LAFF 2007: Stuttering to a Close

After spending the other day at the Landmark, surrounded by bookstore windows advertising the latest upcoming boy-wizard bonanza, I had to wonder if I'm the only one who wants to chant "Har-ry Potter and the DEATHLY HALLOWS! Har-ry Potter and the DEATHLY HALLOWS! " in the style of the Beastie Boys yelling about Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.

Hoping readers have the faintest clue what's being talked about here. If not, let's keep moving along. Seated at the free Internet tables in the Red Room pounding out yesterday's blog entry, the guy next to me opined that I looked like a cross between Charlie Sheen and John Cusack.

You see my headshot right there on the left -- what on earth is this guy talking about? I opined that if he were correct, I'd probably get more dates.

Bad move. Shoulda known better. This gives him the opening to talk for about half an hour about how to pick up women. Like I never heard "be yourself" before.

Anyway, let's talk movies...

ROCKET SCIENCE is a bit like the fictional version of Resolved, but without the black kids, directed by one of the guys who did Spellbound. Set in the suburbs of Trenton, New Jersey, it's about a shy high-schooler named Hal (Reece Thompson) with a stuttering problem who is recruited by cutie Ginny (Anna Kendrick) to join the debating team after her previous hunky partner Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) mysteriously cracked up and ran away.

Ginny explains her logic thusly: "Deformed people are the best, maybe because they have a deep well of anger. It serves them well."

Based on Resolved, the debate tactics seem about right, though the fast-talking is kept a little slower than in reality just so the audience has a hope in hell of figuring it out. The tactic outlined in the documentary of having every negative argument somehow lead to nuclear war is used.

Then there are the obligatory quirky indie touches -- an unhappily married couple doing "music therapy" by playing Violent Femmes songs on the cello and piano, Hal's mother dating a Korean judge and thereby making the class nerd into Hal's kinda-stepbrother, a throwaway joke about sex with dogs, etc. It's all good.

Menahwile, Hal trains for the debate to try and get rid of his stutter -- and things get extremely shaken up when it turns out Ginny is transferring to another school, and only recruited Hal as so he'd be an easy patsy for her new team.

There are two things about Rocket Science that are fantastic, and almost unprecedented in American cinema:

1. The kids actually look high-school age. 2. The underdog does not become the big campus hero at the end.

This may be the most realistic high school underdog comedy since Welcome to the Dollhouse, if you consider that a comedy. This one's funnier and less painful, though it also doesn't offer an unqualified retort to the advice Hal's counselor gives him: "Go back to living the way you were before you tried exceeding your limitations!"

So it's not necessarily 100% feel-good, but one movie that definitely does fit that description is FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: OUTBREAK ON A PLANE (see what they did there? A spoof of two titles in one!). Unlike Snakes on a Plane, this movie begins with the airliner already in the skies, with a crew of oddball passengers that includes a nun, a Japanes guy with a bow-tie, two fratboy types playing football in the aisles, a federal prisoner (played by Kevin J. O'Connor from The Mummy), a black golfing star who carries his putter with him to his seat, an undercover federal marshall, and several mad scientists. Oh, and there's also "some last-minute, top-level government contracting shipment" in the hold, watched over by a dude in a biohazard suit (Brian Thompson), who's just chillin'.

Meanwhile, at a building labeled "The Pentagon" in subtitles, even though it doesn't look at all like the Pentagon, generals reveal via expository dialogue that the government cargo is a strain of malaria that has mutated into zombie disease. Why it went on a commercial plane at the last minute is anybody's guess, but reality isn't the point here. Every character is either a gleeful idiot or a ridiculous caricature, and you just can't wait for them to get eaten. Most of them are.

Though this movie lacks the star power of a Samuel L. Jackson, it is arguably a significant improvement over Snakes on a Plane (and has been picked up by New Line). It's cheaper, cheesier, and a whole lot gorier -- a gleeful exploitation piece, rather than a PG-13 movie with a couple R-rated reshoots. Though it takes a while for zombie girls to go wild, and doesn't have any good nudity or sex scenes to speak of (Snakes wins on that score, just as having Jackson trumps almost everything here), this isn't some studio-produced deadsploitation pic, but the real deal, and kudos to the studio for picking it up (I suspect Jeff Katz had something to do with it).

The crowd loved it. If you have any affinity at all for the idea of zombies on a plane, you will too.


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