Hide and Seek and Alone in the Dark (review)

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Doody Roster

Just once, I’d like to hear a studio exec come out on a fine Monday morning and say, “Hey, d’ya know why our film made only $2 mill on 5,000 screens this weekend? Because it’s crap. A steaming, oozing pile of pure, unadulterated, toxic baby shit. We’re really sorry we tried to perpetrate this on the moviegoing public, and boy, did most of you catch on and stay away. Good for you. As a show of good faith, we will be refunding the ticket price to all those poor dumb souls who got suckered in. Our bad.”

This, of course, will never happen, because studios find all sorts of ways to pretend that their movies aren’t toxic baby shit, and here’s a new one: Make sure your toxic-baby-shit movie opens on the same day as another toxic-baby-shit movie of the same genre. If you can do this in actual collusion with the other studio, all the better. Then you can both send out spokesmen on Monday morning to say, “Hey, our fine film would have done better this weekend, but we faced some stiff competition from that other fine film that poached our audience. We have every reason to believe that given a fair shot at our audience — which we did not have this weekend because of a completely inadvertent and utterly accidental coincidence of timing — we would have done $100 mill, easy.”
Hide and Seek, a horror movie, and Alone in the Dark, a horror movie, both open wide today. Let’s not be coy. Both are toxic baby shit. They are, though, very different kinds of toxic baby shit: the former is a would-be Sixth Sense, who-let-the-creepy-kid-in-the-movie kind of crap, while the latter is a would-be Aliens/Dawn of the Dead, who-let-Christian-Slater-in-the-movie kind of crap. But crap is crap, and moviegoers are still left holding a stinky diaper.

Hide and Seek, like last year’s Godsend, makes you wonder who has pictures of Robert De Niro doing what, and does that mean we’re gonna get one of these movies every year from now on. Oh, and also: What is wrong with Dakota Fanning’s parents that they let her do this film, which takes a perverse pleasure in trying to spook the audience by terrorizing her character? That is way more disturbing than anything intended to be scary in this disaster.

What I can gather is this: Fanning’s (Man on Fire, The Cat in the Hat) Emily is an 11-year-old proto-goth, with the dark hair and the pale skin and the dour demeanor, or else she’s a real live Bratz doll, with the enormous head and the huge eyes and the stick body. And she stumbles upon some sort of bizarre child-sacrificing death cult in the country. Or else the cat is up to no good — that creature is everywhere whenever something weird happens, like the kettle boils over on the stove or a window comes unstuck. Or else the creepy couple from next door are hiding their dead kid in the basement, or are poisoning Emily and her dad with the housewarming gift of homemade fruit preserves. Or it’s the ooky sheriff or the ooky real estate agent. Or something.

See, cuz Emily’s imaginary friend, Charlie, ain’t so imaginary, we “discover” as if we couldn’t have guessed this or been flat-out told this in the trailer, so something is pretending to be Charlie. (My money was always on the cat. Or poisoned preserves.) This comes after 45 minutes or so of watching paint dry, or at least something that feels like that, while we wait for De Niro (Shark Tale), as David, Emily’s father and perhaps moviedom’s least likely psychologist ever, to do something deranged, because why else would it be De Niro and not, say, Jeff Bridges or Dennis Quaid or someone nice and Dadlike and possessing some of the warmth of an actual psychologist? I’m not saying for sure one way or the other whether De Niro actually does turn deranged — because you might want to rent this one someday for God knows what reason — just that you can’t help but expect it from him. Just as, these days, you can’t help but suspect that any movie he appears in is going to be a ridiculous waste of time.

Hide and Seek is just plain dull. Alone in the Dark is an instant classic of cheeseball cinema, an orgy of overblown dialogue and hammy overacting, 90-some-odd minutes of cheap-looking, jaw-dropping incoherence that takes any shred of faux dignity bad videogame movies may cling to and demolishes it like a nonspeaking character in a battle scene. There’s no way you could make a movie this awful deliberately, if you wanted to, say, parodize the bad-videogame-movie genre — there’s a kind of clueless, misguided sincerity here that is unfakeable. Movies this hilariously insane happen by pure dumb luck. And I do mean dumb.

Not that I suggest you pay ten bucks to see it. Just watch Aliens and any random zombie movie back to back and imagine all the good stuff stripped out, and that will still be more entertaining than this pathetic movie. Or, if you must see Alone, leave after the opening crawl, cuz it offers the best laugh and tells the whole “story” anyway — there’s a kind of genius lunacy to the crawl, which goes on and on and gets more and more ridiculous as the narrator gets more and more serious. This movie could give Ed Wood lessons, and the crawl would be the centerpiece.

Alone pretends to have a plot, though you have to guffaw at that, too, since it features a feral-looking Christian Slater (Who Is Cletis Tout?, 3000 Miles to Graceland) as an ex X-Files kind of agent and — this is the best — Tara Reid (Josie and the Pussycats) as an archaeologist and a museum curator. It’s like casting Paris Hilton as the secretary-general of the United Nations and a cancer-research PhD, only funnier. Slater and Reid chase around some ancient Indian artifacts, which gives Reid a chance to phonetically sound out lines with big archaemological-type words in them, and you can see how proud she is of herself to be able to do that and hit her marks at the same time. And all this while there’s some sort of ripoff-Alien creatures running around eating people while the apparently hip-hop paranormal cops — backwards ballcaps, you know, that’s the giveaway — try to stop them. And then: Sex scene outta nowhere! Does Slater even know where Reid has been? Eww.

I’d call it The Bad Indiana Jones Chronicles, but that makes Alone in the Dark sound almost enticing, and I’d never forgive myself if you accidentally saw this movie because of me. Cuz no studio exec is going to apologize and give you your money back on Monday morning.

Hide and Seek
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated R for frightening sequences and violence
official site | IMDB

Alone in the Dark
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated R for violence and language
official site | IMDB

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