Landy Cannon - Jason Parks
Brigitte Kingsley - Summer Vale
Julia Schneider - Renee
Jason Reso - Ricky
Vanessa James - Jasmine
Haley Shannon - Marlene
Genre - B-Movie/Horror/Comedy/Supernatural/Demons/Witches
Running Time - 92 Minutes
Welcome to the first installment of When Wrestlers Act! Just like the section suggests, the blog will now highlight films starring professional wrestlers, regardless of the genre. Since pro wrestling is again being spoken about in the mainstream again in a positive light and so many wrestlers have crossed over into film and television, I'd figure the section would be appropriate and kind of fun.
Now, it's not like I haven't reviewed films starring wrestlers before. John Cena's THE MARINE and 12 ROUNDS are proud members of the WTF? Vault, as well as Kane's SEE NO EVIL. Ted DiBiase Jr. and Ken Anderson both starred in mediocre action films such as THE MARINE 2 and BEHIND ENEMY LINES: COLUMBIA respectively. And then we have decent-to-great stuff like Tyler Mane in X-MEN and the HALLOWEEN films, as well as Roddy Piper in THEY LIVE. Then we have stuff with Hulk Hogan, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Jesse "The Body" Ventura that I haven't even touched yet. So I think When Wrestlers Act will be around awhile for sure.
The first official post for this new segment is for a Canadian B-movie from 2007 that's a bit of THE EVIL DEAD and THE CRAFT combined. It also happens to star a wrestler: WWE's current World Heavyweight Champion Jason "Christian" Reso in one of the major supporting roles. The question is whether Reso is closer to Hulk Hogan or Roddy Piper in terms of movie acting. Let's find out as we step foot into the world of DARK RISING.
Jason Parks (Landy Cannon) is your typical lovesick loser who is still hung up on his high school sweetheart/ex-fiancee Jasmine (Vanessa James). He's orchestrated a camping trip with friends in order to win her heart again. What Jason doesn't know is that Jasmine is involved in a lesbian relationship with a common friend named Marlene (Haley Shannon), unsuspecting inviting both women on the trip - as well as a practicing witch named Renee (Julia Schneider) and Jason's sex-crazed best friend Ricky (Jason Reso).
At the camp, Renee performs a seance to talk to Summer Vale, a girl who is believed to have died after being kidnapped many years ago. Inadvertently, the spell used opens up a strange portal that unleashes a demon looking for blood and a way to turn his victims into demons themselves. Luckily, the portal also unleashes an axe-wielding princess who happens to be a grown up Summer (Brigitte Kingsley), who not only knows a thing or two about battling demons, but does so barely wearing any clothing. Can Summer and her new friends stop the demons from overtaking our world? Or will the demons bring Hell on Earth?
DARK RISING is a Canadian production that takes bits of other films dealing with demons and sorcery, such as THE EVIL DEAD, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, and THE CRAFT. The film tries to be scary, funny, and sexy as we have hot girls who wear tight clothing, with some even engaging in lesbian activities. As well as adding a professional wrestler, DARK RISING could have been either the greatest B-movie ever made on paper, or the most unoriginal and ridiculous on paper. Luckily, it doesn't matter what impression the film gives off on paper, as it happens to be an above average flick that happens to be a decent enough time waster.
The screenplay, written by director Andrew Cymek, is a mixed bag but more good than bad. The story does start out rough during its initial half hour, where characters are introduced and the main idea of the film is set up. The opening scene with Summer being kidnapped is interesting and makes you wonder what's going to happen. Then suddenly, we're introduced to the other characters [obviously taking place years after the kidnapping] and the film really starts to slow down and lose a bit of focus. It's not that the characters are horrible or anything, but they don't really make the best first impression. Jason, our main character, starts out as a whiny pussy of a man who can't understand why his ex, Jasmine, doesn't want to be with him. I guess this is supposed to make him sympathetic and funny, but he comes across as slightly annoying and corny. His best friend, Ricky, is operating a sex hotline and that's all we know about him at that point. Renee is the more interesting one as she's interested in magic and has really weird dreams related to Summer. And Jasmine and Marlene are used to titillate the audience by being tawdry lesbians who don't give a crap that Jason is pining for one of them. So they come across as total bitches who you wouldn't care about if they weren't pleasing on the eyes. The separate arcs with these characters don't work as well as they should due to the presentation of the characters.
Luckily, the film gets a whole lot better once the characters arrive at the camp, interact, and summon Summer and the demonic forces. The last hour of the film is actually a fun watch, with the characters finally becoming more interesting as they develop due to their situation. Jason goes from a whiny puss to a scared, yet willing hero who is tired of being pushed over by those around him, especially Jasmine. Once he learns the truth and realizes that Summer looks at him the way that Jasmine never did, Jason becomes a more likeable character you want to watch. Ricky, with his muscular physique and swagger, ends up being a total coward who is nothing what he says he is. While the girls pretty much remain the same, the introduction of Summer gives the film the kick it needs. She's uber hot. She's tough. And she's interesting because even though she's in her twenties, her mentality is still that of a young girl. She still considers herself a Princess, even though she really isn't and doesn't appreciate others speaking to her like some commoner. When the truth starts coming out and characters start realizing that their lives aren't what they wanted it to be, the film really finds its groove and really shows its B-movie roots that fans are expecting. When the supporting characters start turning into demons themselves, DARK RISING becomes a fun watch.
The film does have its plot holes though. For one, there's plot development with Summer and what really happened to her. Apparently, some sort of government and/or military scientists were involved in her kidnapping, as they ran tests on her and trained her to be a demon hunter. Yet, we're never really sure what it all means and it's never really explained or brought up much until the end somewhat. It just leaves you wondering why these men would kidnap a little girl to turn her into this. Are they demons themselves? Were they called because Summer's father read an incantation from a book of spells? Are they heroes? Villains? Have they done this before to other girls? I don't know what their deal was! Supposedly the sequel to this film, DARK RISING 2: SUMMER STRIKES BACK, is being released today and it seems to focus more on the military/government stuff judging by the trailer.
Now I need to go off on a rant about this type of storytelling because it's been bugging me a while. Why are so many filmmakers these days believing that they can withhold information from a film because they see it having franchise potential? Now if you have those type of expectations because the story you're telling is so rich that it could spread over multiple movies, then that's great. But if you're going to write a film, at least do one that's self contained with just enough left over to continue it in the next installment - that is if the fans want one or not. Giving us glimpses about a pretty big plot point and not explaining why it's so important to a main character and to the audience is lazy and annoying. If it's important for the story to be logical, then it should be developed and explored within that film. If the plot point is so strong, then keep a certain level of mystery and explore the rest of it in the next film. But don't confuse people for the sake of being a tease so you can get them to watch what will happen next. It's not fun for the audience. It feels forced when the story should play out naturally. Especially when it's a low budget B-movie that may or may not deserve a franchise. That's all I'm saying.
Speaking of this certain plot point, the character of Renee has dreams of Summer dealing with these government/military people, as well as he being chained up, fighting a muscle head, and then killing demons in another time and space. And while Renee shares this information with Summer and Jason, what isn't shared is how or why Renee is seeing these things to begin with. Are Renee and Summer connected somehow? Are they relatives? Did practicing magic give Renee special abilities she had no idea she had? I wish I could answer those questions but I don't know them. DARK RISING has interesting, if unoriginal, ideas that fit within the movie. But if don't explain their reasoning for them other than to be a confusing plot device, it'll distract the audience rather than bringing them into your film more.
Then again, DARK RISING seems more focused in making people laugh and/or aroused with its lesbian undertones and pop culture references. Not all the jokes work, which is especially true for the first act of the film where the dialogue tries too hard to make people laugh. But once the situation gets out of hand and the characters have no idea how to deal with it, then the humor comes out naturally. It won't make you hurt your stomach or make your eyes tear, but you'll chuckle and smile at certain things people say or do. As for the sex quotient, let's just say that Andrew Cymek really loves focusing on the female form as much as possible. There's one scene where Jason and Ricky are admiring the girls from afar as they tease them seductively. Summer barely wears any clothing, which I have no complaints about at all. Marlene and Jasmine have a softcore-lite sex scene. And Ricky and Jasmine have a sex scene, but it's more comical than anything. It is what it is and sex sells. But if it's trying to fill plot holes it has no right filling, these scenes don't add much at the end. I would be better off watching porn. At least I'm not expecting any kind of story there. Plus the holes in porn are there to be filled anyway.
Speaking of Cymek's direction, it's actually pretty good. I believe the film was shot on digital and it looks great. The editing works. The pacing, even during the flawed first act, is well done as the film breezes right by. Some of the timing for comedic cues works and sometimes it doesn't, but at least there's an attempt there. I felt some tension during one or two scenes, which was more than I was expecting. I do think the soundtrack was pretty bad. At first, I laughed at some of the songs that would accompany Jason because they were so deliberately cheesy. But after a while, it just got annoying and redundant. But other than that, Cymek directs a fun and cheesy time for the most part.
The special effects are decent. There's CGI for some of the portal and witchcraft stuff. The demon is actually a dude in a demon costume and make up, which is kind of refreshing actually. He looks cheap and fake in his rubber costume, but at least he's not a cartoon. The make up for those who do get possessed by a demon isn't over the top and is enough to be convincing that something is wrong. There's no real gore other than one of the characters getting visibly impaled by the demon. For a low budget, it was a good professional looking job.
The acting was also pretty okay as well. Landy Cannon carries the film well as Jason. He was kind of annoying at first, but Cannon grows on you as the film rolls with his quirky charm and his ability to be the butt of the joke without a sweat. As the character grows stronger and more heroic, Cannon convincingly handles it well. He also looks kind of like Peter Krause, which kept me wanting to watch HBO's Six Feet Under. But that's another story for another time. Brigitte Kingsley is very cool as Summer Vale. She's hot, sexy, and handles her role quite well. Plus she doesn't mind kicking ass in barely any clothing. What a trooper. Julia Schneider is cute as Renee. She had great chemistry with her co-stars. Vanessa James played a seductive bitchy character well in Jasmine. Her transformation towards the end is pretty funny. Haley Shannon does okay as Marlene. And the main reason why this review exists to begin with - Jason Reso as Ricky. While he does tend to overact at times, I thought he played a cowardly meathead pretty damn well. He has charisma and good comic timing as well. I'm surprised WWE hasn't taken advantage of this and used him in some of their films. Then again, Triple H as THE CHAPERONE must have been a priority. Oy vey...
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE SWINGING MY BATTLE AXE
- Summer Vale dressed like a princess as a child, even with a crown on her head. I know that Toddlers & Tiaras was run by demonic forces. R. Kelly's probably involved too.
- Don't recite a language you don't know or understand. You'll only get in trouble. It'll probably open up a gateway for demons to enter through. Or it'll probably lead to BDSM torture led by Madame Vandersexxx in Amsterdam. Neither one is all that great.
- Jason had no idea that his ex, Jasmine, is now a lesbian. I hate it when girls mislead men like that. Why not just tell the guy that instead of Outback Steakhouse, you really wanted Red Lobster? Communication, peeps!
- The demon attacked Marlene and Jasmine during their love making. Looks like Michelle Bachmann had some time on her hands...
- Even though he's a coward, Ricky's gym physique and his extroverted personality makes him a hit with the ladies. Captain Charisma knows how to make the chicks peep with his "killswitch", apparently.
THE FINAL HOWL
DARK RISING is not a film for serious horror fans, but for those who don't mind a silly, cheesy, lightweight B-movie with demons, a pro wrestler who can decently act, and girls wearing next to nothing. It's not a great film nor will it change your life or anything. But it's a fun watch even with its flaws and all. Go into it with an open mind and you might just enjoy DARK RISING for the most part.
2.5 Howls Outta 4