Mini Reviews (July 2008)
Dark Ride, Fool's Gold, Dark Beauty
Dark Ride (July 27/08)
Competently made yet awfully dull, Dark Ride follows a group of college students - including Jamie-Lynn Sigler's Cathy and Patrick Renna's Bill - as they arrive at a desolate haunted-house attraction for a night of partying and debauchery. Their fun-loving exploits come to a swift end once it becomes clear that they're not alone within the ride, as the demented killer who grew up within the expansive structure has returned home to brutally dispatch the unwanted intruders. There's little doubt that the exceedingly familiar manner with which Dark Ride unfolds plays a significant role in its downfall, as the film often seems to have been fashioned directly from a slasher-movie template - complete with two recently-broken-up characters looking to mend their fractured relationship and a masked maniac on the loose after a brutal escape from the loony bin. And while the movie is actually fine for what it is, the lack of creative kills (with one notable exception) and the interchangeable central characters inevitably ensures that the whole thing comes off as a tough slog indeed. That the protagonists are separated and forced to stumble about in the darkness during the movie's incredibly repetitive third act only exacerbates Dark Ride's various problems, and - while the movie is certainly a cut above the majority of low-budget brethren - it's impossible to envision all but the most undiscerning horror fan finding much here worth embracing.
Fool's Gold (July 28/08)
As fluffy and mindless as its promotional materials may have indicated, Fool's Gold is an entertaining yet entirely forgettable caper comedy revolving around feuding couple Benjamin (Matthew McConaughey) and Tess' (Kate Hudson) efforts at locating a centuries-old buried treasure. Director Andy Tennant - working from a screenplay co-written with John Claflin and Daniel Zelman - has infused Fool's Gold with an appropriately light-hearted sensibility that's certainly matched by the two stars, as McConaughey offers up a variation on his now-patented shirtless, aw-shucks good-guy persona. There's little doubt, however, that the film's incredibly mild success can be attributed primarily to the efforts of an enjoyably quirky supporting cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Kevin Hart, and Ray Winstone (!), with the latter effortlessly stealing every one of his scant few scenes. It's only as the filmmakers dwell on the increasingly complicated mystery behind the treasure that one's interest starts to wane, as - in addition to being, admittedly, kind of dull - such scenes feel as though they've been included only to pad out an already-overlong running time. Still, Fool's Gold is ultimately just the sort of easy-on-the-eyes diversion that one does inexplicably crave from time to time.
Dark Beauty (July 28/08)
Salacious enough to ensure that boredom never entirely sets in, Dark Beauty is a typically predictable and entirely silly made-for-TV thriller that admittedly does boast a better-than-expected performance from star Alicia Coppola. The actress stars as Melanie Dempsey, a photojournalist whose friendship with Randall Batinkoff's Danny is threatened after he begins dating a mysterious figure named Olivia (Elizabeth Berkley). For reasons never made entirely clear, Melanie becomes suspicious of Olivia almost immediately and subsequently launches into a full-scale (yet relatively surreptitious) investigation into the woman's life. Melanie's dogged efforts at exposing Olivia's dark side ultimately results in an increasingly repetitive structure, with the majority of Dark Beauty's running time devoted to a relentless series of sequences in which Melanie pokes around offices and questions Olivia's former associates. The degree to which screenwriter Riley Weston goes out of her way to paint Danny as a blundering idiot probably doesn't help matters, as the character absurdly accuses Melanie of jealousy even after being presented with some pretty conclusive evidence that Olivia's up to no good. Berkley's smarmy work - coupled with an ingratiating turn from Coppola - effectively ensures that Dark Beauty is far from the bottom of the barrel as far as movies of this ilk go, yet it's impossible to shake the feeling that there's just got to be a better way to spend two hours of one's life.