Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mean Old Dennis Quaid: Beneath the Darkness

When a director’s biography boldly trumpets his appearance in a film skewered by Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is probably best to be on guard. This is definitely true of the latest film from Martin Guigui, the proud co-star of Time Chasers. Although he has evidently done some fine documentary work profiling jazz musicians, his foray into the psychological horror-thriller genre is largely ‘bot worthy. There is indeed cause for headshaking in Guigui’s Beneath the Darkness (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Obviously Vaughn Ely is a little off. He has his names reversed. The former high school football star is now a respected funeral home director, which is a convenient job if you want to keep a dead body preserved in the attic, hypothetically speaking. Oh, whatever. Drawn by his freakiness, the brooding Travis’s whitebread friends want to break into Ely’s house for a look-see. When he predictably busts them, the unstable undertaker offs one of his friends right before his eyes.

Naturally the dumb coppers believe the twitchy Ely instead of the sensitive slacker with a history of seeing ghosts. However, Travis and Abby, the cheerleader he has been carrying a torch for, will get themselves some Hardy Boys-style justice. They just need to prowl around in the dark long enough until they find something incriminating.

According to the press materials, seeing Beneath come to fruition fulfilled a lifelong dream of the late screenwriter Bruce Wilkinson. Well, God bless him. You’ll see better films and you’ll see worse, but thanks to the drive of Wilkinson, you will probably never see Dennis Quaid act so bitchy again.

Man, does he ever ham it up as Ely, but that is wholly appropriate in a film like this. Unfortunately, everyone around him is rather dull, particularly the pedestrian Tony Oller as the sullen Travis. Friday Night Lights alumnus Aimee Teegarden’s Abby hardly makes any impression either. (Disappointingly, she spells her name with two e’s, so presumably she is not related to musicians Jack and Charlie Teagarden, which would have at least been something interesting to say about her.) Even the journeyman character actor Brent Cullen, who greatly elevated the clichéd Puncture, just gives viewers the standard Barney Fife, dubbed Sgt. Nickerson here.

Beneath was shot on location in Smithville, Texas, as were Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or winning Tree of Life and Sandra Bullock’s rom-com, Hope Floats. You just never know what you’re going to get when you film there. To its credit, there is no real gore in Beneath, but there are not any chills either. Aside from Quaid’s over the top turn, it is pretty forgettable stuff, safely skippable when it opens tomorrow (1/6) in New York at the AMC Village 7.