You shouldn't have to get to the end of this review to know where this critic stands: "John Dies at the End" is a terrible movie.
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, "John Dies at the End" has a few funny stretches and at least two genuinely good performances by veteran actors that almost convince you that sitting through 100 minutes of mostly excruciating glibness isn't a complete waste of time.
Adapted from the cult horror novel favorite by David Wong, "John Dies at the End" is about two slackers who stumble across an inter-dimensional conspiracy by monsters seeking entry to our world via a black viscous street drug called Soy Sauce.
1.5 stars = Bad
Rob Mayes, Chase Williamson, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman.
R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content.
John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase Williamson) are the smirking heroes who stand between Earth and an invasion by demonic spider-like beings. The two characters, who are nearly indistinguishable in terms of looks and personality, have to pull what's left of their senses together to avert encroaching doom.
David turns to Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a skeptical writer with his far-fetched narrative about Soy Sauce, mind-reading Rastas and inter-dimensional beings. Mr. Giamatti turns in one of the film's only nuanced performances, but it isn't enough.
While the audience is wondering why Dave contacted Arnie in the first place, Mr. Giamatti is probably wondering how he got talked into appearing in such a pointless movie.
For his part, John spends the bulk of the film stoned on Soy Sauce and blathering on about things happening out of chronological time. We never truly get a sense of what he's about or why we should care whether he lives or dies as the title of the movie promises.
John does drop dead at one point while being questioned by the police. Somehow Mr. Coscarelli was able to convince the usually dignified Glynn Turman to agree to the role as the film's tough cop, Lawrence Appleton.
Detective Appleton's nickname in the film is "Morgan Freeman." No, I don't get it, either, but it is probably supposed to be some sly reference to the filmmaker's inability to get someone of Mr. Freeman's stature for the role.
The usually great Clancy Brown also shows up as Dr. Albert Marconi, a con man televangelist exorcist of some sort who has the ability to kill the alien demons with a word or two over the phone. It is impossible to figure out why he's in this film (except as a walk-on by a character-actor with a well-known face).
There's an interlude in the middle of the film involving a guy from another dimension wearing a mask and cavorting in a room with a lot of topless women that was mildly interesting. Still, it failed to advance the film or the audience's understanding of what was happening one iota.
I didn't read the book, so I have no idea if the film version of "John Dies at the End" is a faithful adaptation or not. For the sake of Mr. Wong's literary reputation, I hope it isn't. What kills me about this well-shot but incredibly bad film is that it made it into the Sundance, Toronto, SXSW and AFI film festivals. Are there no standards to which flashy young directors are held anymore?
There was a time when directors actually wanted their audiences to understand what was happening on the screen. That struck me as such a quaint ideal while watching "John Dies at the End." To call it incomprehensible would be to praise it with faint damns.
Opens today at Hollywood Theater in Dormont.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631. First Published February 28, 2013 5:00 AM