephen Chiodo, Harry J. Ufland, Mary Jane Ufland, Alex Winter
Starring Alex Winter, Michael Stoyanov, Megan Ward, Randy Quaid, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Shields
Massive, murderous Rastafarian eyeballs, a vermicious zoologist, transgendered Mr. T and a grisly menagerie of faunal hybrids are among the multifarious choleric, conflated, fanged, feral, foul, gawky, ghoulish, gratuitous, grungy, malign, meshuga, mutinous, nauseant, obstreperous, outrageous, perverse, precipitous, pugnacious, savage, shameless chimeras who run amok in this theatrical follow-up to Winter’s and Stern’s goofy televised sketch series, The Idiot Box. A contumelious, acquisitive actor (Winter) and his obnoxious buddy (Stoyanov) are whisked to a fictional Latin American nation by an unscrupulous multinational to endorse an inexplicably ruinous toxic fertilizer they’ve disseminated for a $5M paycheck. After befriending a pretty yet peevish environmental activist (Ward) under starkly false pretenses, both the reprobate duo and their censorious acquaintance are seized by a redneck mad scientist and theme park proprietor (Quaid) who bestows the aforementioned goop to metamorphose his many captives into themed monstrosities. Stern and Winter sustain the brisk pace of this unabashedly antic farce with an abundance of sight gags, hammy acting, recurrent tumult and nauseating special effects. Alas, Peter Chernin spoiled this picture’s potential success by slashing its post-production budget and limiting its distribution to a paltry pair of theaters in the worst executive sabotage of a substantial project since Dawn Steel undermined Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but even the debased theatrical cut reflects more inspiration (in the style of Mad magazine) than a score of contemporary comedies. It’s as ludicrous as humor comes, but if you care to gauge your maturity, just try to suppress your giggles through its duration.