Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Zane of My Exiztenze

Children of the 21st century, gather around my flatscreen yule log as we tiptoe back in time to a simpler period of cinema history, when super heroes wore tights and Tales From the Crypt went Hollywood. Only in this era (known by common folk as the mid-90s) could one thick-voiced thespian with a shiny bald head and constant scowl head a major summer release in purple spandex. It saddens me to reminisce, but thinking about the slipping career of the mangod that is Billy Zane gives me one more reason to doubt the order of evolution.

Browsing through the horror catalogue of the NY Public Library, I came upon a recent DVD starring le Zane (oooh, that’s good) and Stephen Baldwin (oooh, that’s bad), featuring crop circles (hmm, that might be good) that "unleash unfathomable terror" upon a “close-knit group” (I’ll stop reading the back of the box now). The description is lacking, but let’s face it: there’s no way I’m turning down a Billy Zane vs. aliens flick, especially in these dark ages where such a vehicle seems so inexplicably hard to find.

If IMDB is to be trusted, Silent Warnings was filmed in under twelve days, so I can't be too hard on it. C'mon. It takes more time to celebrate Kwanza or grease Zane into his Phantom costume. I'll tread lightly on this little Belgium-filmed thriller, which comes close to creating genuine suspense before terribly rendered Nintendo 64 quality CGI chokes up the final act.

Quick Plot: We open with PC Baldwin (post-Christian) given far too much free reign to improvise a one-man survivalist video diary as an unseen menace attacks his farmhouse. It's amazing how badly this former addict plays a man taking a few drinks, but at least he seems to be having a good time firing a shotgun and chatting up an almost Onibaba-esque scarecrow (that movie really did stay with me, eh?). It’s the kind of performance that makes Will Smith’s meet-cute mannequin scene of I Am Legend look Oscar worthy.

Minor Spoiler: Despite being blown up before the title, Baldwin maintains top billing in the credits, possibly to keep his devoted fans watching or more likely to make the rest of us frightened that his hamminess will return (this was in the horror section, after all). Thankfully, the film moves on to introduce a better/saner young cast as they make their way to renovate the late Baldwin’s abandoned home. Boring mini melodramas follow as Shyamalanian crop circles pop up in the surrounding cornfields. Sheriff Billy Zane (seemingly sleeping off a major hangover for most of filming) offers little help but lots of cool as tension builds in and around the house over a week and a half.

Yes, a week and a half. I know this because the movie insists on title cards that tell you the days of the week. This makes sense for a movie like The Shining, where the progression of time is key, but in Silent Warnings, showing us that it’s Wednesday just serves as a reminder that nothing happened on Tuesday and Lost is on tonight.

The young actors work hard, and while their characters are fairly forgettable, the effort is admirable. There’s the mysterious girl who has never seen a cow (but is not an alien), the black guy who makes wise cracks, the jock to add aggression, his psychic girlfriend to get naked, and a blonde suffering from a severely elongated torso that renders every one of her tops to stop about four inches above her waist (or maybe the budget didn't allow for adult sized clothing; it’s unclear). A.J. Buckley has a nice presence as Layne, the thoughtful group leader and cousin to the late Baldwin's wacked out farmer. There's far too much downtime, but I'll give director Christian McIntire credit for creating non-obnoxious young characters who don't make me want to invite Jason Voorhees over for a stereotype scavenger hunt.

Eventually, the monsters are revealed and much like the 2002 twisty extraterrestrial thriller it blatantly rips off, Silent Warnings comes to a rubber burning halt. I enjoyed Signs for its steady build of eerie tension, but all of my uneasiness was laughed away at the full-frame shot of the video game refugee with big eyes. Silent Warnings magnifies the mistake with villainous aliens so fake you can count the pixels. It’s a shame, too. Once Baldwin is gone and the Zane wakes up, you actually start to care about the cast for the final attack to have some depth.

High Points
An excellent soundtrack creates some major intensity, particularly towards the climax

Any project that keeps Stephen Baldwin busy means less television appearances and Jesus rants for the rest of us

The image of Billy Zane facing evil intergalactic monsters makes me feel warm inside

Low Points
The actual aliens make the CGI attacks of Shark Attack 3: Megladon look positively Spielbergian

Providing no explanation of the invasion doesn’t necessarily hurt the film, but an attempt might have at least distanced Silent Warnings another inch away from Signs

Lessons Learned
Telling someone “you ain’t got no character” is a great way to make your friends laugh for five minutes

Just because a woman says you’re attractive does not give you permission to peep on her as she undresses next door

The Flanders were right: iron is good for you

Letter jackets worn by 30+ year old actors playing young twentysomethings makes said actors look far older

Winning Line
“I love you. I love your body. That’s the truth.”
This is said to a beautiful young topless woman who is insecure around her athletic boyfriend because she’s not, like, a cheerleader or like, the cheerleader type. Firstly, are cheerleaders still considered the hot holy grails of male college loins? And more importantly, is “not a cheerleader type” code for brunette?

This is above average Sci-Fi Channel fodder that is far better than it really has any right to be. That being said, one watch is most likely more than enough for most genre fans. Unless you’re sorely missing the once ubiquitous film presence of Master Zane and worry that he didn’t sign the right line for Titanic residuals, stick Silent Warnings somewhere on your Netflix queue or wait for a random cable airing and turn off the lights.

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