Thursday, May 19, 2011

New on DVD/Blu-ray: "The Roommate" and "The Rite" (aka The Bad Rs)


The Roommate (2011)
92 min., rated PG-13. 
Grade: D +

Most of us can relate to the nightmare of sharing a college dorm room with a bad roommate. But in lieu of going in any interesting or remotely surprising direction, "The Roommate" is just another glibly formulaic blank-from-hell thriller. And not even a fun, trashy, or thrilling thriller. It's this generation's teenybopper answer to "Single White Female" in the dorms, like "Swimfan" was to "Fatal Attraction" in high school, with a pretty CW Channel cast. 

Anyone who's ever seen a movie before knows the drill: a mentally unhinged person becomes obsessed with someone, then becomes an extreme, outright loony psycho whose motto is “If I can't have them, no one can, dammit!” In "The Roommate," small-town girl Sara (Minka Kelly) moves to Los Angeles for her freshman year of college and quickly becomes friends with her roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester), a friendly local girl. Before long, Rebecca turns clingy, needy, and jealous of anyone that competes for her roomie's attention. At worst, you'd think she'd just be stealing Sara's food or locking her out of the room, but no, this bad roommate wants Sara's life and she'll take out anyone that ruins her plan. Rebecca might as well have “Bat-Shit Crazy” tattooed on her forehead. 

"The Roommate" is a pallid, laughable Lifetime Movie that cheapens schizophrenia/bipolar disorder as Rebecca's twisted motivation to put Cuddles the kitten in a dryer, rip a girl's belly-button ring clean off, and seduce a professor and then blackmail him. Sure, the movie makes some gutsy attempts to shock, especially for a PG-13. But first-time screenwriter Sonny Mallhi's lazy script oversimplifies Rebecca's psychosis by having Rebecca's mother (Frances Fisher) asking Sara privately if her daughter has been taking her medication at school, and then it's never dealt with thereafter. Once finding Rebecca's prescription antipsychotic pills for herself, Sara could consult her RA, but nope. Rebecca is just made to be a rudimentary basket case, plain and simple. 

Rather than putting a twist on this very familiar blueprint, Mallhi and Danish director Christian E. Christiansen (in his U.S. debut) amazingly rip off every beat from "SWF" like an A-to-Z to-do list, even down to the predictable to-the-death cat fight. Even the cinematography is muddy as if the lense is in need of Windex. The editing is overly choppy and obscures what's going on, and one odd transition from an eye dissolves into a turkey on a plate. As for the actors, Kelly and Meester look like they could be sisters, or doppelgangers. Kelly has a sweet, attractive valley-girl face with her lip gloss always shining, but that's about it. Only Meester seems to be trying, getting her Jennifer Jason Leigh stares down pat and showing a few subtleties, but she's wasted in this stock role. Billy Zane gets to sleaze it up as a fashion design prof, and Cam Gigandet is a hunky mannequin that squints a lot and makes cocky smirks as Sara's frat boyfriend. "The Roommate," more like 'Stupid White Female,' fails at characterization, psychology, and suspense, instead earning more eye-rolls than attending a Psych 100 lecture at 8 a.m. Enough said.


The Rite (2011)
114 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C

The Power of Anthony Hopkins compels you in "The Rite," a religious horror drama, while everything else is self-serious and uninteresting. And that's a disappointment, considering it's from director Mikael Hafstrom (who gave us the effectively spooky "1408") and the ads suggested something promisingly chilling. Despite Hopkins receiving top billing, newcomer Colin O'Donoghue takes the lead as Michael, a skeptical atheist fresh out of the seminary to enter the priesthood. To get out of his father's (Rutger Hauer) mortuary business, he goes off to Rome to study exorcisms under the shadowing of the unorthodox Father Lucas (Hopkins). Is the Devil real or part of Lucas's bogus methods? 

Ever since he tried cannibalism as Hannibal Lecter, Sir Anthony Hopkins can give a steely, genuinely chilling gaze with those beady eyes better than anyone. He makes woodchuck scenery-chewing an art form. O'Donoghue has an appealing presence and gives us someone relatable. Too bad Hauer's always-heady presence goes to waste. You can forget the owl-like head spinning and upchucking of pea soup, as Hopkins amusingly quips, because this film wants to say it's "inspired by actual events" and dares to explore faith. 

"The Rite" doesn't have you in its grip as much as it just plods along, and the pacing isn't European-flavored in its deliberateness when it's just rather sluggish. The showdown between Good and Evil is hokey and over-the-top; then again, it's a hoot and gives the movie a jolt of campy energy, with a possessed Hopkins' enhanced growl and name-calling Michael "kissy lips." The exorcism scenes of a pregnant teen contorting her body are intense and loud, and disturbing in the instance of bloody crucifixion nails, but we've seen this all before from sequels, prequels, and knockoffs. "The Rite" doesn't change the fact that William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" exists and still horrifyingly holds up today. 

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