08 September 2011

Movies: The Killing Jar

The Killing Jar (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270296/


Late night, sleepy small diner outside a small town with a cook, a waitress, a deputy, a local, a late teen couple. A sales rep in a bad brown suit sporting a "Hello my name is..." sticker walks in asking to use the payphone, then stays for a cup of coffee and maybe pie. A news story on the radio announces in the next county over a farm family of four was found slaughtered in their home: husband, wife, two small children. Soon after the announcement a rough looking guy wearing a black leather jacket and a bad attitude walks in, demands a steak, only gets coffee. He also draws the attention of the waitress, who tips off the deputy this guy seems sketchy, especially with family-murdering psycho on the loose.

And we're now in the "Killing Jar". The whole film takes place inside this diner. Get it? Killing Jar? Diner?*

Stars Michael Madsen as our leather-wearing badass. You might remember him from a very graphic and brutal scene in "Reservoir Dogs" set to Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You". Or maybe something less violent, like "Kill Bill" or "Species". Harold Perrineau is the traveling salesman. He was Michael on "Lost", and the replacement pilot on the Nebuchadnezzar in the Matrix sequel films. Danny Trejo, everyone's favorite chest-tattooed bad-ass Mexican and star of "Machete" is the cook. Amber Benson is your waitress. She's probably best known as Willow's girlfriend Tara in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." A couple more recognizable supporting actors like Jake Busey, Kevin Gage and Lew Temple. The last two you've probably seen a lot and, like me, still have no clue what their names are.

Now, the film is supposed to be thrilling and suspenseful, like watching in a pressure cooker, especially when you have 7 folks trapped in a little diner when all hell breaks loose. But the film doesn't really quite deliver as an intense thrilling experience as maybe it should. Granted, there are some odd camera angles that are probably attempts to harken to Hitchcock, but they don't really work well. And some of the dialog, ugh.
I think the weakened suspense building comes mainly from the casting. Not that the cast did poorly with the material given to them, quite the contrary. They all did a good job in their roles. Unfortunately the people were cast in roles that betrayed the story ahead of time. I guessed about 80% of the story within the first 15 minutes of the film based on the cast. But I wasn't sure how the film would end, though I had my suspicions, so I stuck it out to watch it.  I even voiced my guess about the plot 'twist' to the wife that early in the film so I could pump my fist with a victory "yes!" when I was correct because I'm juvenile that way sometimes.
My point is if this film was cast with relatively unknown (and preferably talented) actors in the roles the viewer probably would have been kept in the dark about a lot of the story a lot longer. However, as both Madsen and Perrineau are listed as Executive Producers on the film I suppose the film would not have been made otherwise.

The film is rather violent, even graphic at times, but if you sat through Madsen's "Reservoir Dogs" scene this performance is a little tamer. Madsen still delivers in this role, then again he's very practiced at it by now. Perrineau did well in his role too. Benson handled herself well in her role next to these veterans, she's a rather solid actor and I'm surprised she doesn't get more larger roles.

Come to think of it, I keep forgetting that Benson was in "The Crush". A film most memorable to me because Cary Elwes punches Alicia Silverstone in the face, launching her across the room. She kinda deserved it at that point.

Despite the predictability, overall "The Killing Jar" does an admirable job and is entertaining enough to be watched. I caught this one on Netflix streaming.  So if you're stuck trying to find a thriller-type film it isn't a terrible choice, just not necessarily the best either.

Yes, I know this film got crushed in its RottenTomatoes rating and it isn't doing so hot with real (paid) critics either. I figure like a film if you like a film, hate it if you hate it. Sometimes I am entertained by films that I know aren't great films, and sometimes I can't stand films that are beloved by many.

* In case you are still wondering what a killing jar is and why it's a significant title for the film, people who study bugs will drop them in jar that incorporates an insecticide to quickly kill the insects with minimal damage. Contrast with the 7 folks trapped in the diner. Come to think of it, however, the whole 'minimal damage' thing doesn't really apply to the film.

That said, if you haven't seen "Reservoir Dogs" you probably should. It might help one understand why Tarantino's name carries the weight it does, even if he does recycle (er, I mean, pay homage to) old films in his films. Heck - check out "Kill Bill" vol 1 and vol 2 if you haven't seen 'em. Or rewatch 'em if you liked 'em and haven't seen 'em in a while. I didn't mean to make this review a plug for Tarantino flicks, it's just that seeing Madsen in the film reminded me of how much I enjoyed Dogs and Bill.

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