These comments refer to the Director's Cut:
Here's a question you can debate amongst
yourselves. Who is the best looking man to do silly, lowbrow,
slapstick, rubber-face comedy? You might make a good case for Jim
Carrey, who is a good-looking guy and began his career as Ace Ventura
and The Mask, but I'd have to say Bruce Campbell has an even better
case. He is an extremely handsome guy, probably the best looking guy
in the history of comedy, possessing looks on a par with Errol Flynn or
Robert Taylor or Brad Pitt or any of the great leading men, but also
possessing a silly sense of humor that makes him more comfortable
doing the kinds of physical schtick you might expect from Carrey or
Chris Farley or John Cleese. In essence, he is Curly Howard in George
The big questions are: "How many roles are
there for Curly Clooney? And what kinds of roles?"
The answer came from the genius of
writer/director Sam Raimi. We all know that Sam broke the box
office bank with the Spider-Man movies, but before he did that he had
one of the most diverse resumes in Hollywood. He directed The Gift,
and was thus the only guy to get Katie Holmes topless before Tom
Cruise came along. Before that he created the Evil Dead horror
franchise, which pitted the living against the resurrected dead. Army
of Darkness is a part of the latter, and was originally to be titled
Evil Dead 3 until some studio mucky-mucks determined that it should
have a more mainstream title that would appeal to those who hate
fanboy movies. That actually made some sense, because Army of Darkness
is only a horror/adventure movie in its basic structure. At its heart,
it is pure slapstick comedy. In fact, it is filled with conscious
homages to the Three Stooges and others who created the slapstick
landmarks in cinema history. The lead role therefore called for a guy
who could look like George Clooney, deliver snide zingers like
Harrison Ford, and do schtick like Curly Howard.
Talk about a custom fit for Bruce Campbell.
Campbell plays Ash, the hero of the Evil Dead
movies, who is normally a clerk in the housewares department of one
store in the S-Mart chain of discount mass merchandisers. His job
doesn't sound like a bona fide occupational qualification for an
anti-zombie warrior, but his knowledge of hunting shotguns and power
tools actually comes in quite handy in the wars against the dead. He
wields a chainsaw over his severed right hand, and shoots the shotgun
with his left hand. Never mind that he never needs ammunition, or even
to reload the shotgun. That's all part of the fun. For you see, Army
of Darkness is not an action/horror movie, but a spoof of one written
by an insider. There are plenty of genuine feel-good moments in the
battle against the dead, but the film is a comedy first and foremost.
It is to sword and sorcery movies as Police Squad is to cop films, or
as Blazing Saddle is to Westerns.
Imagine Conan the Barbarian armed with modern
weapons and driving a car, and you'll get the general idea. Our
housewares clerk gets transported to England in the 1300s, where he
proceeds to play the ultimate "ugly American." He refers to the locals
as "primates," and tells the wenches to "give up some sugar, baby."
When he's not insulting them, he's screwing up their lives by
unleashing an army of the dead, all because he was too lazy to
memorize some magic words properly. Fortunately, he can get the locals
out of their predicament by using the stuff in the trunk of his 1973
car, which was transported to the past with him. There's his shotgun,
his chainsaw, his Chemistry 101 textbook (he's obviously one of the
more scholarly S-Mart employees), and the car itself. Along the way
there are several comedy set-pieces in which Ash battles a full-sized
clone of himself, or several Lilliputian clones. At one point he
becomes a two headed man and has to engage in a fistfight against
It's a lot of fun, but the director's cut is
also one of the most maddening films I've ever watched, because of the
inconsistency of its pacing. There are some great action scenes with
almost no comedy, and those flow along beautifully. There are some
scenes with no action which are carried by Ash's zingers, and those
flow as well. Where the film annoys is in the comic battle scenes.
Some of the slapstick action is so funny and so liberally peppered
with Ash's barbs that it has me laughing out loud, while there are
other times when it's so silly and so dragged-out that I just have to reach for the fast-forward button. I'm
sorry, Raimi, but the Three Stooges have to be taken in very small
doses, and some of the comic schtick-fights in Army of Darkness just
go on and on and on. Having said that, though, I'll add that this is
one of the ultimate movie experiences for boys 8-14! Nyuck,
Anchor Bay has released a two-disk special edition of the movie,
and it's well worth the look. The first disc is the usual stuff.
There's a 4:3 theatrical version of the film, and a 16:9 as well.
There's a "behind the scenes" featurette. Solid, but nothing so
memorable. The treasures are to be found on Disk Two, in which Raimi
presents a widescreen version of his original director's cut, which
includes 15 minutes of fully-integrated footage which has never been
seen in theaters, as well as four more deleted scenes which are not in
either version of the film. There is also a full-length commentary by
Raimi, Campbell, and Raimi's screenwriter brother.
It's fanboy heaven.
Even if you are not a fanboy, there are at
least two good reasons why you should watch the director's cut.
1) There is a brief sex scene involving
Campbell and Embeth Davidtz. If the lighting had been favorable, this
would be a major reason to watch the film, but the scene takes place
at night, outdoors, and in the 14th century, so there aren't a lot of
light sources available. The one source of light, a bonfire, is behind
them, so they are basically in silhouette. You really can't even tell
whether Embeth is topless. Even at that, it's still nice to watch.
2) The director's cut includes Sam Raimi's
original ending. Raimi screened his original version of the film for
the suits at Universal Studios, and they weren't satisfied. They
thought it was too long and the ending was too depressing, so they
made him re-write the ending and chop some fifteen minutes of footage
WARNING! SPOILERS FOLLOW:
The studio guys may have been right about the
pacing of the film. My comments above are about the director's cut,
and you will note that I also found some scenes to drag on much too
But the suits were VERY wrong about the ending.
The original conclusion is one of the greatest
endings in film history - sheer genius - a brilliant comedic riff on
the ending of "Planet of the Apes." Ash seals himself in a cave where
he cannot be disturbed over the centuries, then takes the magic potion
which will make him sleep from the 1300s until his own time. He wakes
up and crawls outside. We see his face. He is in shock. The camera
then shoots the next scene from behind him, so we can share his P.O.V.
It is a post-apocalyptic London, lifeless and nearly destroyed. Big
Ben is to this scene as the Statue of Liberty is to Planet of the
Apes. Ash shouts something like, "Shit! I overslept!" Credits roll.
On the other hand, the revised ending is just
plain lame. Ash rides off into the sunset from the medieval castle. In
an abrupt cut, he's back at S-Mart, telling his co-workers, " ...
so I took the potion, and here I am," as if all the preceding action
had merely been a whopper of a tale spun by a pathological liar. His
colleagues are understandably incredulous until some evil entity or
another chooses to show
up in the housewares department, whereupon Ash, normally a humble store clerk,
turns into an action juggernaut and destroys the monster, impressing
the hell out of those who came for the Blue Light Special.
Note that the low critical
scores for this film are largely irrelevant to what I am a writing
about above. They are reviewing an 80-minute film with a lame ending,
and I am reviewing a 96 minute film with a great ending. Big
difference. The director's cut of this film, while not without flaws,
is much better than the two and a quarter stars it received from
critics on the average (57/100 per Metacritic). It is definitely
recommended for those with the appropriate interests and an agreeably
juvenile sense of humor.
A counterfeiter named Fabio has been sprung from a 25 year
jail sentence after only ten years. He wants to go straight and
get reacquainted with his daughter. There's a catch. Isn't there
always? A few mob guys know that Fabio can create a large
quantity of counterfeit bills, and they won't let him live in
peace until he delivers two million dollars worth to them. He
needs two plates to do the job. He knows where one of them is,
but has to track down the other in a very short time. This leads
him along a path which includes former friends and enemies as
well as his treacherous ex-girlfriend.
Red Passport was released to DVD this week, but was actually
made three years earlier. It made the rounds to some three dozen
film festivals internationally, but never managed to secure any
kind of lucrative distribution deal. That's not surprising
because Red Passport covers familiar ground and was made with an
ultralow budget, so the film hasn't much commercial appeal.
The plot and characterizations are typical, and the action scenes
suffer from extreme budget shortfalls. In fact, even the limited
attempts at physical action are generally confusing and mishandled.
Nonetheless, the film is not a
write-off. Although Red Passport is not a great film nor a particularly original one,
there are indications that the auteur may some day do much
better. It was written and directed by Albert Xavier, who was
born in the USA, raised in the Dominican Republic, then educated
at the NYU film school. His film does have a little humor, a
little sex, lots of local color, and two more significant elements which balance off the films shortcomings enough
to make it a worthwhile watch for film junkies.
First, the performances are not bad. Frank Molina is pretty solid
in the lead, but I'd say Frank Medrano probably stole the show.
Medrano has been in many major movies like Shawshank and The Usual
Suspects, always delivering solid characterizations in small roles.
Odd-looking older guys like him don't usually get a chance to play
big roles, so he jumped on this chance to be a bigger fish in a
smaller pond. It was a good opportunity for him that turned out to
be good for the film as well because he brings professionalism,
credibility and humanity to the part of Fabio's crippled ex-partner
who's trying to live a decent life and to atone for some of the
mistakes he made in the past.
Second, the film represents a rare look at the Latin American
community in the semi-suburban areas of the Outer Boroughs of New
York. It includes some decent, normal people as well as criminal
types. Although you may have seen other films with similar themes
and plots, you might find Red Passport to have a little different