Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Case 39" stylish but too silly

Case 39 (2010) 
109 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

What's with studio heads kicking movies to the curb and repeatedly shuffling them around until a delayed release? In the case of "Case 39," it's been waiting patiently on the shelf after being shot in 2006 and now released 4 years later from moldy hibernation. It's not entirely good, but didn't warrant such a long shelf life and being kept a dirty little secret from the world. 

Chipmunk-cheeked Renée Zellweger commits to the role of Emily Jenkins, a good-hearted but overloaded child services worker who takes on the case of a innocent, withdrawn 10-year-old girl, Lily Sullivan (a scarily assured Jodelle Ferland from "Silent Hill"), who's nearly killed by her nutso, abusive folks. Then, even though proclaiming it'd never work, she takes in the little Wednesday Addams. Famous last words Em, as Lily naturally prompts the deaths of everyone around her new guardian. Emily slowly comes to the realization that Lily is the problem, not her parents, and she could have something in common with Damien Thorne.

Didn't we just see the above-average "Orphan"? This unoriginal albeit stylishly well-made “Bad Seed” horror hokum has some decently creepy and shamelessly nasty goodies up its sleeve, until things just get silly and stupid. At some point, Lily stops being fiendish and starts being an annoying brat, repeatedly saying "Why, Emily?" on a loop, demanding ice cream, spinning around and around in Emily's office desk chair, and cutting her dinner peas in half. 

It's entertaining enough and wisely doesn't concern itself with much explanation—Lily is evil and that's that—but German filmmaker Christian Alvart's insistence on cheap scares (A jump-out-of-your-seat alarm clock jolt? Why not?) doesn't help the unintended giggles. One kill scene involving hornets emerging from a character's orifices has potential to be scary, but it's undone by schlocky CGI. Another in a prison delivers a gruesome delight of a punchline involving a fork. And a disturbing, unsettling scene has the little fiend being duct-taped in a kitchen oven by her crazy folks. But other than that, "Case 39" has nothing left in its bag of Devil-child tricks. 

Making a profession out of playing Evil Tykes, Ferland acts circles around most of the adults; her cold stare could stop traffic and her Miss Innocent act sure can frighten Ms. Zellweger. Ian McShane and pre-fame Bradley Cooper ably fill the be-killed spots as Emily's cop friend and colleague-with-benefits, but Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O'Malley make the real impressions as Lily's dead-eyed parents. 

"Case 39" can be filed as the only movie to have Zellweger screaming her head off and holding onto a kitchen knife for dear life, next to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation." It's still early in October when all the horror flicks start piling in. "Case 39" is no prize winner for scares, but at least it's a dumb thriller and not a boring one.

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