Dimension Films // 2002 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 18th, 2003
The set up. The betrayal. Revenge is coming.
Renegade cop Jack Lucas' last stakeout led to the death of his partner and an investigation by internal affairs. Hoping to unwind after a tough review board hearing, he wanders into a local bar to try and drown his sorrows. Instead, he literally runs into a fey prep named Ollie who condescends and unnerves him. Throughout the course of the evening, Jack loses his credit card and gun (under mysterious circumstances) to the irritating brat. And wouldn't you know it, Ollie has nothing decent planned for this soon to be suspected peace officer. First, Ollie kills the head investigator on Jack's I.A. case. Then he plants evidence making it look like Jack did it. Trying to find out just who this homicidal pest is, Lucas traces him to a stripper named Jessica, working at a sleazy men's club. Jessica is afraid of Ollie (he's threatened her in the past) and her new connection to Jack once again makes her a prime target. But Ollie mixes things up and kills Jessica's roommate. As the evidence continues to mount against Jack, he can only put his faith in his new partner, hoping she believes in his innocence and will help him clear his name. But it may be more complicated than it seems. Because Ollie just might have had something to do with the death of Jack's mother two years previous. And as the old cliché goes, this times it's personal. And Malevolent.
You can feel Malevolent begin to heave and crumble under the weight of its own ambitions. Not even a halfway decent car chase at the end (which one suspects was lifted from other films, as the passengers in each vehicle multiply randomly and the color of the blue BMW is all over the spectrum) can keep it from simply running out of gas. There is a monumental desire on the part of this film to turn the whole psychotic killer mystery thriller on its formula by making the police officer as troubled and potentially suspicious as the criminal. It also tries to shy away from the gruesomeness of multiple murders and the bug-eyed maniac behind them to focus on a kind of psychological mind game where cat and mouse may be interchangeable. Still, no matter how hard it tries, Malevolent just can't get the job done. It doesn't help that the movie convolutes matters from the very beginning. There are too many meet-cute moments, overlapping storylines, and flagrant coincidences for an audience to get a firm grasp on what is happening. Then once the plot proper kicks in, the movie merely goes through some motions, fizzles, decides that it really can't end without reverting back to clichés (vendettas, escaped mental patients, personal connections to the crime), and then does so. Here it tried so damned hard to break conventions, but it just has to go and ruins it all by resorting to the standard, tired, and dated "talking expository killer" moment that zaps the potential zeitgeist out of all that came before. Malevolent wishes to get by on occasionally clever writing, a decent performance or two and a little feminine eye candy to make the usually jaded movie mystery buff sit up and pay attention. Unfortunately, if they do, they will see how utterly pointless and disappointing the movie really is.
Needless to say, Lou Diamond Phillips has come a long way from his portrayal of Richie Valens as Gomer Pyle in La Bamba. He is actually very good here, playing a chain smoking reluctant hero cop, brooding over the death of his mother with a mixture of denial, danger, and depression. Occasionally, you can see through him to his actual "acting" as he is so overly mannered, but more times than not there is a natural quality about his work that makes him an intriguing, if underused actor in present day Hollywood. As the evil genius whose unstable situation causes all the casualties, Edoardo Ballerini has a blank, near featureless look (kind of like a hockey mask mixed with a frat boy), which actually propels him into a daunting, rather disturbing presence. When he opens his mouth, however, he comes across as a miffed Brit who can't believe Aunt Helga isn't serving kippers for breakfast. The only other recognizable member of the cast is Remote Control's wrong answer to Vanna White, the former Kari Wuhrer, though what she is here for, besides rather unsavory fantasy fodder, is anyone's guess. The strip club subplot never pans out and we don't even get a decent nosh of nudity to spice things up (the most exotic aspect about these dancers is that they keep all their clothes on). Just like the rest of this mostly misguided movie, Malevolent is all about lure and replace. Just when it looks like the killer will be motiveless, we get a surprise visit to Phillip's/Lucas' psychologist Pop, who tells us just how crackers in the cabesa this certifiable whack job really is. We expect a relationship to blossom between the cop and the curvy dancer. Instead, they can barely share coffee together. And we think the plot will coalesce into a thrilling bit of bravado. But no, Malevolent finds a way to avoid professionalism and simply slinks away, to be quickly forgotten.
Dimension sells this film all wrong. The cover art and case insert make the film look like Friday the 13th meets The Killer when what it really is can be summed up in one word (no it's not malevolent...sorry): derivative. Just like the transfer offered. The dim men at Sion do nothing special with the anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image. It looks dull and indistinct with none of the robust clarity one expects from this new digital format. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is a little better, since it does offer a few choice moments of channel-to-channel sonic surfing. But alas, once again, this Mickey Mouse trademarked operation offers some standard, sub strata trailers buffered by the incredibly inane promo spot for the studio itself, which seems out of place and over long, even at fifteen seconds.
So maybe one day someone will have the guts to make a big budget, all-star serial killer film that doesn't provide some weirdly warped childhood incest trauma for the reasons why Bad Ronald must kill. It would be nice to see evil portrayed on the big screen without resorting to insanity, depravity, or spell casting dogs. A loose canon policeman trying to cope with a pure murdering machine, without remorse or convoluted backstory, would and could make for intriguing, nail biting thrills. But as it stands, we are left with Malevolent, a movie that tries to offer something different, but can't help but dress it in the same old hand-me-downs of a dozen other equally flawed films. It wants to be unconventional and unusual. It ends up being unsatisfying.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Sneak Peeks