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Freddy Vs. Jason

Some titles just lay it all out for you. Anybody going to Freddy vs. Jason expecting a heart-wrenching drama will be sorely disappointed. Heck, don't even go expecting subtlety. The title promises exactly what the film delivers.

Sure, we've seen this sort of obviousness before: Godzilla vs. Megalon, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Kramer vs. Kramer. Dustin Hoffman still gives me nightmares. But just like the Japanese imports, what Freddy vs. Jason has most going for it is two guys in ridiculous outfits beating the crap out of each other. And then slicing and dismembering and dancing on the actual crap they beat out of each other. (Okay, so Jason more shuffles than dances.)

Fans of the separate franchises have allegedly been demanding this film. It certainly makes sense to anybody who reads comics; we all know that crossovers are cool. But New Line Cinema seems more interested in pulling in new fans with this outing. If you don't know these characters individually, you'll be less likely to notice what pale echoes of their former selves they have become.

It's not that director Ronny Yu doesn't try. With screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, he's fashioned a story that actually provides a logical reason for the two killers to cross paths. As logical, anyway, as you can be with a dream demon and a shambling immortal idiot savant.

Freddy (Robert Englund), it seems, has been forgotten by the children of Elm Street. Any time a young citizen of Springwood gets wind of its darkest hour, he's whisked off to an insane asylum and drugged into dreamlessness. As Freddy grouses, "dying is easy. Being forgotten is the bitch."

So he impersonates Jason's mother and convinces the machete-wielding madman to return to Earth. Two issues are immediately raised: why does Freddy seem to enjoy drag as much as Bugs Bunny, and if this is Hell, how come Jason (Ken Kirzinger) is running around a re-creation of Crystal Lake fully stocked with naked teenagers to kill? It seems an awful lot like Jason's version of heaven to me. The kids even admit they deserve their punishment with their dying breaths.

Still, Jason lumbers off to Springwood and has no trouble finding naughty teenagers indulging in sex and drugs and more sex. There's even a slightly pudgier version of Jay (without a Silent Bob doppelganger).

The fear he causes should feed Freddy with enough power to assert himself again in dreams. It's no problem until the two start competing for victims, and then they have no choice but to turn on each other.

In trying to meld the two styles, however, Yu pays short shrift to them both. Finally, a Freddy Krueger film has a big enough budget for some eye-popping dream effects, but there's little time to really let many happen. Mostly Yu goes for the old Freddy bait-and-switch, where the killer suddenly takes the place of a trusted friend or family member. At least he still has his one-liners, though he also carries a painful amount of exposition. Did Freddy talk to himself this much before?

Of course, he has to carry more verbal weight when paired off against the taciturn Jason. All Mr. Voorhees really has going for him is that eerie theme song, which Yu only lets play a couple of times early in the film. Once the two begin their combat, the soundtrack switches over to today's standard grinding metal.

The other major disappointment is in make-up. Both creatures look more rubbery than usual, perhaps to make it easier for the actors to stay in character for longer shooting periods. Or maybe it was a cost-cutting measure. Either way, it's disappointing, as the killers tend to look like guys in Halloween masks instead of inhuman monsters.

Yu, however, does do some cool things, even if he does not service old fans as well as he could. Visually, he pays homage to surprising influences, even sneaking in a quick tribute to Bergman. The former Hong Kong director also plays well with lighting. After a double-pronged attack, Yu sets his teen stars in a harsh blue light that peels away even Kelly Rowland's sophisticated look. If you're looking for it, for a moment you're forced to recognize these kids as kids. Destiny's child, indeed.

For the new fans, the film carefully retells the origin stories. It's necessary, because at least then we can follow lead virgin Lori (Monica Keena) when she too quickly comes upon the perfect solution to surviving the title bout.

A lot of Freddy vs. Jason is perfunctory, but not as bad as it could have been. If that seems like damning with faint praise, it's only because dissecting it is like spitting in the wind. It's not like we were promised something incredible, and it's likely that most audiences will be happy.

But if a filmmaker cares enough, boobs, blood and mayhem can still add up to something entertaining and half-way intelligent. Freddy vs. Jason reaches for it, but falls just a little short.



Derek McCaw

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