Evil Never Looked So Good. Yeah right.
Back in the day, when I actually perused and purchased VHS cassettes, there existed a copious bargain section right smack dab in the center of my local Suncoast/Media Play stores. Nestled amongst these disheveled racks of bottom-barrel nuggets like Pieces, Return to Horror High, Rad, Thrashin', BMX Bandits, et cetera, would undoubtedly be garish boxtops boldly highlighted with familiar faces and recognizable names, yet carrying indistinguishable, unknown movie monikers. Sure enough, there would be Bobby D. or Al P., Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, heck even Michelle Pfeiffer alongside Demi Moore, their identifiable mugs enlarged and firmly planted on the mass-marketable cover of an otherwise nameless, faceless, surely unfamiliar film title. Hey, they were priced on the cheap, so every once in a while, against your better consumer judgment, you'd take a chance on one of these budget tapes, figuring how bad could it be, it's at least got (insert name of noted favorite recognizable thespian here) in it. Soon said tape unceremoniously found its way to a resting place proper: torn, cracked, and crushed at the bottom of the nearest garbage can.
Wicked is one of these godawful films that should have, would have, rotted in some forgotten studio storage facility, but for one small caveat that studio executives could not have then predicted. That qualification being the meteoric, almost unbelievable, rise of its then-unknown young female lead, Julia Stiles, into A-list, bankable superstardom. So, from this very cauldron of corporate resurrection of terrible, yet inexplicably marketable films festering in the dreadful depths of its back catalog, we bring you Wicked.
Facts of the Case
Julia Stiles (Save The Last Dance, Down to You, O) stars as the enticingly wicked Ellie Christianson. She's your typical 14-year-old American gal, going through all the vagaries of those tough, turbulent teenage times, except, as the DVD box states, "Ellie's not the kind of girl that gets mad; she's the kind of girl that gets evil."
That's right, young Ellie is an emotionally disturbed problem child. Although she lives in an idyllic, affluent gated community and sprawling dream house, Ellie hates her self-absorbed mom, and wants to run away to Los Angeles to live on her own. She hates her school; classmates teasingly nickname her Sasquatch due to her growth spurt and tough tomboy demeanor. She hates her pesky little sister too. But she loves her daddy. In fact, she has a sickly unnatural father fixation, and relishes taking over the familial mommy role, in every way physically possible, and by any means necessary.
Before long, Ellie is piling on the makeup, cussing with reckless abandon, and firing up some cigs, rebel child that she is. Then mom is suddenly and violently snuffed out by and unknown killer. Who did it? Was it the sleazy, overbearing next-door neighbor mom was bopping in her spare time? Was it dear old, clueless dad, since their marriage was rapidly heading towards divorce because he was bopping the housekeeper in his spare time? Was it said housekeeper, ticked off after abruptly being fired by mom for moving in on hubby? Or, gulp, could it have been little Miss Ellie, pissed at the world and going further and deeper over the edge with each passing moment?
Who really cares when you have such universally despicable lead characters across the board set up as paper-thin suspects, so utterly unlikable that you really don't care what their fates may be in the end?
Well, Wicked certainly won't win any DVD awards, save for perhaps Ugliest, Most Visually Disturbing Box Cover Art of the Year. Yeech, just take a quick gander at that cover scan above and see if you don't agree! It's cheap and hard on the eyes…just like the film inside the keep case itself. Really, if Columbia wanted to appropriately market this shite, the suited powers-that-be should've at least had the sense to slap a pic of Miss Stiles in her patented Mets belly-shirt and hip-hugging jeans on the cover instead. Sex sells, and America's buying. This repugnant poster art will surely scare away even the biggest, deepest-pocket Stiles fan who inexplicably fell in love with her in Saved the Last Dance and just wants more of the same eye candy.
I'll readily admit that I'm not a member of the cult of Stiles. Sure, she's easy enough on the eyes at times, and she certainly has some modicum of acting ability. Yes, she was rather decent in her small role in State And Main. Perhaps Stiles is a dish best served in small doses. For me, she just seems to lack the charisma and presence to carry an entire production as a breakout lead performer. Here in Wicked, where's it's basically all Stiles, all the time, this painful point was continually hammered home to this reviewer. Am I saying she's yet another talent-impaired Alicia Silverstone-like flash-in-pan performer? Of course not. I just think she'll have a longer-lasting cinematic future evolving into more a Joan Cusack-like character actress where she can get in, steal a couple of scenes, and get out before too much damage is done.
While Stiles' salad-days debut performance here may not be as bad as, say Madonna's auspicious star-making turn in A Certain Sacrifice, Wicked is still pathetically dreadful on the whole. It tries its hardest to be one of those pseudo-stylish, trendy psychological thrillers designed to appeal to clueless direct-to-video audiences of safe soccer-mom suburbia who don't know any better when embarking on those all-important Friday night Blockbuster treks. However, lacking even a scintilla of tension, it fails as a thriller. It likewise fails as a murder mystery because, unless you are a complete ditz, you can see the plot twists coming from a mile away. And, since everything is played straight and ultra-serious, it's not even cheesily over-the-top enough to enjoy in a humorous, Mystery Science Theater sorta way, gathered around the hookah with a screen-mocking group of snickering friends.
Wicked is mindless, forgettable twaddle; in one eye, in one ear, and eventually out your rear—disposable entertainment for the 21st century—the only problem being that it's not even remotely entertaining in the least! In its own ugly way, this is nothing but an irredeemably sick, perverted little flick, mean-spirited garbage full of universally unpleasant characters, substandard acting, static direction, and laughably bad dialogue. To wit, take this golden exchange:
Dad, newly remarried to the ex-housekeeper: "I want you to go downstairs, say you're sorry, and tell her that you hope we have a nice honeymoon."
Ellie, in response: "I won't say that. No. I'll tell her you have a mole on your left ass cheek. I will."
Yeegads, and there is more, oh so much more, where that came from. Even with its short 87-minute runtime, Wicked still drags and drags. And drags some more. It's like watching a never-endingly bad USA cable telemovie, those ones that usually star Tim Matheson, Morgan Fairchild, or one of the guys from Wings.
I'd score this flick a negative if I could, but as it is, I'll give Wicked a big, fat, plastic-fantastic goose egg. That's right, this gets that coveted double zero award, deservedly so. I really don't know if it can get any worse than this, folks. All "talent" involved really should be ashamed for their wasted energy on this appallingly dreadful final product. I hope that paycheck was fat enough to insulate them all, for the duration of their careers in the 'biz, from the fecal Wicked steams continually wafting in through the collective creative sinuses. In my best Jim Nabors-channeling-Gomer Pyle voice, I just want to say, "For shame, for shame, for shame." Wicked is a waste of film stock, a waste of disc space, and a complete waste of time.
For its DVD release, Wicked is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an optional full screen, pan and scan edition available on the flip side of the disc. It's an acceptable transfer, for the most part. Colors are dead on, flesh tones are natural, and sharpness and image detail are fairly solid. There is some consistent grain, but the picture is largely free of any other print dirt or flaws.
Although labeled as such on the back of the keep case, there is no Dolby Digital 5.1 track contained within. Nice false advertising, Columbia. I can't really complain though; this material really would not benefit in the least with this expansive soundscape. As it is, the Dolby Digital 2.0 is perfectly suitable for this film. It's not shatteringly remarkable, but the dialogue is always clear and distinguishable; I'll leave that up to you whether or not this is a good thing. You'll similarly encounter no problems hearing the constant, annoying alterna-pop tunes that regularly pepper the proceedings, although your ears will make every effort to drown out this sonic noise. English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles are included to round out the slim audio options.
Likewise, the special features aren't so special here. The extras are limited to a brief filmography for director Michael Steinberg, Stiles, and Patrick Muldoon. Additionally, you get a lame trailer for Wicked, plus bonus trailers for other Columbia fare like U-Turn, Cruel Intentions 2, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Devil's Own. Really though, what did you expect, that Stiles would step away from her current, high-profile Hollywood projects to record recollections (that she's likely already trying everything in her power to forget) of this early embarrassment? Who in their right mind would want to sift through extras for this excrement?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Methinks I've said enough…move right along to the wrap-up.
Ah, don't you just love it when a movie's title succinctly sums it all up wonderfully with one word. Wicked. Yes, this movie is quite wicked all right, and I don't mean wicked-awesome by that either, dear readers. Avoid this one at all cost, unless you are a seriously depraved Julia Stiles fetishist. Maybe some sickos out there will derive a perverse thrill out of seeing the typically whitebread, squeaky-clean Stiles drop a few f-bombs, guzzle some bubbly, and vamp it up for daddy with incestuous sexual longing; there is medication available for that, I believe. See a doctor, steer clear of this trash, and rent something worthwhile, or at least entertaining, instead.
Guilty as charged…get these wicked, despicable defendants out of my court, and please remove any lingering memories of this dreadful film from my aching eyes and throbbing head at once. Thankfully, the litigants for our next case are now entering the courtroom…
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