Judge Gordon Sullivan was looking forward to a biopic on the elevator inventor. What a letdown.
Our review of Otis [Blu-ray], published October 8th, 2008, is also available.
He will have a date for the prom.
I've got a story for you, and it's gonna be funny. Imagine a remake of Last House on the Left, but instead of the fateful locket ending up with the killer, it ended up with one of his siblings, and then, the parents of the murdered girl kill the wrong guy. That's hilarious, right? Right? Otis, from the same guys who brought us Sublime, tells the story of a serial pedophile/killer who abducts young women to enact his fantasies. However, when he encounters the uber-suburban Lawson family, they decide to take some revenge. Whoops, they get the wrong guy, so now everything's a mess. It has the makings of top-notch satire, but Otis never quite gets off the ground.
Facts of the Case
Otis (Bostin Christopher in his first starring role) is a creepy, mentally-deficient pizza delivery guy who likes to kidnap teenage girls and imprison them in a cell. He names them all Kim, and eventually forces them to act out his twisted high school fantasies, complete with prom. If the girls don't cooperate, they have a nasty habit of disappearing, only to be replaced with another teenage victim. Although his only comfort is his victims, Otis has a blissfully unaware brother, Milo (Kevin Pollack, The Usual Suspects), who tries to look out for him. As the film opens, Otis' latest victim meets a grisly fate, so he must search out another Kim. While out delivering pizzas, he encounters the Lawson family, the perfect example of middle-American suburbia. The Lawsons' daughter, Riley (Ashley Johnson, Fast Food Nation), is nice to Otis and he selects her as his latest victim. Although kidnapped and subjected to Otis' whacked-out world, Riley manages to escape. Her parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) opt for revenge, seeking out Otis' lair with an impressive bloodlust. Capturing Otis, they inflict all manner of torture on him. Too late, however, they discover that it is not Otis, but his brother they have maimed, and all hell breaks loose.
I like my comedy black as sin, the darker the better. Done right, I like to laugh in the face of death and gross bodily injury because the best gallows humor reminds us of why it's great to be alive. Lots of comedy comes out of humorous juxtaposition, and laughing at something as somber as death can make for great comedy. However, a problem plagues black comedy (and all comedy to a certain extent): the need for commitment. Premises must be taken to an extreme conclusion to be made funny. It's not enough to laugh at a guy dying of a heart attack: he needs to have a heart attack while riding a bike that gets hit by a bus, preferably driven by a semi-blind octogenarian. Then, if it's going to be funny at all, and only then, does it become truly funny instead of mildly amusing. The trouble with Otis is that it never leaves the realm of mildly amusing.
The extras on this disc are careful to point out that Otis is a response to (among other things) the recent crop of "torture porn" (their phrase, not mine) films like the Saw and Hostel franchises. Unlike the torture-porn flicks, Otis is supposed to be funny instead of serious and attempts to make fun of the bloodlust inherent in the middle-American disposition. I was with the film up to this point. However, the torture-porn genre has redefined the boundaries of cinema in terms of how much human misery a cinema audience will put up with. The discomfort bar has been raised. Had Otis been released ten years ago, it might have been humorous and shocking (not to mention an instant cult favorite). As it is now, everything about the film seems a little pale in light of the recent trends in horror, and, as I pointed out, without the extremity, Otis is only ever mildly amusing; the audience recognizes the various aspects of our culture which are being sent up without ever really finding the send-ups funny.
Shot in HD for peanuts, Otis looks pretty good. The video was occasionally noisy and the colors weren't as strong as I would have liked. Here's hoping the eventual Blu-ray release will let the film shine. The audio (including the well-chosen music) is well-balanced and clear.
For a small direct-to-video project, Otis gets a fair amount of supplements. First up is a commentary with Director Tony Krantz and Writer Erik Jendresen. These two have about 20 minutes of info to impart, and after that they mainly crack lame jokes and narrate what's on screen. If you want to know more about the movie, then those first 20 minutes are worth listening to. We also get a making-of featurette that includes input from the cast. A lot of info is repeated between the featurette and commentary, but it's nice to hear from the cast, including stalwarts Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas. We also get an additional scene that focuses on Otis' movie making. If you enjoyed the film, it's a nice addition. My favorite supplement was the alternate "festive" ending, which I think would have improved the film greatly. Although the commentary is a bit of a waste, the rest of the extras are likely to please fans of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The acting in this film is fan-freakin-tastic. Although I think the script stumbles in not being extreme enough, the characters contained therein are rich fodder for an amazing crop of actors. Veterans Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas are amazing as the Lawsons, constantly bickering while still supporting each other. Kevin Pollack turns on the intensity as Otis' brother Milo, offering up some of the funnier lines in the film. I haven't seen Ashley Johnson in a while, but she was amazing as a version of the "final girl" stereotype. Finally, although I thought the character could have been more effectively written, Bostin Christopher really commits to the role of Otis. I look forward to his future work.
The one character I thought was well-done was Agent Hotchkiss. He's an incompetent FBI agent, and although his character was pretty tired and obvious, there was something about the way that Jere Burns played him that kept me interested in him long after he should have grown stale. I wouldn't say watch the film just for his performance, but he was an oasis of humor and an otherwise fairly arid comedy.
Otis is going to have a fan base. If the premise really moves you, then it's not a complete waste of time. Perhaps you're less jaded then your humble reviewer and will get a bigger kick out of it.
For a horror film, even a horror comedy/satire, Otis is cursed with one of the most difficult problems in the genre: it lacks teeth. Without the bite that comes from being extreme, neither the horror nor the comedy comes across, which is a shame because the premise is a strong one. However, if you enjoyed the film during its short festival run, then this DVD will satisfy you with a strong audiovisual presentation and a few worthwhile extras.
I enjoyed Otis quite a bit more than Krantz's and Jendresen's Sublime (which isn't very difficult, considering my opinion of Sublime), so by my calculations, I should be in love with their twelfth film. Keep trying, guys.
Otis is guilty of wasting a prime satiric opportunity. Now where did I put that blender?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Director Tony Krantz and Writer Erik Jendresen
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