Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Scott Coffey's Adult World is the kind of movie where a precocious young woman leaves home, fails to sell her poetry, gets a job in a porno shop, befriends a drag queen, meets her literary idol, loses her virginity, gets humiliated, and learns a few valuable lessons along the way. It's not as bad as you may have gleaned from other reviews (or this one), but it's not great, either.

Thanks to the manic earnestness of Emma Roberts as Amy the aspiring poet, and John Cusack's crabby turn as washed up poet Rat Billings, Adult World almost has a chance. If the film had been solely about these two, it might have been a pleasant enough diversion. Instead, Coffey and screenwriter  Andrew Cochran throw in a handful of other plots and characters that don't add up to anything. The porn shop, for instance, is run by a sweet old couple (Cloris Leachman and John Cullum, two good performers given nothing to do). That could have been a story in itself, but it just feels like an idea left over from a screenwriting class. The drag queen seems borrowed from another movie, too. And why does he/she talk like Elmer Fudd?

I don't know if 22-year-old virginal poets like Amy really exist. Or if they ever did. I don't know if a bitter writer like Rat Billings would take her on as a protege. Somehow, I doubt it. I think the filmmakers sort of doubted it, too. That's why they couldn't leave the two of them alone and threw in the kitchen sink. In fairness, there are a few funny lines in Adult World, and I liked Cusack's performance. Was it just yesterday when Cusack might've been playing the idealistic young poet? Now he's easing into  middle age, and seems comfortable playing a son of a bitch.

Novelist Dean Koontz has probably sold as many books as Stephen King, but he's yet to create anything to capture the public's fancy in the way of Carrie, or The Shining. His books, which are often good reads, particularly during the summer months when you have some time off or a long train trip ahead, have occasionally been adapted for television but have never caught the attention of big name directors or studios. I'm not sure why that is, but Odd Thomas, a film directed by Stephen Sommers and based on a Koontz novel, seems to pull out all stops in an effort to create some kind of King vibe, borrowing elements from the aforementioned novels, as well as The Dead Zone and a few others.  This isn't to say Koontz was plundering King's style, but rather, he's traveling down some of the same paths. I have no problem with this, for creative borrowing is often the key to a writer's success. Besides, King is a well-known borrower of ideas, too.

The title character (Anton Yelchin) speaks to dead people, and helps a local police chief (Willem Dafoe) solve crimes by using his paranormal powers. Odd Thomas fears that an unstoppable menace is coming to their little town because he sees ugly, transparent spirits hovering around, harbingers of doom and "operatic violence." I liked these boogers, they were the best thing in the film. But we also get a lot of routine stuff: giant cockroaches; Satan worshipers; weirdos who keep scrapbooks with articles about serial killers;  big scary dogs; and a masked maniac who enters a shopping mall armed with an automatic weapon.  There's an interesting character named Fungus Bob, the standard loner who lives in a shed beyond the tracks (you know the type). He gets bumped off early, but Odd Thomas is still in touch with him because, well, he speaks to the dead. 

If the film isn't brimming with uniqueness, it's told briskly and is actually rather moving at times. I liked how one of the dead characters tries to be funny, using his severed arm as a prop. Odd Thomas explains that even the dead have a pathetic need to be liked. Odd Thomas and his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) are also sort of endearing, even if most of their dialog is the chirpy kind found in cheap, made for TV programming. In fact, much of Odd Thomas feels like a pilot for a potential series. I can imagine Odd Thomas on TBS, or USA, battling various super sharks and walking dead types. Why not? There are worse ways to spend an evening.

If you need proof that even the wealthiest of actors will do anything for money, you couldn't ask for a  better example than The Bag Man. Somehow, director David Grovic lured Robert De Niro and John Cusack into starring in his debut film, a dreary hodge-podge of Twin Peaks, Pulp Fiction, and enough hoary film noir cliches to make Alan Ladd not only spin in his grave, but possibly throw up. 

De Niro plays a pseudo intellectual crime boss named Dregma who sends hitman Cusack on a mission to find a bag containing secrets, and then hole up in a cheesy motel until further notice. The hitch is that Cusack isn't supposed to look in the bag, for the whole thing is a sort of ruse to test Cusack's loyalty and his ability to follow orders. At the hotel, Cusack encounters all sorts of weirdos, including a 6-foot hooker, mean pimps and dwarfs, a seedy hotel manager played by a completely out of ideas Crispin Glover, and a team of sadistic cops who have some curious ideas of how to get information. Most of the film takes place in complete darkness, save for the colorful neon lights of the hotel, and the occasional flash of someone's headlights. I grew so tired of squinting to make out what was happening that I gradually stopped caring. 

It's the sort of film where De Niro breaks a woman's nose and then gives her the number of a good plastic surgeon. If that strikes you as witty, go for it. 

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