Idle Hands

Director: Rodman Flender
Screenplay: Terri Hughes & Ron Milbauer
Stars: Devon Sawa (Anton), Seth Green (Mick), Elden Ratliff (Pnub), Jessica Alba (Molly), Christopher Hart (The Hand), Vivica A. Fox (Debi), Jack Noseworthy (Randy), Katie Wright (Tanya)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1999
Country: USA

Some 12 years ago, Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" (1987) featured ahilarious sequence in which the hero's right hand became possessed by anevil spirit, forcing him to cut off the offending appendage with a chainsaw,at which time it ran around on its own. The sequence played like a twistedvariation of slapstick comedy; Roger Ebert compared it to the antics of "TheThree Stooges." It was a funny scene, and it worked, mostly because itlasted only 10 minutes. In other words, Raimi knew when the joke stoppedbeing funny, and he moved on to other things.

Now, take that short sequence, drag it out to over 100 minutes, and you have"Idle Hands," an inanely repetitive, mind-numbing horror-comedy about astoned slacker named Anton (Devon Sawa) whose right hand is possessed by anevil spirit and forces him to kill a number of people, including his parentsand his two best friends.

The movie starts out on a good, creepy note, with director Rodman Flender, aveteran of TV shows and schlock horror like "Leprechaun 2," constructing aneffective cat-and-mouse game with an unseen killer in Anton's house. Thenthe script, by first-timer scribes Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer, startstrying to be funny, and it all goes downhill.

Hughes and Milbauer strain for laughs by portraying Anton as the ultimateunmotivated slacker, a stoned teen who doesn't even bother to put on pantswhen going across the street to score some dope, which he smokes out of hisasthma inhaler. Unfortunately, he's a dull slacker, and he barely registersas a character. He doesn't have anything resembling the jovial stupor ofSean Penn's Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) or theultra-cool relaxation of Jeff Bridge's Dude from "The Big Lebowski" (1998),two of the more memorable cinematic stoners.

"Idle Hands" strains at comedy, including one painfully unfunny sequenceinvolving local bad boy Randy (Jack Noseworthy) as he tries to pick up asobbing teenage girl at a flower-strewn memorial for some of Anton'srecently murdered victims; the joke is unfunny in and of itself, but themovie's timing (coming so close after the Columbine incident) makes it feelsin especially bad taste. The movie also labors with an extended jokeborrowed from "An American Werewolf in London," where Anton's two murderedbuddies, Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Ratliff), come back from thegrave to help him out. Mick walks around with a broken beer bottle embeddedin his scalp, and Pnub has to carry his severed head in his arms, yet theyjoke and cajole and sit on their butts watching MTV like nothing everhappened. Even in death, these guys have no life.

"Idle Hands" plays like a spoof; it intends to mock the horror genre, butthat's exactly what it doesn't do. The movie isn't very scary because itdoesn't play off primal fear the way "Halloween" (1978) did (except theopening sequence), and it's not funny because it doesn't play off theunderstood horror conventions like "Scream" (1996) did. Instead, it existsin its own bad universe, where jokes about "getting a piece" of a teen girlwho has been sliced and diced in an air conditioning fan are supposed topass for humor.

"Idle Hands" simply takes a bad story and unfunny jokes, and adds a lot ofgory gross-out effects, including Anton's severed hand squirting blood fromits fingertips while being nuked in the microwave and Pnub's severed neckoozing unidentifiable goop while he eats a burrito. It's little surprisethat the movie features a brief snippet of George A. Romero's zombie classic"Dawn of the Dead" (1978) on TV—it aspires to out-gross one of the reigningchamps, but without Romero's wit, intelligence, and satire.

Amazingly enough, "Idle Hands" is also exceedingly boring. For all the loudrock music and spattering guts, it feels long and unengaging. The openingsequence grabs you, but the rest of the movie slowly lets you go untilyou're tapping your foot in boredom, hoping for it to end. By the timeViveca A. Fox shows up as a Druid priestess who is tracking the evil forcethat has possessed Anton's hand, you know the movie is in the full throws ofsick desperation. When it's over, you may feel like cutting off your ownhand for having paid good money at the ticket counter.

©1999 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (1.5)

James Kendrick

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