J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Toybox: When Denise Richards Met Mischa Barton


Right, so the idea of taking a long road trip in a 1970s era RV does not sound miserable enough to you? Okay, lets make it haunted by the ghost of its former owner, a notorious serial killer. Now head out into the desert and kiss your butt goodbye. That is basically what happens in Tom Nagel’s The Toybox (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

After the death of his ex-wife, Charles gathers his family, two feuding sons, a daughter-in-law, and a young granddaughter for a tour of roadside attractions. It is supposed to be healing. He must have gotten a heck of a deal on the RV. Officially, it is not supposed to exist anymore. Out of respect for the victims’ family’s Robert Gunthry’s so-called “Toy Box” was slated for destruction, but obviously that did not happen.

So, for a while Charles is tooling down the highway, but he stops to pick up Samantha and her soon-to-die brother, whose car broke down along a lonely stretch of nowhere. Soon thereafter, the RV takes on a life of its own, speeding deep into the desert, where it promptly shuts down, leaving them stranded. At that point, Gunthry starts picking them off, either using the RV itself, or with his ghostly bare hands.

Frankly, Gunthry’s inconsistent nature would be annoying, if this film were worth caring about. Is he a proper ghost? Is he somehow embedded in the RV? If so, how does he take on corporeal form? We don’t know and we don’t care.

Arguably, Denise Richards peaked in the late 90s with films like Starship Troopers, while Mischa Barton’s O.C. prime was in the mid aughts, so there was probably never a time when having them together would have caused a lot of excitement. They both look great, but in 2018, this team-up screams direct-to-DVD. Unfortunately, they are both better than this material.

To give credit where its due, Richards convincingly portrays a justifiably worried mother, who almost makes us feel for her plight. Perhaps Greg Violand fares the best, managing to squeeze some tragic dignity out of Papa Bear Charles. Conversely, it gets painfully tiresome listening to the brothers bark at each other.

It is just not a lot of fun watching people see their loved ones die before their eyes. Nagel never gives his characters any hope, so there isn’t any suspense. As if that were not sufficiently depressing, the audience also has to spend time with that tacky 70s era décor. Not recommended, The Toybox opens tomorrow (9/14) in LA, at the Laemmle NoHo 7.

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