Anchor Bay // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 23rd, 2012
Every degree matters.
Here is why we look back so fondly on TV sitcoms of yore:
Because in an old sitcom -- probably even some newer ones -- you put characters into a possibly life-threatening predicament, and you get comedy gold. Of course, since it's a sitcom, we know our characters aren't in any real peril, so when Lucy gets trapped in a freezer, we're aware that the episode isn't going to end with Ethel and Ricky finding her frozen corpse; similarly, we know that Oscar and Felix won't die in the basement when they're locked in.
In films, when people get trapped in an uncomfortable place, it's generally played for thrills. While it's easier for a sitcom to place its familiar characters in a single setting and let them banter and try to escape for 22 minutes, "trapped in a [fill in the blank]" movies have it tougher; we have to meet and get to know the characters well enough to care what happens to them, and there has to be some tension generated as to how or if they'll survive. Some films pull this off well -- Lifeboat is a great movie, and Buried and Frozen, while no classics, build suspense through some neat plot twists and well-drawn characters.
247° F (247 Degrees Fahrenheit) is a "trapped-in-a-place" thriller that doesn't pull it off well at all. Yes, there's lengthy set-up time for us to get to know the characters, and yes, there's a time-is-running-out predicament; but the characters are as dull and airless as a humid barn, and the predicament comes off as less immediate than inconvenient.
So, four young people visit a cabin by a lake owned by the cousin of one of them. Three of them end up trapped in the sauna. They spend most of their time saying things like, "It's hot! I can't stand it! Let me out!"
And that is the totality of 247° F. It offers nothing beyond the thrill of watching three people in bathing suits scream and sweat.
For something like this to work, you need interesting characters and a few plot twists; unfortunately, 247° F offers none of that.
We get damaged Jenna (Scout Taylor-Compton, The Runaways), who three years earlier was in a car wreck with her fiancée, and she was stuck under his corpse all night; her friend Renee (Christina Ulloa, Charmed), who has no notable personality, and her drunken, obnoxious boyfriend Michael (Michael Copon, Dark House); and Michael's friend Ian (Travis Van Winkle, Asylum), who is smart and sensitive, and whose hulking stoner uncle (Tyler Mane, Troy) owns the cabin. Everyone is going to an invitation-only pagan festival.
Since they're all stuck in the sauna, they of course never make it to the pagan festival, which is a shame: a few partying pagans could have injected some life into this. There is nothing interesting or original about these people at all, so being stuck in a sauna with them is as miserable as it sounds. These characters are so wooden they could have been played by the Timbertoes. We spend half an hour with them before the sauna problem, and this is actually the most grueling part of the film, as we're compelled to listen to hideously inane and unnatural sounding dialogue. All they do is say things that reinforce their basic character types -- so, the smart and sensitive Ian says smart and sensitive things, the boorish and irresponsible Michael says boorish and irresponsible things, and so on.
They also make a few early trips to the sauna before they get stuck inside, which means more meaningless chatter punctuated by scenes of our soon-to-be victims jumping in the lake to cool off.
Once they're trapped -- and not in an especially interesting way -- everyone panics. Level-headed suggestions like, "Yeah, it's uncomfortable, but my uncle will be back from the pagan festival in a few hours" are tossed off, and hysteria sets in immediately, meaning there's no buildup of suspense, and not enough to sustain the film for almost another hour.
The smart, sensitive Ian is called upon to explain how saunas work and what heatstroke is -- yes, one character has never heard of heatstroke -- and he conveniently knows the temperature at which your skin turns to pancake batter and your blood turns to syrup.
Unfortunately, Ian doesn't have the kind of wacky MacGyver-style sensibility that causes him to attempt any feckless or brilliantly proactive ways out of the predicament, so he ends up just joining the others banging and screaming, and screaming and banging, and sweating and griping.
Van Winkle is the only actor who makes any real impression here, and that's because he seems to be slowly turning into Jack Palance. He's got this slightly squinty stare and perpetually uneven grin, and he talks in a kind of low, modulated tone throughout. Perhaps if he starts playing against his all-American good looks and tries some creepy character parts, he'll rise above the herd of handsome yet forgettable young actors who appear in handsome but forgettable films like this.
The disc looks and sounds just fine, as you'd expect from a new release. There's nothing exceptional about the tech, but it does the job. For supplements, there's a commentary by director Levan Bakhia and a few deleted scenes.
I think this would have played much better as an episode of The Honeymooners.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site