Review: ‘The Good Half,’ starring Nick Jonas, Brittany Snow, David Arquette, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Walsh and Elisabeth Shue

June 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nick Jonas, Matt Walsh, Brittany Snow and Elisabeth Shue in “The Good Half” (Photo courtesy of The Ranch Productions)

“The Good Half”

Directed by Robert Schwartzman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, the comedy/drama film “The Good Half” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 28-year-old aspiring comedy screenwriter returns to his hometown of Cleveland, as he struggles with grief over his mother’s death, as well as tensions with his sister and his stepfather. 

Culture Audience: “The Good Half” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and comedy/dramas about complicated family relationships and the effects that a terminal illness has on a family.

Nick Jonas and Alexandra Shipp in “The Good Half” (Photo courtesy of The Ranch Productions)

In the comedy/drama film “The Good Half,” the movie’s “good half” is the latter half, which shows the most emotional depth. Led by Nick Jonas’ admirable performance, it’s a capably acted story about grief, hope and family tensions. “The Good Half” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by Robert Schwartzman and written by Brett Ryland, “The Good Half” jumps back and forth in the story’s timeline to show life in a family before and after the death of the clan’s matriarch. The movie (which takes place in Cleveland, Ohio) is told from the perspective of her son, who had a close relationship with his mother as a child, but as an adult, he drifted apart from the family after he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a comedy screenwriter. In some ways, “The Good Half” resembles a sitcom with a serious side, but the movie improves when it starts to dig deeper into some realistic family dynamics.

“The Good Half” opens with a flashback scene that takes place when protagonist Renn Wheeland (played by Mason Cufari) is 9 years old and with his neurotic mother Lily Wheeland (played by Elisabeth Shue) near a shopping area. Renn is upset because Lily accidentally left him in a store and didn’t return until about two hours later. A remorseful Lily promises Renn that she will never leave him in a store again. This childhood memory is brought up again later in one of the movie’s most emotionally intense scenes.

Renn (played by Jonas) is now 28 years old and somewhat estranged from his family. He has returned home to Cleveland because Lily has died of a terminal illness. (“The Good Half” was actually filmed in New Jersey and Los Angeles.) On the plane to Cleveland, Renn has a “meet cute” moment with a psychotherapist named Zoey (played by Alexandra Shipp), who tells Renn that she’s visiting Cleveland for a psychotherapist convention. Renn tells a partial lie of omission by saying to Zoey that he’s going to Cleveland for a family reunion. He leaves out the detail that the reunion is under the sad circumstances that it’s for his mother’s funeral.

There’s another airplane passenger sitting in between Renn and Zoey, who have a friendly and flirtatious conversation, while the man in the middle looks slightly uncomfortable. Zoey says that she’s afraid of flying. She jokes that she wishes their flight would turn into the 1997 airplane hijack movie “Con Air.” Zoey adds that all the action movies of the 1990s are great films.

Zoey is very talkative and curious. She asks a lot of questions and finds out from Renn that he is an available bachelor. Renn is a little more guarded and won’t disclose much about himself, except basic information, such as Cleveland is where he was born and raised. After the airplane lands, Zoey and Renn exchange phone numbers, because it’s obvious that they feel an attraction to each other.

When Renn takes a rideshare from the airport, he tells the driver to take the longest way to the destination. It’s an obvious sign that Renn is dreading seeing his family again. Renn has a cordial but emotionally distant relationship with his father Darren Wheeland (played by Matt Walsh), who is mild-mannered and easygoing. Darren and Lily got divorced years ago. Darren has not remarried, and he lives by himself.

Renn’s relationship with his married older sister Leigh (played by Brittany Snow) is much more volatile. Leigh is an uptight control freak who has deep resentment toward Renn for a number of reasons. One of the things she’s angry about is that Renn avoided her numerous attempts to contact him when she needed Renn to help make decisions about their mother’s funeral and other after-death arrangements. It also irritates her that Renn doesn’t seem to care about keeping in touch with anyone in his family.

For now, things will be awkward between Renn and Leigh because he’s staying at the house of Leigh and her husband (who doesn’t say much and barely in the movie) while Renn is visiting Cleveland. On the evening that Renn was supposed to arrive in Cleveland, Leigh had a get-together of Lily’s friends and colleagues. However, Renn showed up too late, and everyone has already left.

“We had a lot of people over here paying their respects,” says a grim-faced Leigh, who can barely hide her disgust that Renn was late. “I’m sorry you missed them.” Renn replies sullenly, “I’m not.” There will be more tension-filled scenes like this between this brother and sister, until the inevitable emotional confrontation where long-held resentments erupt to the surface. Renn and Leigh’s big reckoning with each other has more sorrow than anger.

Renn and Leigh don’t agree on a lot, but there’s one thing that Renn, Leigh and their father all agree on: Lily’s second husband Rick Barona (played by David Arquette) is an annoying jerk. Rick is legally considered Lily’s next of kin, so he’s made a lot of decisions about the funeral that Renn is sure that Lily would not have wanted. Lily wanted to be cremated, but Rick has arranged for her to buried. Lily was Jewish, but Rick has arranged for a Catholic priest to officiate at the funeral.

“The Good Half” has a very effective subplot about the eulogy part of the funeral service. The eulogy is symbolic of the power struggles and disagreements in the family over how Lily wanted to be remembered at her funeral. Needless to say, Rick has very different ideas from what Renn thinks should be said in the family’s eulogies.

Rick wants to hire his eccentric spiritual guru Father Dan (played by Stephen Park), who never met Lily, to officiate the funeral and help family members craft their eulogies. (Father Dan, who teaches piano lessons to children out of his cluttered and messy house, doesn’t appear to be a real ordained priest.) Leigh and Darren try not to get into confrontations with Rick, but Renn has no such qualms. Rick wasn’t exactly a devoted husband during the last months of Lily’s life. And you can bet that the question over who really cared about Lily the most will come up in any arguments between Rick and Renn.

There’s a lot of family drama in “The Good Half,” but the movie seamlessly includes the subplot about Renn and Zoey’s possible romance, which is where some (but not all) of the movie’s comic relief occurs. Renn and Zoey see each other again when he calls her and invites her to meet up with him in a bar. Zoey eventually reveals that she has her own personal issues: She’s going through a divorce.

Zoey says that one of the reasons why she broke up with her soon-to-be ex-husband is because he cheated on her. The Zoey/Renn relationship starts off looking very formulaic. But to the credit of “The Good Half” filmmakers, not everything about this possible romance is predictable.

Anchoring the emotional center of the film is Jonas’ memorable performance as Renn, who is more devastated by Lily’s death than he cares to admit. Shue’s performance as Lily in the flashback scenes is heartfelt and compelling. Lily had her share of quirks (including a habit of stealing table utensils every time she went to a restaurant), but there’s no doubt that she truly loved her children, and they loved her.

In one of the flashback scenes, Renn is spending time with Lily, and he knows that she’s in an unhappy marriage with Rick. Renn advises Lily to end the marriage, and he offers to move back to Cleveland to help her with the divorce. It’s an offer that Lily firmly declines because she says that Renn shouldn’t interrupt his life because of her own personal problems.

And then, Lily blurts out the real reason why she doesn’t want to divorce Rick: “I’ll be a 56-year-old, twice-divorced woman living in Cleveland.” It’s a simple sentence, but it speaks volumes about how some women of a certain age feel when society often treats them like their age is an expiration date for desirability.

“The Good Half” has expected tearjerking moments in scenes showing Lily’s medical treatment and the effects that her illness have on Lily and her loved ones. Despite this depressing part of the movie, “The Good Half” still brings moments of comedic whimsy—some of it is better-placed than others. A subplot about breaking into a home looks very much like it belongs in a sitcom; it turns out to be a set-up to end the scene in a sentimental way.

The movie fares much better with its drama, which is the basis for the best scenes in “The Good Half.” A heart-wrenching monologue by Renn has a line in it that explains why the movie has this title. Does “The Good Half” get a little too sappy in the drama and a little too cutesy in the comedy? Sure, it does. But these are minor flaws that don’t get in the way of this mostly authentic-looking story of how a family can be ripped apart or can come together because of grief.

Review: ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,’ starring Kunal Nayyar, Lucy Hale, Christina Hendricks, David Arquette and Scott Foley

December 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kunal Nayyar and Lucy Hale in “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry”

Directed by Hans Canosa

Culture Representation: Taking place over 14 years, primarily on the fictional Alice Island, Massachusetts, and briefly in Providence, Rhode Island, the dramatic film “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A cynical bookstore owner, who is depressed over the death of his wife and his financial problems, gets a new outlook on life when he adopts an abandoned child and falls in love with a sales agent who works for a book publisher. 

Culture Audience: “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based and will appeal to people who don’t mind watching slow-paced and sloppily constructed dramas.

Pictured in front: Kunal Nayyar, Christina Hendricks and Scott Foley in “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” should have been titled “The Lifeless Story of A.J. Fikry.” It’s a weak, boring and jumbled mess with confused tones and unanswered questions. The movie can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a weepy melodrama or a romantic dramedy—and ultimately fails at being either or both. Viewers will learn almost nothing about the movie’s self-pitying title character except that he likes to whine a lot when his life doesn’t go the way he wants.

Directed by Hans Canosa, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is based on Gabrielle Zevin’s 2014 novel of the same name. Zevin wrote the lumbering screenplay for “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” as if it were a book with many chapters removed instead of a cohesive and enjoyable story. It certainly looks like Zevin might have been too close to the source material to not have better judgment in deciding what would work and what would not work in a movie adaptation of the book. There are too many times in the movie where a subplot is introduced and then left to dangle undeveloped.

Part of the problem is how choppy the timeline is in “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” which takes place over 14 years. The movie spends too much time showing repetitive scenes in one part of A.J. Fikry’s life and then rushes through other parts of his life that needed more screen time—or at least more substance or explanation. It’s this disjointed approach to the movie that eventually sinks it and will be a turnoff for a lot of viewers.

In the beginning of the film, bookstore owner A.J. Fikry (played by Kunal Nayyar) is living a miserable and lonely life on the fictional Alice Island, Massachusetts, which has the population of a small town. And no one loves to talk about how unhappy A.J. is more than A.J., who complains about his life to anyone who’ll listen. His narcissism immediately makes him a very annoying character.

A.J., who lives alone, is a 39-year-old widower who is still in deep despair over the death of his wife. (It’s not made clear in the movie how long she’s been dead.) Grieving over the death of a spouse is understandable. The problem is that A.J. takes his negative feelings out on the customers in his small store (which is called Island Books) by being very rude to them. His excuse? “Since my wife died, I hate my work,” A.J. tells a doctor when A.J. ends up in an urgent care clinic after A.J. has a panic attack.

A.J. is also depressed because his store is close to going out of business. A.J. blames it on the popularity of e-books. But it’s obvious that A.J.’s lousy customer service has a lot to do with driving customers away. A.J. repeatedly gripes to people that that he’s “poor,” when he’s really not. He’s a middle-class person having financial problems. Being “poor” is worrying about how to pay for life essentials, such as food and basic shelter. A.J. doesn’t have that problem.

A.J. is depicted as a borderline alcoholic who drinks too much wine until he passes out when he’s home alone. His diet consists mainly of boxed frozen dinners. All of this is supposed to make viewers feel sorry for A.J., but he’s often so obnoxious, it will be difficult for people watching this movie to see what’s so interesting about this irritable character.

The beginning of the movie shows A.J. being visited at his store by a book-publishing sales agent named Amelia “Amy” Loman (played by Lucy Hale), who is 30 years old, and who works from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. The movie mentions later that Alice Island is a five-hour trip one way from Providence, and can be accessed by ferry. As soon as Amelia and A.J. have their first conversation, it’s obvious that they will later become each other’s love interest. We’ve seen this formula many times already: A future couple meets for the first time, and one person is standoffish and dismissive to the other, but they have a spark of attraction that gets ignited later.

Amelia has a perky personality that gets a little deflated when she tries and fails to get A.J. to buy a memoir called “The Late Bloomer.” Amelia explains that the author of the book is an 80-year-old man named Leon Friedman, who got married for the first time at age 78. Sadly, his wife died of cancer three years later. This movie is so poorly written, the math doesn’t add up in Leon’s story. Leon supposedly wrote the book after his wife died, which means that he would be at least 81 years old, not 80. Leon and “The Late Bloomer” become another ill-conceived and unnecessary subplot shown later in the movie.

Amelia says in her sales pitch about “The Late Bloomer” book: “I know this is a small book, but readers could fall in love with it the way they fell in love with ‘Angela’s Ashes’ or ‘Tuesdays With Morrie.'” A.J. tells Amelia in no uncertain terms that he’s not interested in buying copies of “The Late Bloomer” because he says the book sounds dull and “intolerable.” And in a very jaded tone of voice, A.J. then proceeds to name a long list of book genres that he doesn’t like (including memoirs), thereby making it clear that A.J. hates most types of books.

Why does A.J. own a bookstore if he has disdain for most books? He wants to sell the store, but he doesn’t think he’ll find any buyers who’ll pay a purchase price that he needs to make a profit. A.J. has a financial safety net that he plans to use to get rid of his money problems, but he runs into a setback for this plan.

A.J. has a rare first-edition copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” a book collection of poems that was first published in 1827. A.J. estimates that the book is worth a price that should get him several hundred thousand dollars if he sold the book. He’s so proud of the book, for a period of time, he kept it in on display in his store before deciding to keep it locked up in his home.

One evening, a drunken A.J. takes the book out of a locked storage display case in his home and says out loud to the book: “Cheers, you piece of crap.” The next morning, after waking up from a drunken stupor, A.J. notices that the book is missing. He looks everywhere for it in his home and is convinced it was stolen by someone who knows how the valuable the book is.

A.J. goes to the local police station to report that the book has been stolen. The person who takes the report is Alice Island’s police chief, whose only name mentioned in the movie is his last name: Lambiase (played by David Arquette), who is sympathetic but a little skeptical that the book was stolen. Nothing else of value was taken from A.J.’s home, and there were no signs of an intruder.

Because Alice Island is a small community, Lambiase already knows about A.J.’s reputation for being a heavy drinker. And so, Lambiase takes the theft report as a formality, but he hints that he thinks A.J. could have drunkenly misplaced the book somewhere in A.J.’s home. (It’s eventually revealed what happened to the book.)

The movie then shambles along with a lot of tedious and meandering scenes showing A.J. being a grouch, as well as the tension-filled relationships that A.J. has with his deceased wife’s sister Ismay Evans (played by Christina Hendricks) and Ismay’s husband. Ismay, who is pregnant in the beginning of the movie, is married to an arrogant and famous novelist named Daniel Parish (played by Scott Foley), who is very flirtatious with his female fans. Daniel is supposedly the closest thing that A.J. has to a friend, but Daniel and A.J. act like they don’t like each other very much.

Ismay isn’t too happy with A.J. because she thinks he’s “self-destructive” and has no friends. Ismay believes that A.J. is disrespecting the memory of her deceased sister by leading a life of such self-sabotaging misery. When A.J. tells Ismay that his valuable Edgar Allan Poe book has been stolen, Ismay says that there could be any number of reasons for why the book is missing. She tells A.J. that maybe he was sleepwalking, and he accidentally tossed the book in the ocean.

Soon after his book goes missing and A.J.’s financial woes get worse, he’s at the bookstore and is ready to close it for the night when he finds an abandoned and adorable 2-year-old girl named Maya (played by Charlotte Thanh Theresin) who has been left at the door. Maya has been left with a note written by her single mother, who says she can no longer take care of Maya, and asks the owner of the store to make sure that Maya gets a good home.

Why did Maya’s mother leave her child at A.J.’s bookstore? In the note, Maya’s mother says that it’s because she grew up loving books and figured that whoever owned the bookstore would be someone trustworthy. Maya and her mother were actually in the store a few days earlier. But because of his awful customer service skills, he barely noticed them when Maya’s mother asked for his help in finding a book. Maya’s mother eventually left the store without buying anything.

Maya was abandoned at A.J.’s bookstore at around 9 p.m. on a Friday, and A.J. brings Maya to the local police station. Ismay happens to be with him too. Lambiase says that the Massachusetts Department of Family and Health Services can’t be contacted until Monday. A.J. doesn’t think it’s right to leave Maya at the police station. Ismay is having a later-in-life pregnancy and doesn’t want any stress to complicate the pregnancy by taking care of a 2-year-old child. And so, A.J. surprises himself by offering to let Maya stay at his home for the night. He admits he doesn’t know how to take care of kids her age, but he thinks he can try.

You know where this is going, of course, especially if you’ve seen the trailer for “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.” A.J. decides to keep the child, and he raises her as a single father. Before that happens, a few days after Maya was found abandoned, Lambiase and his deputy co-workers discover the dead body of Maya’s mother on a beach. She died of an apparent suicide. Her name was Marian Wallace (played by Lizzy Brooks), and she was a 22-year-old student and champion swimmer attending Harvard University on a swimming scholarship.

The next thing viewers know, it’s 14 months later, and A.J. has adopted 3-year-old Maya (played by Estella Kahiha), who is a playful and energetic child. A.J.’s time as a foster parent and the adoption process for Maya are completely erased from the story. The movie’s brief depiction of A.J. not knowing how to cope with a crying 2-year-old Maya on the first night she’s in his home doesn’t count as showing him spending quality time with this child. It’s a very clumsy fast-forward to the story to go from A.J. finding this abandoned girl to then adopting her.

How did a depressed, borderline alcoholic with financial problems get approved for this single-parent adoption? The movie never explains that either, but it’s implied that no one else wanted to take care of Maya. His financial problems apparently went away, because by the time Maya is shown at age 5 (played by Jordyn McIntosh), A.J. still owns the bookstore, and he never talks about being broke, like he does at the beginning of the movie. His drinking problem also magically disappears too, because it’s never mentioned or shown again.

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” then takes another abrupt turn when the Maya subplot gets sidelined for a long and uninteresting stretch of the movie where A.J. and Amelia have an up-and-down, long-distance courtship that starts off very awkwardly. A.J. is attracted to Amelia and wants to date her, but she’s engaged to a man named Brett Brewer, who is in the military. Brett is never seen or heard in the movie, which is an obvious sign that the relationship isn’t going to last.

“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” than gets distracted with another subplot about the unhappy marriage of Ismay and Daniel. Viewers might be wondering, “Wait a minute. Wasn’t Ismay pregnant in the beginning of the movie? Where’s the child?” It’s later explained what happened to her pregnancy, but this explanation is dropped into the last third of movie when it should have been mentioned much earlier. This is the type of unimpressive and choppy storytelling in the movie.

One of the biggest flaws in “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is how it never tells anything about A.J. Fikry’s backstory. Viewers never find out where he grew up, if he has any family members, or how and why he fell in love with his wife. It’s also never clear if it was a longtime dream of his to own a bookstore, or if he just fell into it. His dislike for most books that he ranted about to Amelia in the beginning of the movie is never really mentioned again.

The movie has some acknowledgement of Amelia’s family and backstory, but Amelia is depicted in a shallow way too. During their courtship, she doesn’t seem to care to find out more about A.J.’s family, his background, or how he’s taking care of Maya, nor does A.J. share that information. Amelia’s emotional baggage (she’s still not completely over her father dying when she was a child) is briefly mentioned.

Amelia has an opinionated widowed mother named Margaret Loman (played by Chandra Michaelsa), who eventually meets A.J. when she goes to Alice Island with Amelia for a visit. The movie never really succeeds in its efforts to convince viewers that A.J. and Amelia fall deeply in love. Amelia and A.J. seem like a couple that started out as friends and then ended up together out of loneliness and perhaps some emotional desperation.

Small but important details are completely ignored. For example, while A.J. and Amelia go on dates with each other, it’s never explained who’s taking care of Maya. She is never shown having a babysitter or nanny. A.J.’s parenthood is a flimsy plot device that has no real substance, based on how little screen time is given to Maya in her childhood. It isn’t until the last third of the movie, when Maya is 14 years old (played by Blaire Brown), that she is shown to have something close to a personality.

The movie then takes another drastic shift in tone for the most tearjerking part of the story in the last third of the movie, which is just a tangle of soap-opera-level plot twists. Tearjerking scenes work best when viewers feel like they’ve gotten to know the characters well enough to care about them. The character of A.J. seems very hollow, considering the movie reveals very little information about who he is as a whole human being. It’s like he dropped out of the sky to be put in an uninspiring and sloppily made movie.

The romance part of the story is very lackluster, since Nayyar and Hale do not have believable chemistry with each other as A.J. and Amelia. The cast members’ performances aren’t terrible, but they aren’t special either. The overall direction and film editing are amateurish, as if the filmmakers had no specific vision for the story, and just cobbled together a mishmash of scenes, with the hope that everything would hold people’s interest. “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is a title that suggests the movie is the story of a fascinating person. Unfortunately, A.J. is a protagonist whose life in this disappointing movie is the equivalent of a book with many blank pages in between a lot of rambling.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022. The movie’s release on digital and VOD was on November 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Ghosts of the Ozarks,’ starring Thomas Hobson, Tara Perry, Phil Morris, Angela Bettis, David Arquette and Tim Blake Nelson

February 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tim Blake Nelson, Angela Bettis and Thomas Hobson in “Ghosts of the Ozarks” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Ghosts of the Ozarks”

Directed by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1860s Arkansas after the U.S. Civil War, the horror film “Ghosts of the Ozarks” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young doctor is summoned by his uncle to live in a secretive community in Arkansas that is haunted by ghosts.

Culture Audience: “Ghosts of the Ozarks” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching very boring and poorly written horror movies that aren’t very scary.

Phil Morris in “Ghosts of the Ozarks” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Ghosts of the Ozarks” tries to make social commentary about power and race relations in Arkansas after the Civil War, but the intended message gets buried in a cesspool of sluggish storytelling and terrible acting. This horror movie also fails to be suspenseful or scary. The cheap-looking visual effects don’t help.

Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long co-directed “Ghosts of the Ozarks,” whose screenplay was co-written by Long and Tara Perry, with Sean Anthony Davis credited as a collaborating writer. Glass and Long also co-directed the 2018 horror comedy “Squirrel.” “Ghosts of the Ozarks,” which is not a comedy, has a simple concept that gets muddled with a lot of boring filler scenes that add very little to the story. In addition, many of the cast members give lackluster performances, as if the story is monotonous to them too.

In “Ghosts of the Ozarks,” which takes place in the 1860s sometime after the U.S. Civil War, physician Dr. James McCune (played by Thomas Hobson) has been summoned by his uncle Matthew McCune (played by Phil Morris) to live and work in a secretive rural Arkansas community named Norfolk, where Matthew is the leader. Norfolk is located in the Ozarks Mountain area. The movie was filmed on location in Arkansas.

James (who is African American) is eager to take the offer to become Norfolk’s doctor, because he wants a better life than the one he’s had. Racism has prevented him from getting the same opportunities as white doctors, so he wants to go to a place where he’s welcomed and appreciated. In addition to being a doctor in private practice, James has experience as a medic for the Union Army in the Civil War.

During his trek to Norfolk, James reads Matthew’s letter that convinced James to live in Norfolk. In the letter, Matthew says: “I invite you to Norfolk. It’s a sanctuary for all in these times. We like to keep to ourselves. We have need for a doctor with your skills. It’s a place unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” What Matthew doesn’t say in the letter, but which James finds out after he arrives in Norfolk, is that Norfolk’s previous doctor mysteriously disappeared.

James’ horse Ruthie runs away in the beginning of the movie, so James has to make the rest of his way by foot to Norfolk, through a heavily wooded area. It’s here that James gets the first clue that something might be strange about this place. He’s at a campfire by himself when a creepy-looking man named Micah (played by Scott Dean) approaches James in a suspicious manner and invites himself to join James at the campfire.

In a comment with racial overtones, Micah sneers at James, “It must be mighty nice, now that you’re free, you can go wherever you want.” James answers with confidence, “I didn’t need a war to be free.” Micah’s tone becomes even more hostile when he wrongfully accuses James of having precious stones. Micah then lunges at James and attacks him. But then, a mysterious red fog comes out of nowhere and pulls Micah into the fog, as Micah can be heard screaming in fright. James is also terrified, and he runs away.

When James arrives at Norfolk and tells Matthew what happened, Matthew nonchalantly tells James that the area is haunted by ghosts, which manifest themselves in the red fog. Matthew and James are the only African Americans in Norfolk. Everyone else is white. Toward the end of the movie, it’s haphazardly explained why an African American man in 1860s Arkansas was easily able to convince a white community to make him the leader, in a region of the United States where slavery of African Americans was legal just a few years earlier.

Matthew tells James why Norfolk is a utopia: “People here don’t care what you look like. Purpose is all that matters.” Throughout the movie, it’s repeated to the point of annoyance that everyone in Norfolk has a “purpose.” There’s also a wall that makes Norfolk a gated community. Security guards or “gatekeepers” are always at the entrance gate. Norfolk residents are discouraged from going outside the gates unless it’s to fulfill their “purpose.”

James doesn’t really believe in the supernatural, but Matthew says to James about the ghosts of the Ozarks: “They’re as real as I’ve ever known. They’re as magical as I’ve ever known. There’s not a soul [in Norfolk] who hasn’t come in contact with them. Most are wearing their history as their scars. The ghosts are real, boy. So are the walls. As long as that’s honored, each to his or her own purpose.”

Norfolk is filled with eccentrics. And because it’s a small community, everyone seems to know each other’s business. Torb (played by Tim Blake Nelson) is a quick-tempered blind man with an acute sense of hearing. He tends the bar/saloon at a local inn, where his gossipy confidante Lucille (played by Angela Bettis) likes to play the piano at the bar/saloon. The movie has a cringeworthy, out-of-place scene where Torb and Lucille perform an entire song together.

James also meets Douglas Giuseppe DuBois (played by David Arquette), who’s proud of the fact that he’s one of the few people in the area who has a camera and a photo studio. Douglas makes a living by taking studio portraits, but it’s later revealed that he uses his camera to take photos of people without their knowledge. Arquette is one of the least-believable 1860s characters in this movie’s cast. He just seems to be playing dress-up in a costume.

One of the Norfolk residents is a grandmother-age woman named Miss Roberts (played by Neva Howell), who is James’ first house call as a doctor in Norfolk. Miss Roberts has a girl living in her household named Emma (played by Skylar Olivia Flanagan), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. The movie is so poorly written, it never explains what Emma’s relationship is to Miss Roberts. Both of these characters get too much screen time, considering that they don’t do much, unless you think it’s fascinating that Emma sometimes goes outside the gated walls to fly kites.

Three other Norfolk residents who encounter James are an outgoing young man named Joe (played by Aaron Preusch), his socially awkward friend Mick (played by Brandon Gibson) and a middle-aged man named Jesse (played by David Aaron Baker), who is Emma’s uncle. Not long after James has settled in his own place at Norfolk, he has another unsettling experience one night: Joe suddenly bursts into James’ home and coughs up a lot of blood. James puts something that looks like a heat-glowing tongue depressor in Joe’s mouth, and Joe eventually recovers. The glow on this device looks supernatural, but it’s never explained why.

Outside the gated walls of Norfolk live two siblings who are the children of the doctor who disappeared: Annie Hunter (played by “Ghosts of the Ozarks” co-writer Perry) and her brother William Hunter (played by Joseph Ruud), a hulking and bearded man who doesn’t talk much. Annie and William used to live in Norfolk, but they were cast out by the community for not following the rules of “living your purpose.” The dislike goes both ways: Annie and William don’t think the community did enough to help find their father. Annie thinks of herself as an outspoken, gun-toting maverick, as if she’s Annie Oakley before Annie Oakley became famous.

Because James has been tasked with taking over the missing doctor’s clinic, he goes outside the gated walls to ask for Annie’s help to show him around and help set up the clinic. She reluctantly agrees. Over time, Annie and James develop an attraction to each other. Annie is also sought after by Mick, but she rebuffs his advances because she has no romantic interest in him.

As a Norfolk newcomer, James initially has a positive outlook on this place he now calls home, which he describes as a “haven.” Annie has the opposite opinion when she tells him: “This is a prison, James. They’ve convinced the inmates it’s a paradise.” If you consider why James has ended up in Norfolk, and who would have the most power to get things done, it’s very easy to figure out who’s the villain in this story. It really is that obvious.

Even though the movie has an obvious villain who isn’t revealed until the last third of the movie, there are things about “Ghosts of the Ozarks” that just don’t make sense. Micah—the man who attacked James in the beginning of the movie before being hauled off by the red fog—is found dead later near the Norfolk gates. James sees Micah’s body being carried away, while a Norfolk resident declares that the ghosts killed Micah. And yet, James doesn’t appear unnerved at all. And for all this talk in the movie about “purpose,” characters like Miss Roberts and Jesse seem to have no real purpose in the movie.

There are parts of “Ghosts of the Ozarks” that introduce ideas and then just leave these ideas to dangle with no real resolution. Emma’s kite flying didn’t really need to be in the movie, even though considerable screen time (about 15 minutes) is spent on this kite-flying activity. If it’s supposed to create tension that Emma could get in trouble for being outside the gates, then this intention fell flat. In addition to the strange heat-glowing device that James used to medically treat Joe, there’s also a brass wind-up device that James has brought with him, but he can’t get it to work. It’s another time-wasting part of the movie that’s never explained.

Early on in the film, Matthew asks James to find mushrooms for a “remedy” recipe that Matthew says can “work wonders” for Matthew’s health. It leads to a scene where James is digging for mushrooms in the woods at night, and he encounters the ghostly red fog again. It’s all so contrived and phony, because James could’ve easily been digging for mushrooms during the day. It’s yet another “Ghosts of the Ozarks” scene that’s weak on being scary.

Most of the acting in “Ghosts of the Ozarks” is downright awful and made worse by the idiotic dialogue in the movie. Nelson is the most acclaimed actor in this cast, but he plays a hollow caricature in this movie, which makes him look foolish with his corny overacting. At least Torb has something resembling a personality. James is as bland as bland can be, with Hobson giving a generic and forgettable performance to match.

“Ghosts of the Ozarks” gets dragged down with a lot of badly staged and tedious scenes about the social environment at Norfolk. It isn’t until the last third of the movie that it seems to remember that it’s supposed to be a horror story. A big showdown is rushed in toward the end. But just like this entire movie, it’s badly conceived, sloppily executed, and just one big letdown.

XYZ Films released “Ghosts of the Ozarks” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on February 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Scream’ (2022), starring Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Marley Shelton

January 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Scream” (2022)

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the fictional California city of Woodsboro, the horror film “Scream” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Ghostface Killer murders start again in Woodsboro, with new characters and familiar franchise characters in a race against time to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

Culture Audience: Aside from fans of the “Scream” horror series, “Scream” will appeal mainly to people who like horror movies that combine graphic gore with sarcastic comedy.

Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Melissa Barrera and David Arquette in “Scream” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The 2022 version of “Scream” proves that the series is running out of fresh new ideas, but the movie’s self-aware snarkiness and effective nods to “Scream” franchise nostalgia make the film mostly watchable. Viewers don’t have to see the previous “Scream” movies to understand or be entertained by 2022’s “Scream,” which is the fifth movie in the series. Because it shares the same title as 1996’s “Scream” (the first movie in the series) the 2022 “Scream” movie’s title does it a disservice because it’s more of a sequel than a reboot.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the 2022 version of “Scream” is the first “Scream” movie that wasn’t directed by Wes Craven, the horror filmmaking master who died of a brain tumor in 2015, at the age of 76. The 2022 version of “Scream” also has screenwriters who are new to the “Scream” franchise: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Kevin Williamson—who wrote 1996’s “Scream,” 1997’s “Scream 2” and 2011’s “Scream 4” movies—is an executive producer of 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” follows almost the exact same formula as certain parts of previous “Scream” movies. A group of people in their late teens and early 20s are targeted and gruesomely murdered, one by one, by a serial killer dressed in a black robe, wearing a creepy ghost mask, and usually killing with a large knife. This murderer is named the Ghostface Killer. The end of each “Scream” movie reveals who’s been responsible for the murders.

Unlike most other horror movie series that keep the same villain for each movie in the series, the “Scream” movie series has a different culprit dressed up as the Ghostface Killer in each “Scream” movie. The first “Scream” movie is constantly referred to in the sequels because the Ghostface Killer murder sprees in the sequels are copycat crimes of the original Ghostface Killer murder spree, which took place in the fictional city of Woodsboro, California. The 2000 movie “Scream 3” added a movie-within-a-movie storyline, by creating a fictional horror movie series called “Stab,” which was inspired by what happened in the first “Scream” movie.

Those are some of the basic things that might be helpful to people who watch 2022’s “Scream” without knowing anything about the previous “Scream” films. The people who will enjoy this movie the most are those who’ve seen all of the previous “Scream” movies, although the 1996 “Scream” movie and “Scream 3” are the two most essential previous “Scream” films to watch to understand all of the jokes in 2022’s “Scream.”

The 2022 version of “Scream” begins with the same type of scene that began 1996’s “Scream”: A teenage girl from Woodsboro High School is home alone in Woodsboro when she gets a mysterious call from the Ghostface Killer, who breaks in the home and attacks her. Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker character famously got killed in that opening scene in the 1996 “Scream” movie.

The outcome is different for the opening scene in 2022’s “Scream.” Tara Carpenter (played by Jenna Ortega), the teenager attacked in the opening scene, survives this attempted murder. Tara, who’s about 16 or 17, lives with her single mother Christine Carpenter, who is never seen in the movie. Tara’s father abandoned the family when Tara was 8 years old. If you consider some of the family secrets that are revealed, Christine’s absence is the “Scream” filmmakers’ lazily convenient way to not have Christine around, because she would have a lot of explaining to do.

The movie gives a vague explanation that Christine has mental-health issues where she frequently goes away for long stretches of time. When the Ghostface Killer calls Tara, he asks for Christine and says that he knows her from group therapy. Tara says that Christine isn’t home and begins to question how well the caller knows Christine. And that’s when the Ghostface Killer starts to taunt Tara by doing things such has force her answer trivia questions about the “Stab” movies.

Christine’s absence still doesn’t explain why the police or hospital officials don’t seem too concerned about finding Christine when her underage child is in a hospital after an attempted murder. It’s one of the sloppy aspects of this movie, which puts a lot more emphasis on making references to previous “Scream” films than filling any plot holes in the 2022 “Scream” story. There are some other preposterous aspects of the movie, but the absence of Christine is the one that’s the least adequately explained.

More characters eventually populate the movie until most of them are killed off by the end. Tara’s circle of friends consists entirely of other Woodsboro High School students. Because so many characters are murdered, it becomes a very easy process of elimination to find out who’s responsible for this killing spree.

And there’s a part of the movie where someone literally lists all the formulaic rules for “Scream”/”Stab” movies, so major clues are purposely dropped in the film. Therefore, this “Scream” movie, although it has plenty of jump scares, isn’t as suspenseful as previous “Scream’ movies when it comes to the solving the mystery of who’s responsible for the killings.

The other characters in the movie include:

  • Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Tara’s older sister, who lives in Modesto and goes to Woodsboro when she finds out about the attempted murder of Tara.
  • Richie Kirsch (played by Jack Quaid), Sam’s new boyfriend who works with her at a retail store. Sam and Richie, who have known each other for about six months, go to Woodsboro together during this family crisis.
  • Amber Freeman (played by Mikey Madison), Tara’s best friend who made plans to party with Tara at Tara’s house on the night that Tara was attacked.
  • Mindy Meeks-Martin (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown), a member of Tara’s social circle who’s a “Stab” trivia fanatic. Mindy is also the niece of original “Scream” character Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy), whose fate is shown in “Scream 2.”
  • Chad Meeks-Martin (played by Mason Gooding), Mindy’s twin brother, who is a popular athlete at school.
  • Liv McKenzie (played by Sonia Ammar), Chad’s girlfriend who’s a bit of a wild child. She had a fling with a creep in his 30s named Vince Schneider (played by Kyle Gallner), who later stalks her.
  • Wes Hicks (played by Dylan Minnette), a nice guy who’s often teased by his friends because his mother works in law enforcement.
  • Deputy Judy Hicks (played by Marley Shelton), Wes’ mother who is one of the lead investigators in the murder spree. Deputy Judy Hicks was also a character in “Scream 4.”

In addition to these characters, the 2022 “Scream” features the return of these original “Scream” franchise characters, who’ve been in other “Scream” movies:

  • Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), the Ghostface Killer’s original target who has appeared in every “Scream” movie leading up this one.
  • Gale Weathers-Riley (played by Courteney Cox), an extremely ambitious TV reporter/book author, whose brash and pushy attitude rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
  • Dewey Riley (played by David Arquette), the goofy and easygoing cop who originally clashed with Gale, but then they fell in love and got married.

Sidney, Gale and Dewey all live far away from Woodsboro, but they are lured back to town when they hear that Ghostface Killer murders are happening again. Sidney, who was a Woodsboro High School student in the first “Scream” movie, is now married to someone named Mark (who’s never seen in the movie) and is the mother of infant twin daughters, who are also never seen in the movie.

Gale and Dewey are now divorced. According to conversations in the movie, their marriage fell apart soon after Gale took a prominent newscasting job in New York City. Dewey didn’t like living in New York, so he left Gale. It’s art somewhat imitating life, because in real life, Cox and Arquette met because of the “Scream” movie, they fell in love, got married, and eventually divorced.

While Gale’s career has been thriving, Dewey’s life and career have been on a downward spiral. When certain characters seek out Dewey to enlist his help in catching the Ghostface Killer, they find him living as an emotionally damaged recluse in a run-down trailer. Once a police sheriff, he eventually confesses that he was asked to leave the police department under circumstance he doesn’t full explain. Dewey has become a drunk, although it’s unclear if his drinking problem began before or after he lost his job.

Dewey is also heartbroken over his divorce from Gale. Meanwhile, Gale shows she has a heart because she’s been devastated by the divorce too. Dewey has a personal reason for investigating Ghostface Killer murders: His younger sister, Tatum Riley (played by Rose McGowan), who was Sidney’s best friend in high school, was killed in the original Ghostface Killer murder spree chronicled in the first “Scream” movie.

The 2022 “Scream” movie balances out a lot of the explicitly violent and bloody murder scenes with self-effacing jokes. There are many references to what sequels, reboots or “requels” (movies that are hybrids of reboots and sequels) should or should not do to please die-hard fans. At one point in the movie, when “Stab” trivia buff Mindy marvels at what has happened to Sam so far and how “Stab” fans would react, Sam asks Mindy sarcastically, “Are you telling me I’m part of fan fucking fiction?”

Mindy, just like her uncle Randy, is the self-appointed authority on clues and patterns in these serial killings. She lists three rules of finding out who’s the serial killer:

  • Never trust the love interest.
  • The killer’s motive is always connected to the past.
  • The main victim has a friend group that’s also targeted by the killer.

Because “Scream” spends so much time pointing out “rules” and “clichés” of horror movie franchises, it takes a little bit of the fun out of trying to guess who’s responsible for the serial killings in this movie. The movie literally tells the audience who the killer is, but even if it didn’t, enough people get killed in this relatively small cast of characters to figure out who’s behind the murder spree long before it’s officially revealed.

“Scream” should please fans who want a movie that’s heavy on nostalgia for beloved franchise characters, but something happens to one of these characters that might get very mixed reactions from fans. Because slasher flicks like “Scream” rely heavily on characters in their teens and 20s getting murdered, this “Scream” movie doesn’t do much with character development for the young characters who aren’t Sam and Tara. The two sisters were estranged for a number of years, for reasons that are explained in the movie. Predictably, Tara and Sam set aside their family friction to join forces to get the Ghostface Killer.

Except for one shocking death in “Scream,” the movie really does stick to the formula that it constantly lampoons. At times, this constant ironic self-referencing wears a little thin and comes across as a little too smug. Some of the violence might be a turnoff for people who are extremely sensitive, very squeamish or easily offended by scenes in movies where knife slashes and blood gushing are depicted to full gory effect. This “Scream” movie has no intention of being as original as the first “Scream” movie, but for horror fans, there’s enough in the 2022 “Scream” to be entertained by classic horror tropes, with the ending inevitably leaving open the probability of a sequel.

Paramount Pictures released “Scream” in U.S. cinemas on January 14, 2022.

Review: ’12 Hour Shift,’ starring Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Nikea Gamby-Turner, David Arquette, Kit Williamson and Mick Foley

September 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Angela Bettis in “12 Hour Shift” (Photo by Matt Glass/Magnet Releasing)

“12 Hour Shift”

Directed by Brea Grant

Culture Representation: Taking place in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1999, the horror comedy “12 Hour Shift” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A drug-addicted hospital nurse, who illegally sells organs to make extra money, has crazy and horrible experiences during a 12-hour shift.

Culture Audience: “12 Hour Shift” will appeal primarily to people who like horror served up with a lot of dark and absurdist comedy.

Chloe Farnworth in “12 Hour Shift” (Photo by Matt Glass/Magnet Releasing)

What do you get when you cross a drug-addicted nurse with a cop killer, some thugs, a stolen kidney and wacky patients during a very long work day that stretches into the night? You get “12 Hour Shift,” an apologetically bloody and bawdy horror comedy that is not for people who are easily nauseated or for people who want a serious horror film. Written and directed by Brea Grant, “12 Hour Shift” is as rough around the edges as the story’s main character, but if you’re up for the bumpy ride, be prepared for an offbeat look at the type of hospital that could be a patient’s worst nightmare.

In “12 Hour Shift,” which takes place in 1999, the action centers around Mandy (played by Angela Bettis), a hospital nurse in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Mandy has a prickly personality and a serious addiction to prescription drugs. She’s the kind of addict who doesn’t hesitate to steal prescription medication from a patient who’s unconscious.

At the beginning of the story, Mandy is seen smoking in a parking lot before she begins what will turn out to be the 12-hour shift from hell. It’s clear from her interactions with a co-worker in the parking lot that Mandy isn’t concerned about being a well-liked employee. When she goes inside the hospital, she snorts chopped-up pills in a storage room before she begins a double shift.

Mandy doesn’t just make money from the salary she gets from the hospital. To make extra money (presumably to support her drug habit), Mandy has been involved in some illegal transactions: She’s been selling the organs of dead patients who are in the hospital’s mortuary.

The hospital is understaffed, so viewers have to assume that Mandy has the time and the ability to remove people’s organs without anyone else noticing. Viewers will have to ignore a huge plot hole that’s not explained in the movie: What about the bodies that have to go to a medical examiner to determine the cause of death? That would expose a pattern of organs going missing from bodies at the hospital, which would trigger an investigation.

At any rate, “12 Hour Shift” is a dark comedy that’s not entirely rooted in realism. If people know before seeing this movie that the story takes some situations to extreme and absurd levels, they will enjoy the movie better. People who want a more straightforward, conventional horror movie should look elsewhere

During this particular 12-hour work shift, Mandy is doing her usual routine of handing off the bags of stolen organs (which include intestines and a kidney) in a small cooler container that she leaves near the hospital’s back entrance. Her accomplice is ditzy Regina (played by Chloe Farnworth), who is Mandy’s cousin by marriage. Regina gives Mandy the payment in cash, and Mandy goes back into the hospital.

However, Regina makes a big mistake when she takes the cooler with her but accidentally leaves behind a bag of organs at the back entrance. When Regina meets with a low-life thug named Nicholas (played by Mick Foley), she notices that a bag is missing. Nicholas is incensed because in that bag is a kidney that he needs right now.

When Regina frantically returns to the hospital’s back entrance, the bag that she left behind is gone. Regina goes to Mandy to tell her the bad news about the missing kidney. Mandy is furious, of course, because she knows that she could be in a lot of trouble since she was already paid for the kidney and she doesn’t want to give any of the money back. And so begins the zany quest for Mandy and Regina to find another kidney before Nicholas and his fellow thugs come looking for them to do who knows what if they don’t get a kidney for him.

There’s someone else who’s in on the organ sales schemes: Mandy’s no-nonsense co-worker Karen (played by Nikea Gamby-Turner), who gets her share of whatever cash that Mandy gets for the sales. Karen usually acts as the lookout while Mandy does the dirty work of removing the organs. And now that there’s a race against time to find another kidney, things are going to get pretty desperate.

But wouldn’t you know, this is the one shift where Mandy has to deal with some other intense situations, since she works in the emergency-room ward. A drug-overdose patient comes into the hospital. His name is Andrew (played by Aaron Preusch), and Mandy has a past with him that she’d like to forget.

An admitted cop killer named Jefferson (played by David Arquette) is brought to the hospital under police custody, and he becomes a pest because he tries to make moves on the hospital’s female staffers. Jefferson says, “I murdered a cop. I hate cops, but I love blondes.” Meanwhile, clueless Regina is enlisted to help find a dying patient from whom Mandy could steal a kidney. And it should come as no surprise that Regina (who shows up in a hospital uniform and high heels) makes a disastrous decision.

Meanwhile, there’s a running gag of a hypochondriac named Mr. Kent (played by Tom DeTrinis) who keeps showing up at the hospital to insist that he get a room, even though there’s nothing physically wrong with him. There’s an emergency medical technician named Derrick (played by Thomas Hobson), who might or might not be able to help Mandy. And there’s a weepy nurse at the hospital named Dorothy (played by Tara Peary), who asks, “Is there any more cake?,” as if her her day would be ruined if there’s no more cake in the employee break room.

The violence in the movie can get very gruesome, but some of it is so over-the-top, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Arquette (who is one of the film’s producers) seems to know that his goofy public persona doesn’t make him entirely convincing when he’s supposed to play a dangerous criminal, so he hams it up quite a bit in this movie. Farnworth’s Regina is playing a stereotypical airhead, so there really isn’t supposed to be much depth to this role.

It’s Bettis’ portrayal as the hard-nosed Mandy that’s the performance to watch. Mandy might be facing a lot of trouble for her illegal antics, and some dangerous thugs might come after her, but Mandy’s got this tough “I don’t care/Just give me my money and drugs” demeanor that indicates she not to be messed with easily. There’s really no deep message in the mayhem and chaos that ensue in “12 Hour Shift.” In its darkly comedic way, the movie will make you think twice about what could happen if you’re unconscious in a hospital and a drug-addicted nurse wants to steal your medication or maybe one of your organs.

Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing will release “12 Hour Shift” in select U.S. theaters and on VOD on October 2, 2020.

Review: ‘You Cannot Kill David Arquette,’ starring David Arquette, Christina McLarty Arquette, Courteney Cox, Patricia Arquette, RJ City, Eric Bischoff and Jerry Kubik

September 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Arquette in “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“You Cannot Kill David Arquette”

Directed by David Darg and Price James

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States and in Mexico, the documentary film “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” has a predominantly white group of people (with some Latinos and a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Hollywood actor David Arquette confronts his controversial past as a former world heavyweight wrestling champ by deciding to train and compete as a professional wrestler, despite his age and health problems.

Culture Audience: “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” will appeal primarily to wrestling fans and people who don’t mind seeing an often-comedic documentary with numerous obviously staged scenes. 

David Arquette (in green pants) in “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

If you’re a somewhat famous actor whose best career days are behind you, including a controversial win of a World Championship Wrestling (WCW) title back in the year 2000, what do you do if you’re desperate for attention? If you’re David Arquette, you decide to temporarily get back into professional wrestling and make a documentary about it. “You Cannot Kill David Arquette,” just like the actor who’s the star of this documentary, doesn’t take life too seriously and has an attitude that can be funny and pathetic but mostly entertaining to watch. Your tolerance in watching this film will depend on your tolerance of watching a middle-aged man who repeatedly says and shows in the movie that he doesn’t really want to grow up.

If you expect that the documentary will have a lot of very contrived and staged moments (just like wrestling), then this movie will be a lot easier to watch. Anyone expecting to see the inner workings of a major wrestling team will be very disappointed, since Arquette sticks to the minor leagues of independent wrestling to try to make a comeback into the public spotlight. This documentary is undoubtedly a vanity project that’s not only a look into the psyche of someone who’s having a mid-life crisis but also someone who’s a product of his showbiz upbringing. Arquette makes it clear throughout the movie that his entire identity and self-esteem are wrapped up in how much adoration and attention he gets from the public.

In case people don’t know who Arquette is, the movie gives a brief introduction to his career and family background. Born in 1971, David comes from a family of actors: His father Lewis Arquette (who died in 2001) was a character actor. Lewis Arquette’s father was comedic actor Cliff Arquette, who died in 1974. All of David’s older siblings (David is the youngest of five children) have some level of fame as actors: Patricia (an Oscar winner and Emmy winner), Rosanna, Richmond and the late Alexis, a transgender woman who died in 2016.

Patricia, Rosanna and Richmond are all interviewed in the documentary. The siblings describe their family as being unconventional (they spent part of their childhood living in a Virginia commune), and their mother Brenda (who died in 1997) as being sometimes physically abusive because she would choke or hit her children. David, who describes his father as his idol, says he’s had lifelong issues of wanting to be a people-pleaser, which stem from how he was raised as a child.

David is probably best known for his role as bumbling cop Dwight “Dewey” Riley from the “Scream” horror movies. It was through the “Scream” franchise that Arquette met his first wife, “Friends” co-star Courteney Cox, who co-starred in the “Scream” movies as the abrasive and ambitious TV reporter Gale Weathers. David and Cox were married from 1999 to 2013, and they have a daughter together named Coco, who was born in 2004.

Coco Arquette and Cox are both in the documentary. As Cox says of her relationship with her ex-husband David: “We met on ‘Scream,’ hated each other on ‘Scream 2,’ we got married at ‘Scream 3’ and got divorced in ‘Scream 4.'” When she finds out that David wants to go back into wrestling, she can’t really look at his “comeback” wrestling footage without cringing.

David’s marriage to second wife Christina McLarty Arquette (whom he married in 2015) seems to be very different from his first marriage, although McLarty Arquette and Cox look very physically similar to each other. McLarty Arquette used to be a TV journalist (with stints in local news and on “Inside Edition” and “Entertainment Tonight”), but she’s now mostly a homemaker and occasional movie producer. She and David have two sons together: Charlie (born in 2014) and Gus (born in 2017), plus the family’s three Bassett Hounds, who are all in the documentary. McLarty Arquette says that she has never seen “Scream” because “I hate scary movies.”

She might get squeamish about horror flicks, but McLarty Arquette seems to have a high tolerance for seeing people getting bloodied and hurt at wrestling matches, since there are multiple scenes in the documentary where she’s shown cheering David on at his wrestling matches. McLarty Arquette is a producer of “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” (which was filmed mostly in 2018 and 2019), so she had a vested interest in seeing David go through with this wrestling “comeback,” despite all the risks to his health.

What kind of health risks were there? Even though David’s intense training for his wrestling “comeback” resulted in him losing weight and having a toned physique, he had a heart attack the year before he decided to go back into wrestling. He has stents in his heart to prevent blood clots. The documentary includes footage of appointments that David had with cardiologist Dr. PK Shah, who gave the clearance for David to go back into wrestling.

David has also publicly admitted to being an alcoholic. He had a well-publicized stint in rehab in 2011. The documentary has footage of David’s appointments with psychiatrist Dr. Michael Mamoun, who worries that the physical pain in wrestling will trigger David into relapsing back into alcoholism. Although the movie probably cut out a lot of the worst unflattering footage, that relapse did happen at least twice during the course of filming the documentary. David admits it too, especially when he is obviously drunk on camera. There are also many scenes where he might not be completely drunk, but he’s slurring his words.

And he isn’t entirely drug-free, since there’s some footage of him lighting up a joint (presumably marijuana) while he’s riding on a horse. And there’s also a bizarre scene were Dr. Mamoun injects David with ketamine during a doctor’s visit, resulting in David hallucinating and being incoherent. He had to be restrained by several people, including his wife and Dr. Mamoun, to calm him down. There are some moments where McLarty Arquette says on camera that she’s afraid that David’s wrestling comeback will result in him dying. But she wasn’t fearful enough to stop production of the film.

Based on what’s shown in this movie, no one could have convinced David to give up his obsession to win back the respect of the wrestling world. This insecurity over not being accepted by the wrestling world started after he won the WCW world heavyweight title (when he weighed only about 150 pounds), and he was the target of hatred from a lot of professional wrestlers and their fans. The documentary includes archival and new footage of wrestling fans expressing their disdain for David.

Even though it’s common knowledge that wrestling matches are rigged and the outcome is already rehearsed by the wrestlers involved, David’s “outsider” victory was widely perceived as unearned and an insult to pro wrestlers and their fans. David’s WCW title was essentially a publicity stunt to promote his 2000 wrestling comedy movie “Ready to Rumble.” It was a stunt that backfired for a lot of people involved.

In the documentary, Eric Bischoff (who was WCW’s president back in 2000) is interviewed next to David in David’s home and takes full responsibility for this debacle. Bischoff says of the wrestling industry: “There were certain rules. One of them was ‘Don’t let celebrities take advantage of wrestling. Don’t expose the business to make it look like anybody—celebrity or non-celebrity—could come off the street and actually beat a wrestler.'”

Bischoff says to David about David’s controversial WCW world heavyweight title win: “That wasn’t your fault. That was my fault for letting it happen.” Bischoff also says that the idea for David to win the title originally came from Vince Russo, who was WCW’s head writer at the time. Russo isn’t interviewed in the documentary, but there’s archival footage of a TV interview where Russo admits that he “killed the business forever” by coming up with the idea of David Arquette to win a WCW championship.

David is still haunted by this wrestling fiasco too. He says that it hurt his credibility as an actor, and his acting career was never the same. David also talks about how the past 10 years of his life have been a series of auditions and rejections. A lot of viewers might have trouble feeling much sympathy for him, as he moans about his problems while sitting around in his big house with a beautiful wife and family. It’s one of the reasons why many people despise Hollywood celebrities for being out of touch with problems in the real world.

David’s wife is on his pity party train too. She laments that David is often sad because his career isn’t as big as some of the actors who shared the cover with him for Vanity Fair’s 1996 Hollywood issue. She names Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Will Smith, who were on that Vanity Fair cover, as examples of the actors who have the careers that David should have had.

What she forgot to mention is that DiCaprio, McConaughey and Smith’s talent is on a different level than what David Arquette has. And she also didn’t mention that Skeet Ulrich, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech and Michael Rapaport were on that Vanity Fair cover too. They’re not exactly A-list actors either. The other two actors on that Vanity Fair cover were Benicio del Toro and Tim Roth, who aren’t A-listers but they’ve carved out long careers as highly respected actors. Not everyone can be superstars.

Throughout the documentary, David keeps repeating that he wants to win back the respect of the wrestling industry not just for career reasons but also for personal reasons, since he’s a huge fan of wrestling. He says that some of his favorite childhood memories were watching wrestling matches with his father, who happened to be the voice of Superfly Jimmy Snuka in the 1985-1986 TV series “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.”

David comments in the documentary about why he wants to make a wrestling comeback: “I don’t care about being a champ or anything like that. I care about respect.” And he says of wrestling: “I want to figure out this world.” His journey back into the wrestling world is volatile, painful and sometimes humiliating, but also has some moments of joy and triumph.

Of course, there are plenty of skeptics (including David’s ex-wife and his daughter) about his foray back into wrestling. Also weighing in with his opinion in a separate interview is wrestling legend Ric Flair, who’s shown commenting at the beginning of the documentary. Flair describes David as a “gentleman” who has his blessing as a person. But when Flair is asked if he would give his blessing to David as a wrestler, Flair replies: “Let’s not get carried away here.” Flair then adds with a smile, “He’s my hero when I look at his wife.”

A few of David’s low points in this film might or might not have been staged. David gets into a fist fight with wrestler Brian Knobbs of Legends of Wrestling when they argue about his idea to get back into wrestling. In another scene, David and his male friend Stacey Souther get some of his old wrestling costumes out of storage to so that he can pose for publicity photos that he plans to autograph at an upcoming wrestling fan convention. But when he gets to the wrestling fan convention, most of the fans there ignore him, and David is shown looking forlorn and embarrassed at his table where has no one lined up to see him.

There’s also a scene where David ends up practicing in a backyard with some wannabe male wrestlers he doesn’t know who are in their late teens and early 20s. It’s a scene that was meant to show that David is so humbled that he’ll wrestle anywhere he’s been invited, even if it’s in some obscure backyard with strangers. What the filmmakers and David probably didn’t expect was for David to get so injured and bloodied during this rowdy meet-up. The young guys who put him through the ringer say on camera that it’s a small example of the reality that’s in store when David goes out on the road as a professional wrestler.

There’s literally a lot of blood, sweat and tears from David in this documentary, which tries to push the narrative that he’s sort of an underdog, aging Rocky Balboa-like figure who’s going to make one last attempt at athletic glory. Before he starts competing as an independent wrestler, he trains at RC’s Wrestling School in Virginia. He also goes to Mexico to gets some training with some lucha libre pros.

One of the stunts that they do in Mexico is impromptu wrestling matches in the middle of streets during traffic jams, so people in their cars have no choice but to sit and watch the wrestling shenanigans. They try to do as many outrageous physical tricks as possible during these “traffic jam” matches and then collect money from people in the cars who want to pay them. At first, David doesn’t do too well, but then he gets the hang of it and actually starts to have fun and gets some small change out of it from people watching in the cars.

Some of the wrestlers who help David along the way include Rick Kelly, Peter Avalon, Tyler Bateman, Nick Gage and RJ City. (David is shown choreographing and planning his match with RJ City in a scene that pulls back the proverbial curtain on how these matches are rigged in advance.) David’s best friend Jerry Kubik is also along for much of the ride and offers a lot of emotional support.

And there’s a Death Match scene in which David gets severely injured and it’s definitely not a joke. David’s actor friend Luke Perry was there during that Death Match and helped David out of the venue to get medical treatment. Sadly, Perry died of a stroke in 2019. There’s a touching scene in the film when David pays tribute to Perry when talking with Luke Perry’s son Jack Perry, the professional wrestler who goes by the name Jungle Boy.

“You Cannot Kill David Arquette” directors David Darg and Price James are obviously fans of David Arquette and probably chose not to put a lot of the true low points of David’s life in this movie. But even they know that he often stoops to such levels of buffoonery that are too funny and should be put in a movie. David acknowledges that he can be the butt of people’s jokes, but he says he tries to be in on the joke as much as possible.

Although David is seen briefly in a moment of despair during his relapse where he wails that his life is messed up, for the most part, he comes across as a clown who’s desperate for people to pay attention to him. He says he lives for the connection he can make through personal interactions with wrestling fans. David says that even when he gets boos or insults from wrestling fans, it’s still better than nothing.

It’s a problem that a lot of celebrities have with their egos and self-esteem: Their need for public attention is like a bottomless pit, and they’ll never be satisfied. A lot of people watching this documentary will get some laughs and then won’t think much about David Arquette again. Since he’s made it clear that his acting career has become a disappointment to him, it might be a matter of time before he cooks up another scheme to get attention.

Super LTD released “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” in select U.S. cinemas on August 21, 2020, and on digital and VOD on August 28, 2020.

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