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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Vacancy

I feel terrible about being so late this week in getting anything on-line about the latest thriller, Vacancy, now playing at the Essex Cinemas. My perfect husband decided that since my birthday fell over the weekend he should surprise me with a whirlwind trip to New York City for a couple of days filled with Broadway shows, late night bar-hopping, and beach-combing along the shores out in the Hamptons.

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t get to see
Vacancy before our trip because if I did I’d probably have ended up sleeping at the airport instead of our hotel. Okay, so we stayed at the Marriott in Times Square, not exactly in the middle of nowhere, but it would have still creeped me out just thinking about what could happen to us in a rented room away from home.

That’s the key to the story of
Vacancy ~what is the most horrible thing that can happen to a couple when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? That’s what happens to bickering Amy (Kate Beckinsale; Click) and David Fox (Luke Wilson; My Super Ex-Girlfriend), a couple on the verge of divorce who are returning from a farce of a trip to Amy’s parents’ anniversary party, where they kept their marital problems a secret so as not to ruin the celebration. Now, alone, and off the Interstate on a desolate patch of road that seems to be practically forgotten, their anger and pain is raw. Amy is full of guilt because she was the driver of the car that was in an accident that killed their three-year-old son Charlie. For her, even mentioning the boy’s name is taboo, too painful to approach, while her estranged husband wants to remember him every day and keep his memory alive. No wonder they are headed down the road to some country western song ending. That is, until the car craps out and they end up schlepping to the only motel for miles.

There’s no country western song around that could adequately describe what a dump the Pinewood Motel is. This is the sort of place that would give Norman Bates a stiffy. As a matter of
fact, the Pinewood looks almost too much like the Bates Motel from Psycho to not draw comparisons. Even motel clerk Mason (Frank Whaley; World Trade Center) has that Bates family “shine.” Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that writer Mark L. Smith (Séance) opted not to give the weasely little man a surname. Maybe he wanted us to think of him as a forgotten member of the Bates family. Who knows? Anyway, the lucky (?) Foxes are ironically sent off to the “Honeymoon Suite” for the night to wait it out until the town’s sole mechanic comes to work in the morning. Now what could possibly go wrong? No after-hours room service? No chocolate mints on the pillows? The wallpaper clashes with the drapes? There’s still blood and guts on the wall from the last guests being slaughtered there? It’s always something.

Sure enough. It turns out that since the locals there can’t get cable they apparently get their entertainment in other ways, mainly by slicing and dicing the few and far between travelers who wander into town. Apparently this nameless little burg is the snuff film capital of the world, and Amy and David Fox have just been slated to star in their latest feature.

Basically that is all there is to the plot of
Vacancy other than the usual cat and mouse game between the captors and the would-be victims as they pop in and out of underground tunnels and zip from one room to another with nowhere to hide that is not monitored by cameras. Of course everything is dark and shadowy; of course there are no other guests at the motel to turn to for help, and, of course, the only working phone is right smack in the middle of the chief psycho’s living room.

I’ll confess I did jump more than a few times. Director Nimród Antal (Kontroll) is good at incorporating all the standard Halloween-like moments into the movie, and even though you just know something is going to pop out of the dark as soon as the “good” character turns away from looking directly into that blackness, it still works. Why? No doubt Antol succeeds where other “B” movie auteurs fail because he takes the time up front to help us care about the protagonists and see them as more than just meat for slaughter as the Friday the 13th series is infamous for doing. Even though David and Amy are falling apart as a couple we know that their split is because they can not cope with the loss of their son. It is not because they do not love one another, and, as a result, we are involved in wanting to see them survive and conquer so that they will realize their crazy mistake and, well, gosh darn it, kiss and make up.

One great lesson to be learned from Vacancy is obvious. Don’t take shortcuts on rural country roads. The other is to cast that other Wilson brother in your movie if you expect it to be a hit. I’m sorry, Children, but it is true. Luke Wilson may be the pretty Wilson brother, but he has the charisma of a coma patient. Maybe if someone hit him in the face with a shovel it would help. It certainly hasn’t hurt Owen’s career to have a nose that looks like it is lost and going in two directions at once. If anything, it has helped make him fascinating to study and given him a distinct “look” that is his alone. Poor Luke is as distinct as fog and his performances inevitably seem vaguely drawn, which leaves most of the work in this movie on the lovely shoulders of Kate Beckinsale. Fortunately, Beckinsale can act, even if she has been mostly typecast as the vinyl clad, corset-wearing, butt kicking Vampiress from her husband’s trilogy of Underworld movies. Here she shows her mettle as a human being for a change, able to scream, cry, get angry, still kick butt (but do it in a non-undead supernatural way), and be something not quite so much a heroine but definitely a survivor. And she even allows herself to get her hair (slightly) mussed in the process. Talk about taking a hit for your art.

The one I truly loved in Vacancy though has to be Frank Whaley. He is a such a worm of a man, reminiscent of my first husband (*spit, spit, spit*), a mistake of my youth, who, now in his 50s, still lives with his mother in her tiny rundown house in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The only thing missing is the motel. Oh, and even though Whaley’s character has the personality of an eel , they never do show him as suffering from erectile dysfunction, so I must give him some points above my ex in that area. But I digress. Anyway, Whaley is perfectly cast as the pervert of the cast and will make you thank God your parents never let you date someone like him when you were in high school and too young and stupid to know what you were getting into. Ewww.

Since I did not make the opening weekend of
Vacancy I missed the “Opening Weekend Lotto” as I like to think of it when the studios anxiously await numbers to see which movie will make it to number one and how much will it rake in for the period. Amazingly, Disturbia has held on to first place again this week despite the opening of both this movie and Fracture. Apparently there are quite a few vacancies in the seats at Vacancy, and that is too bad. Despite its familiar story and shocks, it really has its tense and scary jolts (more than you’ll find in Disturbia for that matter) ~ kind of like having nightmares about an ex-husband.

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