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Films I Neglected To Review: Bodied Rage And Murder
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Bodied," "Monster Party" and "Viper Club."

In the opening scenes of ''Bodied," a fierce rap battle being held in a garage is observed through the eyes of Adam (Callum Worthy), a friendly, gangly and incredibly white graduate student who is enthralled with the litany of insults being spat out without a moment's hesitation by the performers.(His girlfriend, the kind of overly PC type who seems born to take offense at everything, is less impressed and criticizes the racist and sexist overtones that she finds in everything being spouted.) Initially, Adam is only there to gather information for a thesis he intends to write--one of those papers that takes some aspect of popular culture and proceeds to suck all of the fun out of it--things change when he himself is challenged to a rap-off in the parking lot afterwards and not only manages to defeat his challenger handily but finds that he has a genuine knack for insult rapping. As Adam finds himself delving deeper into the underground rap world as he begins participating in competitions, acquiring a sort-of mentor in a more established local rapper (Jackie Long) along the way, but even as he begins rising in the ranks of competitive rapping, the question begins to rise about Adam's real motives--is he doing it out of a genuine fascination with this particular subculture or is he just using his pose as an academic as an excuse to get away with spewing wildly offensive invective as a way to stand out from the pack without suffering any consequences?

As a satire of political correctness and cultural appropriation, ''Bodied'' is not exactly subtle or refined and make no bones about it, many viewers may be shocked and outraged by many of the quips delivered by Adam and his fellow rappers. However, those who do not storm out of the theater in a well-mannered huff are likely to be bowled over by it, both for the humor (which is frequently as hilarious as it is unprintable) and for the legitimately interesting insights that it offers up regarding the topic at hand. Writer-director Joseph Kahn, one of the leading music video directors working today thanks to his work with artists ranging from Eminem (surprise) to Taylor Swift (whose ''Wildest Dreams'' video engendered accusations of cultural appropriation that apparently helped to inspire this film), definitely knows the milieu that he is dealing with here and he is perfectly willing to stick it to everyone from lazy rappers who deploy worn-out and offensive tropes as a way of engendering cheap applause and controversy to academics who create increasingly lofty explanations to justify their interest in such controversial subjects while still trying to seem above the fray. Some of the early going is a little rough because that is where the humor is at its broadest but as things progress, the satire happily grows sharper and smarter (I love the part where an Asian competitor bitches about the racist tropes that Adam busted out about him but then admits that he appreciated the fact that he at least made them culturally specific to his Korean upbringing instead of going with generic ones) as it builds to a final moment that hits just the right note of dark humor to the proceedings. ''Bodied'' is probably not for most audiences--many of whom may react in much the same way as Adam's girlfriend in the opening scenes--but those who like their humor to be both crude and knowing will likely have as much fun watching it as I did..

As the grisly horror thriller ''Monster Party'' opens, a trio of teenaged thieves specializing in small-time home robberies find themselves in dire need of a big score--Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) and Iris (Virginia Gardner) just learned that they are expecting a kid and Casper needs to bail his father out of a major gambling debt. As Iris is set to make a few bucks by acting as the server at a fancy dinner party being thrown by the Dawson family--mother Roxanne (Robin Tunney), father Patrick (Julian McMahon), son Elliot (Kian Lawley) and daughter Alexis (Erin Moriarty)--the others plot to tag along as butlers and sneak away long enough to rob the house safe. What they don't realize is that virtually all of the people at the table, guests and hosts alike, are vicious murderers who are part of a support group designed to help them curb the desire to kill. Alas, one of those at the gathering is not quite completely cured and when things get messy, the would-be thieves, along with the one non-killer in the party, have to figure out how to get out of the house without being butchered themselves.

Essentially a shotgun (among other weaponry) marriage between ''Don't Breathe'' and ''The Purge,'' ''Monster Party'' is one of those movies that has the kind of premise that initially sounds intriguing enough to make you wonder why no one had ever tried to tell such a story before and then spends the next 90 minutes showing you exactly why no one has bothered to do so. Writer-director Chris Von Hoffmann is so in love with his concept that he doesn't bother to develop it in any dramatically interesting ways--there is only one real twist towards the end and that is more weird than anything else. After a certain point, it just becomes an endless string of scenes in which the characters are sneaking in and out of rooms in the sprawling mansion while either trying to kill or avoid being killed by each other. However, since the anti-heroes are not especially interesting, it is hard to develop any real working interest in them and since the killers are largely a band of standard-issue Patrick Bateman wannabes, you don't even get a perverse thrill out of watching them trying to satisfy their urges. As a half-hour episode of something like ''Tales from the Crypt,'' it might have made for a passable time-killer but at three times that length, ''Monster Party'' is almost as interminable as most actual dinner parties.

''Viper Club'' finds Susan Sarandon once again stepping into the fierce mama bear role that has come to largely define her career--at least on the screen--over the last several years. She plays Helen, an overworked emergency room nurse who struggles to maintain in the face of all the pressures of that particular job, ranging from talks of cutbacks from the bean counters more concerned with making a profit than in treating those in need to advising a new doctor (Amir Malaklou) of how to go about the seemingly unimaginable task of telling the parents of a young shooting victim that their child is dead. What none of her coworkers realize is that these work pressures are nothing compared to what is going on in her private life. Her son, Andy (Julian Morris), a freelance journalist working in the war zone of Syrian, has been kidnapped by terrorists who are threatening to kill him unless they receive $20 million. Her efforts to get her son freed, however, run into mounds of bureaucratic red tape--the FBI agents in charge, to whom she has been sworn to secrecy about every aspect of the case, inform her that the U.S. will not negotiate with terrorists and since he was a freelancer, he, in their eyes, should not have been there in the first place and ''He knew what he was getting into.'' To circumvent this inactivity and to win Andy's release, Helen meets with a wealthy woman (Edie Falco) whose own son was in a similar situation and who was able to use her connections to quietly raise the money to get her kid back. Although Helen has better intel on her son than the FBI thanks to another journalist (Matt Bomer), part of a loose-knit group of war correspondents who keep tabs on each other, she still has to somehow raise the money, forcing her to break ties with the FBI and go public with her pleas for money even though doing so runs the risk of jeopardizing everything.

The film sounds like it has all the ingredients for a prime piece of Oscar bait but it never quite clicks. From the description, you would presumably assume that since this is a story about a woman urgently trying to save her sonís life, it would be told in a manner that itself demonstrated a real sense of urgency--not necessarily at the kind of rapid pace normally found in a McG joint but one that always kept you aware of the enormous stakes at hand for its central character. Strangely enough, the screenplay by Maryam Keshavarz (who also directed) and Jonathan Mastro instead recounts the story in ways that seem deliberately determined to defuse all of that tension via odd structural decisions (let us just say that this is a film that really enjoys its flashbacks) and subplots that exist only to awkwardly underline the themes of the main story--we observe at great length how Helen personally cares for a child in a coma after being shot while trying to help the mother (Lola Kirke) prepare for the possibility that she may lose her child. What is even stranger is that after spending virtually all of its running time taking the long and decidedly indirect route of telling its story, the final moments--what the entire film has theoretically been building up to--are handled in such a crazily abrupt manner that it almost feels as if someone forgot to include the actual ending. As Helen, Sarandon is technically good--which makes sense since the role seems to be tailor-made for her particular skill setóbut without anything of substance to bounce off of, her performance never develops the kind of emotional heft that it should have had. ''Viper Room'' is sincere and well-meaning enough in theory but lacking any recognizable spark of life, it just comes across as an increasingly hollow and manipulative drag.

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originally posted: 11/03/18 01:08:17
last updated: 11/03/18 02:36:52
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