Review: John Dies At The End (Sundance 2012)
PLOT: John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase Williamson) are a couple of college drop-outs, happiest shooting hoops, chugging beers, and slacking off. One night, at a concert given by John's band, the guys are given a dose of a mysterious black substance called “soy sauce” which ends up totally shifting their perception of reality- and opening their eyes to a threat from another dimension with potentially apocalyptic ramifications.
REVIEW: I really wanted to like JOHN DIES AT THE END. I've heard great things about the book by David Wong, I liked Don Coscarelli's BUBBA HO-TEP (not to mention PHANTASM and THE BEASTMASTER), and having Paul Giamatti in the cast was the icing on the cake. I went into the all-press screening of this last night with high hopes, and sure enough, for the first part of the movie, I thought I was watching a future cult classic.
The best thing about John DIES AT THE END is the performance by Chase Williamson in the lead role. He reminds me a bit of a young Bill Paxton, and he makes a charismatic, likable lead. In the wrong hands, the role could have been insufferable, but the guy's got presence. The same can't quite be said for the other half of the titular duo, Rob Mayes' John- although I wouldn't say his acting was flawed, but rather than the role is just so one-note that he comes off like a poor man's version of Stifler from AMERICAN PIE.
Like I said, the first part of JOHN DIES AT THE END is fun, but the novelty wears off quick, and by the the time the complicated flashback structure starts to become apparent, leading to an origin tale that's more than a little boring, JOHN DIES started to lose me.
It's also worth mentioning that the CGI in JOHN DIES is bad enough that they seem lifted from the cut scenes of a bad nineties video game or XENA: WARRIOR PRINCES, although I'm aware the budget was ridiculously low. Perhaps the dimension spanning story was a little too ambitious for such a cheap film, and it gets to the point that the visuals start to look ridiculous, with the green screen work being exceptionally bad. Perhaps the cheap FX are supposed to be quaint, and add to the charm of the film, but to me they just looked cheap.
By the time an hour of the running time had crawled by, I was ready to pack it in and call it a day, but I stuck it out just to see if Coscarelli had something up his sleeve that might have redeemed the film. He doesn't, and to me the whole thing was just a big disappointment. As for Paul Giamatti's role, it must have been shot in a day, as he does little but sit in a Chinese restaurant and alternately act weary and gullible. Towards the end of the film, the only thing that held my interest was a dog that figures prominently in the resolution, and is probably the cleverest thing about the film.
Suffice to say, other than Williamson, and the dog, there's not much here that really makes JOHN DIES AT THE END worth watching, unless you happen to catch it on Netflix Instant or something. Still, to play devil's advocate, a lot of other folks present at the screening seemed to enjoy JOHN DIES, so I dunno, maybe it just didn't work for me. It needed more of a polish, and it certainly needed higher production values to make this the type of film I'd think was worth seeing. Compared to the many other films I've seen this year that were done with even lower budgets than JOHN DIES, the low-rent vibe of the movie is really disappointing. Skip it, unless you're a Coscarelli devotee.