Friday, November 16, 2007

Another Night in THE ASYLUM


You gotta admire Grade Z.5 genre distributor The Asylum. In keeping up with that fine ol’ Roger Corman tradition, they've made a name throwing out the cinematic knockoffs to suck up some of the ballyhoo floating around whatever Hollywood big-budget success is set to rake it in.

Infamous for such D2DVD efforts as PIRATES OF TREASURE ISLAND and THE DA VINCI TREASURE, The Asylum actually might have made a better profit off of mockbusters SNAKES ON A TRAIN and INVASION OF THE POD PEOPLE than their big studio counterparts did with the real deal.

In the process, they've also more than likely confused some of those... ahem, slower folks that kept waiting in vain for Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks to show up in their bottom shelf rental. Gotcha, Sucka!

And coming hot on the heels of this summer's amazing colossal TRANSMORPHERS, now we get…

Instead of Will Smith, we get some guy by the name of Mark Dacascos. From what I hear, some people know the name. If so, most of the budget probably went into his pocket.

After some unexplained plague wipes out most of humanity, Dacascos idles about his remote cabin up in the hills over Los Angeles. It can’t be too long after the apocalypse, because a heavy haze still hangs above the deserted streets of the city. He passes his time popping pills, moping over his dead wife and kid and getting pissed off at alarm clocks.

Sometimes he goes out for a drive and places timebombs at the base of poles that say No Smoking or No Digging. It seems that the man has authority issues. Or he might just be cranky about being stuck in the post-apocalypse with the world’s most annoying laptop.

If Apple got coerced into paying for product placement here, it wasn’t a good investment… Dacascos’ laptop sounds like some mid-sixties mainframe as it chatters and beeps at him. I know it was bad foley work, but it still in some absurd way makes me hesitant about switching from my PC to a G5. It’s those little things, you know?

But the point of the flick is the mutants.

Unlike THE OMEGA MAN, the mutants here don’t wear black cowls. They do wear rubber suits, but you’re not supposed to notice that they're suits... but the whole suspension of disbelief thing ain't happening here. The suits are pretty bad.

Anyway, anytime the mutants come sniffing around his cabin, Dacascos takes a time out from trippin’ and steps outside to kick their asses. He’s good at kicking their asses. He’s got the moves down and knows how to swing a nasty nunchuck… that’s probably why some people have heard of him.

Of course, it’s a little easier for him to kick their asses because the damned things are slowed down by their silly rubber suits. What the hell is up with that? Most micro- budget filmmakers go with a zombie or vampire flick because it’s less FX intensive. Throw some gray make-up on your extras, douse them with fake blood and have them lurch around: zombies. Or throw a pair of fangs in their mouths and have them make catfaces at each other: vampires.

Can’t get more budget efficient than that, short of just having them get naked and fake having sex. For what it's worth, there’s no sex in I AM OMEGA, fake or otherwise.

Instead, here they sank what was left of the budget into rubber CHUD suits. So much so that the filmmaker had to resort to photocopying sheets of paper to scotch tape to any surface that demanded a No Smoking or No Digging legend.

It also doesn’t help matters any that the mutants don’t give a whit whether it’s day or night, so you get plenty of full daylight opportunities to see latex flaking from the suits.

Okay, I'm done with the damned rubber suits.

Meanwhile, back at the noisy computer…

It’s the end of the world, and the poor dude still has his dinner interrupted by a telemarketer. Well, not a tele- marketer… but somehow, some stranger that's a dead ringer for his dead wife manages to find a way to set up a live video feed to contact him. Mutants have eaten the rest of her traveling companions, and she needs his help to get out of the city. How she got his number isn't something to give much thought to, because scripter Geoff Meed sure as hell didn't. Oddly enough, she's tech savvy enough to link up with him, but not common sense savvy enough to just jump into a car and hightail it.

He blows her off. Why? It’s not clear. But over the course of the first half of the movie the guy has been getting loopier and loopier, so I suppose it fits within the character.

I suppose.

Maybe he just didn’t want to risk complicating the title of the film. Not that it matters, because not too long after that a couple of road warriors show up in a beater van from nearby Antioch. One of them is played by the screenwriter, which probably explains why some points of the narrative don't exactly, um... make sense. Spreading himself a little thin, y'know? They want Dacascos to join them to rescue the chick, who is immune from the plague.

“Help us, Obi Wan Dacascos… you’re our only hope.”

He still ain’t having it and -- the road warriors having left the Holy Hand Grenade back in Antioch -- one of them uses the Holy Bazooka to blow up Dacascos' house. It being pretty damned pointless to argue with that one, he agrees to join them. Civilization being dead and all, you’d figure folks would find less complicated ways of going about things…

… like just driving into the city instead of deciding to scuttle along through the dank sewer tunnels beneath the streets, where any ol’ CHUD could be lurking in the shadows.

Fortunately, the mutants have retained some sense of play nice and wait until Dacascos has rolled in to rescue the girl before they try to peel the flimsy sheets of plywood from her barricade. Or maybe they held off because KEEP OUT was spray-painted across the sheets… but once Dacascos winnows through a gap, they decide that they not gonna play that game anymore.

Even better, as the damsel in distressed jeans, Jennifer Lee Wiggins is cute and engaging, and so the movie immediately picks up. Even better-er, now that he has someone who knows how to act to play off of, Dacascos’ acting doesn’t seem half bad itself.

Finally.

With Dacascos no longer having to carry the flick muttering to himself and generally acting wiggy, the last act is actually pretty entertaining. Mutants finally show up in more than groups of two and there’s ticking bombs in the background.

While it’s no THE OMEGA MAN (which itself was no THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, which was no I Am Legend, which the upcoming I AM LEGEND seriously won’t be) I AM OMEGA is still not without its pleasures. There's a sly sense of humor about itself at work and referential touches that are are surprisingly understated.

Technically, it’s a lot better than one would expect from D2DVD… although a little more attention to small details like internal logic and less obsession with rubber suits would have helped immensely.

2 comments:

dolcepeter said...

still into zombies love? you rock. --kirsten thayne (elkins)

Old Dark Housekeeper said...

Whatever makes you think that?

Great to hear from you!