It's been discussed before, but it bears repeating - can one fantastic facet of a film make up for the remainder of mediocrity? Put another way, does one horrific element undermine an otherwise sensational bit of cinema? You see, it really is a dilemma. Now, music critics would argue that awful lyrics or a lame solo destroys an otherwise strong song. A bad track amongst an otherwise solid album, however, can be excused. Classic books aren't unmade by ineffectual passages or clichéd characterization. So skewed logic suggests if an otherwise solid work can survive a rather substantial flub, a piss poor one can be perked up with a near Oscar worthy performance - and that's exactly the case with writer/director Luke Ricci's How to Be a Serial Killer. Inside all the marginal mock doc set-ups, the overly ironic "murder as a means of self-actualization" and significant lack of gore lies an acting job so good, and a performer so special, that to miss what he does with this otherwise underwritten mess would be criminal.
Mike Wilson has a proposition for you. If you follow his patented personal guidelines, if you practice and perform his certified slaughter system, if you forget that what you're about to do is against the law and simply give in to your caveman killing instincts, you too can become psychologically sound Ted Bundy. That's right, Mike is a serial killer and he has a 10 step program guaranteed to guide you toward a better life in service of your own inner Gacy. In that regard, he hooks up with loser video store clerk Bart, and attempts to show him the sublime slice and dive side of life. Of course, there's a nosy girlfriend who wonders what her clean cut and dapper dude is doing with a scraggly haired weirdo until all hours of the night. One look in Mike's secret safe seals her buttinsky fate. It's just all part of the life lessons extolled by a man who's an expert on How to Be a Serial Killer.
If a movie ever needed a messiah, Dameon Clarke is it. Invested with keeping the otherwise limp How to Be a Serial Killer on its toes, this journeyman Tinseltown talent (his IMDb page is quite impressive) delivers in ways this otherwise sorry film couldn't possible imagine. As if by sheer force of his own skill will, Clarke takes tired lines of dialogue and enlivens them, takes stultifying dull premises and electrifies them, and supports his occasionally shuffling co-stars in a manner that makes them appear competent. Does it save the movie? Heck no. Does Clarke deserve a lard-ass's bucket of brownies for trying? Yeppers! In fact, if it wasn't for writer/director Ricci's desire to employ irony as his only method of instilling humor, or his lack of gory goodness, we might have something here. The premise is initially inventive in its infomercial-like designs, and Clarke continuously commands our attention. But a good looking girl in a room full of fat chicks does not a swanky model's party make. This actor could be delivering the most drop dead brilliant performance this side of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and it wouldn't elevate How to Be a Serial Killer's inherent watchability.
Why? Well, for one thing, Ricci has no story to tell. He mixes things up too much, using the hard sell sequences (and Clarke's strangled steps toward achieving your mass murder goals) as a set-up, but many time, the illustrative vignette doesn't match the main theme. Instead, it's usually more time for Clarke to show up co-star Matthew Gray Gubler. Not to diss the solid cinematic citizen, but his bumbling Bart can't hold a piece of paraffin to madman Mike. It's like watching two different dynamics, one on autopilot, the other crashing and burning in spectacular fashion. In fact, a lot of How to Be a Serial Killer plays like a sluggish indie nightmare intercepted by a fantastic, fascinating interloper. While everyone else is desperately trying to stay awake, Clarke is cleaning their clocks with ease. So aside from the story, what else is missing here? Well, any interesting arterial spray, for one. How about a law enforcement foil for our hack and sack hero? Without an outside presence pressuring Mike, his actions function in a fictional vacuum. As a result, there's no suspense or sense of dread.
But the biggest problem here is what many would call the smarm factor. Horror comedies usually don't cotton to outright mockery. They like to have their satire laughing with, not at, the genre. But How to Be a Serial Killer occasionally seems to be an outright affront at the whole Henry: Portrait of a... proposition. Spoofs are fine and a lampoon can legitimately undermine a specific movie type. But Ricci doesn't seem sure of what he wants to accomplish. His focus falters often and unnecessarily. Had Clarke been given the chance to take the character to extremes the script wants to avoid, had there been a more menacing approach to the comedy, we'd tag along for the blood-soaked swap meet. But How to Be a Serial Killer is so cloudy, so completely devoid of a reason to root for it, that the resulting 90 minutes crawl by like a prolonged visit to the proctologist. There are possibilities here, hints that writer/director Ricci has a lot of talent and stored cinematic acumen. But if you are looking for something that takes the piss out of your run of the mill murderous psycho, this is not it. Dameon Clarke does a wonderful job here. The rest of this movie is rubbish.
While a review of the DVD proper is in the works, this version of the film was presented on the critic's favorite format - the preview SCREENER. As a result, no tech spec scores will be awarded since final product was not offered.
The same thing applies here. While a review of the DVD proper is in the works, this version of the film was presented on the critic's favorite format - the preview SCREENER. As a result, no tech spec scores will be awarded since final product was not offered.
This critic has been sitting on this review for quite some time, hoping that his hatred of this one note (and one singular performance) motion picture pariah would ebb and fade away. Sadly, no such luck. Instead, in re-watching parts a second time, a once lenient judgment turned almost violent. Moderating the final evaluation to take into consideration several factors - Screener version of the DVD, Clarke's work, Ricci's noble attempts - a Skip It was reversed. Now, officially, How to Be a Serial Killer earns an unenthusiastic Rent It. Some in the dread demo may like it. A few will even mock yours truly for not "getting" this movie's modus. Whatever the case, be forewarned - there's twice as much bad as good here, and it's crystal clear that one amazing man can't salvage a swiftly sinking ship. How to Be a Serial Killer should have better. Instead, it's a major missed opportunity.