Yes, as I was saying. Brett Leonard. Director of The Lawnmower Man, which was famously Flowers for Algernon with unpleasant cyber-rape, Pierce Brosnan in a tight bodysuit, and a sequel that would get on any bottom 10 movies list. Adapter of Dean Koontz’ Hideaway, with Jeff Goldblum dying, coming back to life, chasing a serial killer, and ending up psychically battling with said killer in an outrageous FX blow-out for no other reason than that Leonard was the “Lawnmower Man guy” and it was kind of expected of him. Helmer of Virtuosity, with Denzel Washington as a disgraced cop with a robotic arm, and Russell “Le Roq” Crowe as a living serial-killer-program made flesh by something to do with very silly non-science. I think the word “nanobots” was bandied around at one point. Seems I don’t remember much of it, except that I liked it more than I should have. Denzel! Le Roq! Come on! Bear in mind I have very low standards.
But not so low that I could find anything good to say about Man-Thing, his adaptation of the Marvel comic. To clarify, Man-Thing is not a euphemism for penis. He’s an ecological, mystical, gooey being living in the Florida Everglades which doubles as the Nexus of All Realities. His full history is available on Wikipedia, and is more interesting than any attempt of mine to recap it. I have so little interest in the character, even though it was often written by Steve Gerber, the writer behind the magnificent Howard the Duck. I’ve not read Swamp Thing either. Not even Alan Moore’s legendary run. I guess I just don’t like reading about non-communicative magical swamp dwelling half-men, even when it’s well-written.
Man-Thing the movie is not well-written. It doesn’t seem to be written at all. I certainly couldn’t tell what was going on. There’s a town called Bywater with a new sheriff who investigates a bunch of disappearances, and there’s an evil oil baron who has built his rig in the middle of the Nexus, and Man-Thing is pissed, and a shaman is pissed too, and Man-Thing kills everyone except for the sheriff and his hott new eco-warrior girlfriend, even though he had the chance and I was wishing for it really a lot, and then Man-Thing disappears in a swamp-tornado thing. Oh, sorry. Spoiler alert!
I could fart a more imaginative and coherent plot. It was written by Hans Rodionoff, who also wrote an excellent horror comic for Vertigo called Mnemovore. It was original, and creepy, and intelligent. If it were adapted as a film, I’d be first in line. So why is Man-Thing such an abomination? Was it the budgetary constraints? Its genesis was amusing. Marvel announced an alliance with Lionsgate Films, supposedly for a series of low-budget adaptations of Marvel properties, and promised they would all get a cinema release. So far, we’ve had the disappointing but entertaining Punisher, with Tom “Homeless Dad” Jane and John “Hairpiece” Travolta, and Man-Thing, which ended up being a Sci-Fi Channel TV movie. Avi Arad’s expensive pants are on fire right now.
Anyway, Marvel are getting flack for the recent drop in quality of their films. I loved the first two X-Men movies and liked the first two Spideys, but other than that their output is disappointing. I admit, with great reluctance, to a fondness for the Fantastic Four movies. They’re awful, but they’re light and fun. And, contrary to the beliefs of a few unhinged individuals on the internet, they are better than the astonishingly bad Olle Sassone / Roger Corman version, which featured a frantically gesticulating Doom…
…played by a rubber pole with a glove on it, waving out of the top of a limousine. Daredevil was okayish, Elektra was very bad, Ghost Rider was appalling (yet my love for lean slices of Nicolas Cage ham saved it. Just). However, compared to Man-Thing, they are all masterpieces. Well, not Ghost Rider, but you get my point.
First strike against it, filming it in Australia with a bunch of actors who can’t be bothered to master a Louisiana accent (yes, not only is it set in the wrong state, it’s filmed in the wrong country). Worst of all is the lead, “hunky” Matthew Le Nevez as the new sheriff who arrives to clean up this one-monster town, dagnabbit.
There’s laconic (which is good), and there’s lifeless (more of a problem). Le Nevez crushes each cliched line under a mortis-like monotone that would make Zooey Deschanel jealous, if she could be bothered to muster the energy. When he’s not doing that he walks around like a Gerry Anderson puppet, arms and legs wobbling away. I really wish I could find his walk on YouTube. Trey Parker and Matt Stone could have saved a fortune if they’d hired him for Team America: World Police.
The rest of the cast are dreadful too, but for the opposite reason, as if attending an all-you-can-eat scenery buffet. The main villain, Frederick Schist, is played by character actor Jack Thompson, who is usually much better than this. I’ll blame Brett Leonard for leading him astray. The love interest is played by Transformers “hottie” Rachael Taylor. I’m still pissed at her for taking screentime away from Buffy and Angel vet Tom Lenk in Transformers. He was cast as a nerdy IT tech who is significantly less hott than Taylor (though significantly more talented), and so is deemed surplus to requirements 15 minutes into the movie. Damn you Michael Bay!
The chemistry between Taylor and Le Nevez is blistering! Well, actually it’s barely recognisable as such, mostly because both actors seem unaware of each other for most of the movie, until Leonard randomly screams out, “Mack on each other, craven acting dogs!” and they suddenly start kissing on each other’s face parts for no apparent reason. It’s as if two strangers on a bus started getting busy right in front of you, and equally as discombobulating.
Of course, all of this is mere window dressing. We watched the damn thing for some Man-Thing action, and we sure got a couple of minutes of it. Luckily for our titular non-hero, various characters like to enter the swamp for very little reason other than to get killed. Again, we could see no reason for this. For all we knew, Man-Thing was phoning Bywater for takeout, and the townsfolk were all moonlighting as delivery men because of the high turnover. After many hints as to what he looks like, we finally see that…er…
Oh great, an Ent with tentacles and red contacts. Worth every penny. Still, it’s good news for Stephen Hopkins’ The Reaping. Watching Man-Thing a couple of days earlier meant that The Reaping wasn’t the worst film set in a Louisiana swamp that we’ve seen this week.