“Based on a video game.” Are there five words more reviled in the realm of cinema? Only two such films have topped 60% among Rotten Tomatoes critics while 11 of them have hit the 10% mark or lower. Not one has cracked the half-billion hallmark at the global box office. So few unlocked achievements, so many respawns. Oftentimes, the only thing less fun than watching someone else play video games is watching someone else make a video game movie. This month, we’ll find out if the latest Mortal Kombat film is boss level or a misfire along the lines of Leeroy Jenkins. In the meantime, Game On looks at some of the more interesting, inspiring or, yes, insufferable video-game movies. Good, bad, average. It’s all about the experience points.
I lost the joy of movie schlock a few decades ago. Or, at least, the willingness to make time for it.
Back in the day, though, my college pal, Hans, and I would take in movies on titles alone at Philly’s Budco Goldman theater, where the stink on screen was only matched by the smell in the restroom. We once spent a day on a triple feature of Mausoleum, Gates of Hell and Funeral Home — a day where the biggest stars were Marjoe Gortner and LaWanda “Aunt Esther” Page.
And we loved it.
We had such a good time that, every semester, we’d book an all-night bad film fest as part of the movie series we booked in our dorm basement. Blood Feast is a very special thing at three in the morning.
That was then, though.
Now, my encounters with schlock are kept to a minimum. Oh, I’ll check out the occasional Crawl (hero trapped in crawl space during hurricane while alligators attack) or Action Point (Johnny Knoxville runs a low-rent amusement park), but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
While it’s a given that these films won’t be Oscar contenders, there is at least an expectation of cinematic competence. Things will be in focus. The actors named on the posters won’t only be on hand for a day or two.
I’m talking about a different kind of schlock.
When this movies-based-on-video-games series was proposed, there wasn’t much on the available list I thought might have a remote chance of being good.
So I went in the opposite direction.
Which is how I found 2005’s BloodRayne.
Based on a video game that I never played (I’m a tabletop guy — see my Roll ‘Em columns), BloodRayne actually opens in a semi-interesting way.
We’re at a sideshow that would make the one in Freaks look like Cirque du Soleil. The star attraction — “the freak of all freaks,” according to the barker — is a chained woman (Kristanna Loken) who is brutally attacked for the amusement of the crowd, only to be miraculously healed when fed some animal blood.
Ah, she’s a vampire, you might think. Only what’s she doing with that crucifix around her neck?
Turns out she’s only half-vampire. And, as a kid, she witnessed Mom being killed by her bloodsucking biodad, Kagan (a somber Ben Kingsley, looking a bit like latter-day Cloris Leachman).
So our semi-vampire, Rayne, has got baggage.
Kagan is being sought by a group of vampire hunters known as Brimstone, led by an misguidedly mulleted Michael Madsen. (Try saying that three times fast. Go ahead. I’ll wait.) Rayne eventually joins forces with them, leading to the inevitable showdown with Kagan.
But wait! What about those recognizable names in the credits? How do Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier, Meat Loaf and Billy Zane fit into all of this? They don’t, really. Each seems to have visited the set for a scene or two. Chaplin does a little fortune-telling. Loaf hangs out with some nude and hungry supplicants. Kier is bumped off quickly. And Zane, well, I’m really not sure what happened to him. Maybe he couldn’t stick around for another scene because he was due on the set of Survival Island. Who knows?
In and around sword fights, throat-ripping and aerial shots of people riding horses through the countryside, there’s plenty of exposition that’s tedious but never particularly insightful or laughable. (Script credit goes to Guinevere Turner, who also penned American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page.) It’s filled with characters saying things like, “Some say …” and “They say …” and “You must find her. She poses a threat to my plans.” There’s a sex scene against prison bars, a training scene that’s baffling because Rayne has already demonstrated an ability to navigate through a high-speed booby trap that makes anything Indiana Jones faced look as challenging as a boardwalk hall of mirrors, and even more aerial shots of people on horseback.
Director Uwe Boll has a reputation as one of the worst directors working in the business. Maybe that’s true based on his other films. But from the evidence here, he’s just a hack on a budget, occasionally making a creative effort — there’s a tracking shot through a concrete gargoyle’s mouth into a castle — but mostly just delivering the expected. I’ve turned on — and, after 10 minutes, turned off — plenty of movie garbage, most of it having bigger budgets than this. If BloodRayne is the worst-directed movie you’ve seen in a while, you have managed to dodge a lot.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying BloodRayne is a good movie. So if you track it down and tell your viewing partner that I recommended it, you’re a lying liar liar-face.
And while I have no intention of watching the sequels (one of which involves fighting Nazis), I know I would have had a blast watching BloodRayne at the Budco Goldman with Hans.
And we’d probably schedule it for the 3 a.m. slot in the Johnson-Hardwick dorm basement.