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Killing Spring, A

MTI // R // January 20, 2004
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted February 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Trey parker had it right! Blame Canada! Blame the Holy Manitoba out of it. Cast aspersions on its heritage. Ridicule its sovereignty. Heck, blame moose farts for the hole in the ozone layer. Let the craven Canucks have it, long and hard. And while you're giggling at the Great White North, take a jab or two at their sense of cinema, will you? Stuff them full of back bacon for all the rote, routine motion picture pretending they do. Force them to put down the Molson 12 pack, turn off the CFL and actually pay attention to the craft of film. Because if you don't there is a real fear that these artic arseheads will continue churning out miserable mysteries like A Killing Spring. Based on the character Joanne Kilbourn - the cop turned journalist turned professor turned busy body at the center of a popular series of novels by Canadian author Gail Bowen (apparently Canada DOES have a literary community. Guess I'm out five bucks) this hapless who-done-it features the standard stock company of detective dung: screaming to be recognized suspects, herrings so red you'll swear they're communists and the last minute introduction of a character necessary to the resolution of the story (though you'll know the killer's ID almost immediately). Sure, unlike the instant gratification Americans who have to see a small smattering of the killer in action before they buy into the bull's butt trumpet, the natives of the North don't mind if their intrigue is a little off camera. Unfortunately, A Killing Spring also pushes all plausibility and potential enjoyment out to the side as well.

The DVD:

Joanne Kilbourn is a professor at Hoser University, where she teaches something about lying and journalistic integrity. The Dean of this dump is a once-proud beat bandit who now channels his reporter's ethics into banging the vast majority of the female student body, along with the spouses and feminine loved ones of his close associates and colleagues. What a guy! Anyway, when the manager of the local pay-by-the-hour hotel shows up to de-louse the rooms one mourning, he discovers old Dean Diddler naked in bed with a pair of panty hose around his neck. Oh, and he's been murdered. Everyone...and I do mean EVERYONE is a suspect: the jilted wife, the even more jilted mistress, the jealous husband(s), the matriculating chick he was chumming, all of that babe's buddies, several members of the Canadian Parliament and the band Sloan. One by one, anyone with any knowledge of the Dean, his dick and his overwhelming urge to use it for establishing the college's grading curve gets bumped off. Looks like this advanced academic administrator knows something sinister about a member of the faculty, something that could countermand their guest-starring role almost immediately. Time to break out that tried and true weapon against discovery: serial murder! It's up to Joanne to discover (a) who killed whom, (b) why and (c) if the audience will sit still long enough to sip any of this stupid sinister bilge water.

People often argue that, as a genre, the horror film is dead. That is not true. Our pals the zombie and the mutant baby from Hell still have a little mileage left in their terror trove, even if the vampire, wolfman and alien are struggling for breath. Nope, if there is one subdivision in the canon of creativity that's on pre-plug pulling life support, it's the mystery. Brain-dead, almost always handled with ham fists and perpetually unable to misdirect the masses, the classic 'who dood it' is now so overdone that is has to resort to personality, not puzzles, to make an impression. Columbo is a popular character and series, not because of the brain teasing tales of crime and the criminal. Nope, Peter Falk is an acting god and he infuses the trench-coated titan with more humanity and presence than most real people have personally. Same with Robby Coltrane's Cracker, a strangely sympathetic lout who doesn't solve cases as much as manhandle them. There is a spark of intrigue in this British bastard, but it's in the way he mismanages his life (in direct contravention to his job skills) not the felonies he foils. Both shows are classics because they understand that, unless you are reading a well-oiled page-turner, getting the audience involved in the investigation of crime is difficult. After the sordid details are divulged, it's all skill, hunches and footwork – definitely NOT stuff of stifling suspense. So you're story better be so airtight that bacteria dies inside it, less you fail to grab your guests.

Sadly, A Killing Spring has a decades worth of spores shooting all the way through it. Indeed, the basic issue with the movie is its total lack of surprise. There is nothing new going on in either the face value story that is the set-up or the seedy shocking subplot that is causing all the carnage. Anyone who's followed the plagiarism cases careening throughout the news recently, or remembers the famous incident of Janet Cooke and the 8-year-old junkie from 1980 will know exactly who the homicidal maniac is within ten minutes. And it's not like the filmmakers try to hide it. In a drama filled with whacked out weirdoes, each seething inside their own private Hell and bulked up with rationales for reckless slaughter, this perpetrating person is picture perfect: A great cook, quite the looker and a calming, cautious and sensitive soul. Premmies just coming out of the womb will recognize this ruse as the classic signs of a deranged psychopath. NO ONE in the world makes sure that the oysters are fresh, the garlic is finely chopped or that their apartment is Ikea designer delicious. People live! People soil! But not our supposedly non-suspect. This individual is a non-insider trading Martha Stewart, Dr. Phil and Joseph Pulitzer all rolled into one slab of sincerity. The FBI should throw out all of their perverted profiles, filled with animal abuse and sexual confusion and start targeting the well groomed and intellectually compassionate. According to A Killing Spring, they are evil incarnate.

But it's not just the lack of suspense or shock that shortchanges this movie. Any sordid saga that begins with the Dean of a college copulating with the underclassmen is doomed from the start. The narrative is only going one wanton way. A Killing Spring tries to mess with this expectation, but by making the monkey lovin' tertiary to the tale, it renders it merely a sordid selling point. We are supposed to be blinded by the booty while the real slayer shenanigans go on around us. Yet even the customary thinning out of suspects is an arena where Spring goes shazbot. For a film that features no less than 12 potential scholar snuffers (Asst. Dean, 2 teachers, 4 college kids, 1 name from the past, a couple of disgruntled parents and some pissed off paramours), to quickly eliminate a half dozen or so doesn't support your secret very well. Instead of being a matter of deduction and clues, it turns out that this is one mystery based in the now classic game of Last Creep Standing. Since we don't have access to half the signs, can't really define the dynamics between the characters and are left hanging, without closure, on several staid vignettes we have to rely on the script to explain it all to us. And even then, when the killer is unmasked and his reasons retorted, when 2+2 almost equals 4 and the planets are nearly aligned properly, we still really don't know WHY? Motive is MAJOR to a crime and yet when the final resolution unfolds, the killer just seems put out, not potentially lethal. The reasons behind the crime spree are barely understood and they really don't match up to the guilty character's actions, both during and before this installment of their life. A Killing Spring just seems happy to reach its reveal and then wants to get while the gloating's good.

In the end, A Killing Spring is no worse than the vast wasteland of issue-oriented melodra-mysteries that Lifetime passes off every day as presentable female pastimes in easy to forget two-hour segments. But since most of those meddling misfires are Geneva Convention worthy experiences in torture, that's not saying much. It is a film that reeks of the formula from whence it was hatched and acted out in a very deceptive, yet decent fashion. Everyone here, from lead Wendy Crewson to ex-Home Improvement child chowderhead Zachery Ty Bryan (here looking especially beefy and bloated) is energetic and believable. Only special guest Michael Ontkean, so far from Twin Peaks that he's forgotten the sound of David Lynch's voice, seems to be sleepwalking through his role. And if awards were handed out for managing to commit the basic elements of film onto screen without finesse, vision or style, director Stephen Williams would win in a landslide. Basically, A Killing Spring is a dizzying bore. It tells a too often told tale of limited interest and even less tension and then tosses in a little blindsiding sub plotting in hopes of rescuing its ridiculousness.

The Video:

Canada must have a special system of evaluating the look of their films, because A Killing Spring has a foggy, fuzzy aura about it. The 1.33:1 full screen is really indistinct. It's not that details are eradicated or clarity verboten, it's just that there is some soft focus freakishness going on here. Though not the worst transfer in the history of DVD, it is still rather dull and colorless all the same.

The Audio:

Again, this is a standard audio offering of a less than aurally exciting film. Dolby Digital Stereo is not well known for its subtle shifts or slamming separation. And A Killing Spring sure doesn't give it any challenges. A very talky film with a limited sonic pallet, the digital medium is actually wasted here. A VHS would sound just as sharp.

The Extras:

A couple of trailers, including one for this miserable mystery, are all we get. No interviews. No mention of the books of Gail Bowen. No attempt at something explaining the film series or the characters. Just ads and that's it. Not that it's a shock, really. The movie proper is so laden with product placement (Pepsi, Coke, etc) that you start to think it's a commercial as well. MTI's release history is resplendent with tiny titles given the bonus bulk-up (Lucky, Vicious). Why they would limp along here is just par for the palaver.

Final Thoughts:

Yep, it's all Canada's fault. They are to blame for this and every other bad made for cable television turd that comes passing out of your small screen; stupid, stale and stinking like Sasquatch stool. If it weren't for those frozen fiends, USA Network would be out of business (or still relying on Night Flight and Commander USA to hold the demographic). A Killing Spring is a prime example of pilsner and pork fat dulling the senses. How else do you explain characters that gossip "aboot" each other in anguished accents and even more misguided hockey hair? Who else would find a logical rationale for making the murderer so non-obvious as to have him stick out like a frostbitten big toe? Do all journalists up Northern way really get their internships by attending the proper college, working exceptionally hard, and spelunking their schoolteachers and headmasters (makes you rethink that moniker, huh?)? Maybe there is some manner of national slander the country can sue for, recoup a little damages on the continued defamation of their cheap dollar name in the frames of such idiot moviemaking. Just don't expect A Killing Spring to help settle the lawsuit. This mediocre murder mystery is a dull, derivative affair, even when it's dealing with matters of the heart and the mattress. So let's join film fan forces and help those blizzard blasted buffoons understand how we feel. Void all over Vancouver. Unload on Ottawa. And let's give Toronto the cold shoulder. Heck, they're used to it.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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