Upon receiving this disc for review, Judge Kerry Birmingham began chanting, "UWE BOLL! UWE BOLL! UWE BOLL!" We wish we were kidding.
A Heart-Stopping Adventure!
For a long time now, director Uwe Boll has been a popular target for internet movie buffs, scorned for his workman-like directorial style and seeming disregard for every aspect of filmmaking besides maintaining the bottom line and turning out product. This undying enmity between Boll and his detractors began with House of the Dead, the first of many video game-to-film adaptations that Boll would bring to the screen with unspectacular results, and hasn't abated in the years and films since. Whether or not his continued career is a sign of the apocalypse, Boll has at least one up on his critics: now he's not only in the business of making movies of dubious quality, he's now in the business of making sequels of dubious quality.
Facts of the Case
Immortal vampire Rayne (Natassia Malthe, Elektra) returns, this time hundreds of years later and in America but still under the employ of the enigmatic Brimstone Society. Outside the remote western town of Deliverance, Rayne discovers her surrogate family has been slaughtered by a gang of vampiric cowboys led by Billy the Kid (Zack Ward, Postal). With the aid of frontier legend Pat Garret (Michael Paré, BloodRayne), Rayne must rid the terror-stricken boomtown of Billy and his gang.
At this stage of his career, appreciating Boll ironically has overshadowed the movies he's making, and Boll's smart enough to capitalize on this (it was while filming this movie that he issued his infamous boxing challenge to his critics). Since a lot of folks now come to one of his movies with the "train wreck" mentality intact, it's easy to forget that there's actually a movie to evaluate on its own merits.
To that end, let's consider BloodRayne 2,the sequel to a largely dismissed movie based on a video game whose major appeal was the outfit and measurements of its protagonist. Anyone unfamiliar with the first film will be lost, as we are plunged into Deliverance with little or no explanation of Rayne, her past, her motivations, or the Brimstone Society. We are given a tenuous connection to the family slaughtered in the farmhouse, but that exists only in its barest form to get Rayne involved in the plight of ol' Deliverance town and is given only faint lip service thereafter.
Apparently created because the production team had a few weeks to spare between pictures, BloodRayne 2 has all the elements of a "real" movie but the ingredients never quite cohere. Using a generic Western set and a gaggle of Canadian Actors You've Seen in Stuff, the film was written and assembled in such a short period of time that the entire production comes off as a lark, and this shows in the production. Very little makes sense, from Billy the Kid's ill-conceived plot to spread vampirism via mass transit to Rayne's hastily assembled Wild Bunch of ethically compromised deputies (including a scamming priest and a psychopathic gunslinger). The look and feel of the movie is cobbled together from other sources, denoted by Boll's obvious and many nods to (and cribs from) the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and, judging by the recurrence of the word "cocksucker," the writers' love of Deadwood. It's a series of clichés and homages dressed in the faintest trappings of a horror movie, with obstacles laid out to provide the most rote and basic of conflicts for our heroine to go through. It hits the beats with sloppy abandon, going through the motions as if doing what's minimally expected of a movie. Beholden to two genres, western and horror, the movie hits as many old chestnuts of each as it can on a mad dash to hit its running time.
The actors are clearly having fun, though fun rarely makes for exceptional performances. The film is stocked with actors from other Boll productions, such as Paré, Ward, and Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill), all of whom chew the scenery and play their roles to the hilt. Malthe, while beautiful, shows little screen presence and even less chemistry with her co-stars, whether she's called upon to spit out a barbed quip or act seductive. Ward plays Billy the Kid as if channeling Gary Oldman, portraying Billy as a flamboyant, effete Eurotrash vampire who broods and preens in his color-coordinated cowboy duds while letting his lackeys do the dirty work. The entire Billy the Kid/Pat Garrett angle actually isn't a bad one, but as executed it's a bit stiff; it's hard to believe anyone taking this version of Billy seriously, let alone believing this is what survived to become the legend, and the fact that Rayne's new partner is Pat "I killed Billy the Kid" Garrett is downplayed to the point that his specific inclusion is pointless. Likewise the priest and the gunslinger (Michael Eklund, Postal and Michael Teigen, Good Luck Chuck), on whom much screen time is wasted, especially Eklund's interminable sermon. Both characters are late introductions in the plot who go on to do very little in the final showdown besides allow Boll to act one of his more shameless Leone homages. The movie is riddled with half-baked ideas and inconsistencies like this, a patchwork of workable concepts left unexploited and silly ideas executed with all the subtlety and slickness of a stage production by the Little Racsals.
Ultimately, the film is best summed up by its writers as a movie you just put on and have a beer while watching, and that's as good a description as any. If even the screenwriters are hard pressed to take their own work seriously, it's hard to begrudge the movie being what it is: a quickly made, competently produced movie suitable for air on basic cable or a goofy rental. It more or less resembles what a movie ought to be, just shorn of things like vision, enthusiasm, or ambition. There was probably a worthwhile franchise somewhere in this character, but between the two films and Boll's not-so-tender ministrations, it's a listless exploitation series with production values that keep it just above grindhouse levels. Vampires and cowboys aren't likely to ever be cross-genre high art, but there's surely a better way to do it than this.
Both picture and sound are better than they have any right to be, though the layer change is particularly obtrusive. Of the extras, Boll's commentary is almost more entertaining than the film itself. Almost a direct continuation of his Alone in the Dark commentary, Boll sounds off on the vagaries of low-budget filmmaking and the sheer frantic madness of being Uwe Boll, Director. He's recording the commentary, he informs us, at the same time executives are screening Postal in another part of the building, where he'll have to field questions afterward (he can't be accused of not keeping busy). He takes two phone calls over the course of 80 minutes, pausing his commentary to engage in some conversational German (just let it go to voicemail, Uwe!). Briefly joined by Director of Photography Mathias Neumann, Boll manages to stay focused long enough to give some insights into the practical elements of making movies on a modest scale—shooting in an abbreviated time frame, working with and writing scenes for a pre-existing set, combating the weather (ah, winter in Vancouver!), filming knowing you're going straight to DVD, what to do when one of your sets burns down, and so on. Once Neumann leaves, however, Boll begins to digress, sourly lamenting "prude" North American actresses who won't do nudity on film (he used the same term to describe "C-list actress" Tara Reid) and his many detractors on the Internet (he claims that they all change their minds once they see Postal, apparently the Citizen Kane of video game action-comedies). All this happens before Boll leaves the commentary with a full fifteen minutes remaining, leaving the rest of the film to play out in complete silence. Wow.
Just as telling is a shoddily produced featurette (the only credit reads "Credits Not Contractual"). Featuring on-the-set interviews with the cast and crew, still more of the movie's hasty origins come to light, as Malthe relates her surprise when, long after being cast, she's told that she'd be playing the lead role vacated by Kristanna Loken. The writers, apparently game and affable, know that what they're making is neither high art nor a blockbuster and aren't shy about saying so. Zack Ward gets the last word, saying that he "kicks Ben Kingsley's ass" when it comes to villainous performances in the BloodRayne movies, which is true enough. Depending on your point of view, this is either a slam on Boll's inability to coax decent performances out of strong actors or Kingsley's sleepwalking performance in the first film. Also included are the usual passel of deleted and extended scenes (even more inessential than usual here)and a digital version of one of Digital Webbing's BloodRayne comic books, Tibetan Heights #1, which is in a lot of ways more entertaining than either the video games or the movies (though once again, it's proven that a comic book on a screen is never as cool as holding a paper one in your hands). Included as a bonus DVD-ROM disc is the original 2002 PC game, which is decent enough, if slightly dated.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, the music evokes is rather nice. And Malthe does fill out a pair of leather pants nicely.
The product here isn't a bad movie; what they're selling is a bad movie by Uwe Boll. That it's vampires and cowboys and a video game character is almost beside the point. We want to see what Boll's doing this time, how he's doing what he's doing and somehow getting away with it. Boll does, indeed, get the last laugh: by wanting to see him fail, we're giving him attention, keeping him employed, and turning him into his own brand that makes the actual material he's working on more or less irrelevant. When Boll repeatedly says he hopes to make a third BloodRayne, this time set in World War II, we believe him, and we dread it. But at the same time, I know I'm absolutely going to see BloodRayne 3.
You got me, Uwe. You got me.
Guilty. But a pleasure? Probably not. Look, if I boxed Uwe Boll, I know I'd lose, so let's just leave it at that.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
• Commentary with Director Uwe Boll and Director of Photography Mathias Neumann
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