a year-end insult, film sites are eagerly reporting the VOD-destined horror
movie Playback is the lowest grossing
film of 2012, raking in a paltry $264.
There is no secret to its anemic performance, having only been released
for one week on one screen, with no promotional fanfare. It is not very good either, but there were
far worse stink-bombs released in theaters this year, some of which were
torturously defended by critics who should have known better. Meriting a solid D, Michael A. Nickles’ Playback (trailer here) is considerably more entertaining and
accomplished than Dustin Lance Black’s Virginia,
Benjamin Dickinson’s First Winter,
Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, and Spike
Lee’s Red Hook Summer, 2012’s absolute
Black’s Virginia is the single worst
film of the year, but it seems almost unfair to single it out. After all, Black recognized how bad it was
when it screened at Toronto and tried to fix it. It didn’t work, but at least he made the
attempt. Next time he ought to start
with a real story rather than merely lashing out at the Mormon Church of his
with endless scenes of urination, defecation, and disturbingly rough sex, The Paperboy is just a lurid sweaty
mess. A showcase for horrendous
overacting, it deserves a long life on the Rifftrax circuit. Indeed, many of the cartoonish characters
seem like they ought to have serious issues with wire hangers.
Red Hook would have been
painfully predictable and clichéd had it been released in the early 1990’s. A tiresome attack on the Church and
gentrification, RHS might well slow
down the latter since it makes the Brooklyn neighbor look profoundly un-neighborly.
speaking, Playback is impressively
middling fare. It starts with a gory
buzz-killing opening, apparently choreographed to defy all common sense. For some reason, notorious family killer
Harlan Diehl had a thing about video-taping his crimes. Playback appears to follow in the V/H/S tradition, but instead of telling
five creepy stories, it tells one crummy one.
It also mercifully ditches the camcorder POV in the present day, for the
re-enactments of the Diehl murders as part of an ill-conceived journalism class
project, Julian Miller becomes obsessed with the case. Eventually, he learns
Diehl was a descendant of pioneering French filmmaker Louis Le Prince, whom his
video store boss tells us was rumored to be Satan himself (Louis Le Prince =
Lucifer Prince of Darkness). As
half-baked premises go, that’s not bad, but Nickles just lets it wither on the
vine. Instead, we see scene after scene
of Quinn, a loser working for the local TV station, maliciously loading gear,
apparently under the sway of Le Prince’s possession.
Quinn, Toby Hemingway seems determined to do the world’s worst Johnny Depp
impression. Speaking of shtickiness, Christian
Slater is also on-hand (indeed, he is taking the brunt of the media coverage)
as Officer Frank Lyons, a cop paying Quinn for flash-drives of video recorded in
the high school girls’ shower room. Yes,
how the mediocre have fallen. On the
plus side, Mark Metcalf (Neidermeyer in Animal
House) has a few decent scenes as former reporter Chris Safford.
In truth, the rest of the cast is reasonably
adequate as the dead horny teenagers.
However, there is absolutely no underlying logic to the supernatural
goings on. Essentially, Playback is a run-of-the-mill rip-off of
The Ring, but it is relatively honest
about that. As a result, it stands taller
than 2012’s more heralded quartet of shame.
It is now available on VOD and streams on Netflix. There were plenty of films worth celebrating
in 2012 as well. To revisit some, check
out my year’s best over at Criticwire.
Labels: Christian Slater, Dustin Lance Black, Lee Daniels, Spike Lee, Worst of 2012