One day the Crank films (Crank: High Voltage serving as the Godfather: Part II of the series) will find their rightful place in the National Film Registry alongside Lawrence of Arabia and Gone with the Wind, mark my words. The absolutely balls out insanity of those films have earned their creators, Brian Taylor and Mark Nevaldine, a lot of good will on my part; Most of the follow ups by the duo have been met with far less positive reception by both critics and audiences. What is it that fails to click with the duo’s recent high concept projects like Gamer, or their comic book adaptations of Jonah Hex and Ghost Rider (Spirit of Vengeance, the less sucky one)?
Perhaps something was happening behind the scenes as the two have decided on a conscious uncoupling and taking some time apart for some solo gigs. Nevaldine went off to make The Vatican Tapes, which according to Rotten Tomatoes was “A loud, rote exorcism thriller that presents nothing new to an already overpopulated subgenre.” Not to be outdone, Taylor is back behind the lens with Mom and Dad, what could arguably be considered a loud, rote murderous/madness thriller that presents nothing new for half of its runtime to an already overpopulated sub genre, but then finally lets Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair go all the way to 11 on the crazy scale for the home stretch, filled with pretty fun entertainment.” I grant you, it’s a mouthful and about as useless as most tweet sized critical consensus blurbs on the aggregator site.
So Mom and Dad. As my previous snarky sentence implies, the new dark comedy out this weekend in select cities is a mixed bag. The first half of which feels like it was worked over and over in post production that it begins to lose sight of making the audience care about any of its characters. There’s a rapid pace that feels like it’s going nowhere, and for the most part it doesn’t. Overwritten in the vein of Diablo Cody teenspeak mixed with a “hello fellow kids” vibe that does nothing to hide the fact that a guy in his 40s watched Spring Breakers and decided to try writing worse dialogue for 16 year old girls. Which is so common in most movies today that it could have been forgivable were it not for the fact that we’re supposed to develop a connection with these kids that are about to be put in mortal peril.
As is tradition with the genre of madness outbreaks, with titles like The Crazies, 28 Days Later, The Signal, or the originator of fast zombie flicks, Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (one could even toss The Birds and The Happening in there), everyday life is suddenly upended by an inexplicable dynamic shift in society. In the case of Mom and Dad, it’s a sudden desire to murder ones progeny.
Similar to Cooties released not too long ago, Where the playground becomes over run with a rabies outbreak, Its a fantastic concept. The problem with concepts is that they’re just set up. You have to actually have something to say, which is why Cooties failed to live up to its premise, the story had little to no thematic connection to the big event. For the second half of Mom and Dad, Taylor starts exploring a really unique perspective behind the excuse for some blood and gore.
We follow the story of a typical family, where all four are seemingly drifting apart; a father fighting with the mental image of his youth and the tool salesman he sees in the mirror every morning, a mother who is getting the run around from her old job due to spending too much time as a house maker, a daughter who lives on her phone, and a son who… Honestly they don’t really give us much about him. But he’s there. As the family has what appears to be their typical breakfast of biting at eachother with snark, the news reporter on the TV is talking about a mother having abandoned her child at the last minute on some train tracks. It’s the only time we see these four together on screen, and nobody seems happy. Which is its biggest flaw.
In almost every movie of its ilk, we eventually start to like characters. The problem here is that I started to get so bored watching the film take half of its time to check off tropes like talking heads on TV explaining the outbreak, or having to spend time on a useless teacher character just to explain away why the teens have their cell phones taken away, killing off nameless one dimensional characters, you can probably write the first act and a half of this movie in your head without even watching a trailer. Stage setting takes time, and is arguably the most difficult part of these movies. How Edgar Wright was able to pull it off in Shaun of the Dead while appearing so effortless still amazes me.
So yeah, this one takes a while to get going, but please stick with it! When the story decided to bring Cage back into the main narrative, things become so much fun. It’s his first performance since perhaps Bad Lieutenant where the completely unhinged style he’s become known for wonderfully embodies the rage inside every midlife crisis. He chews up every inch of the screen, and makes the movie better for it. Even more surprising is that Selma Blair manages to not just match him, but in many cases she straight up steals the scene.
What really made me lean in and get into the story was the paced out use of flashbacks that really elevate this from a forgettable movie you might have stumbled onto via scrolling around on Netflix or Amazon one night (like how we all pass over most of those DTV Bruce Willis movies) to something I almost want to recommend you go out and see. Sadly the ending fails in many ways to stick its landing and the most compelling element of a married couple seemingly falling back in love with each other over the mutual team building task of figuring out of to kill their own kids is nothing short of a B plot in the film.
Sure to please genre fans and those always on the look out for some new Cage memes, Mom and Dad is short enough to not bore, and edited at a pace which allows you to quickly get past the lazy plotting. Taylor had a really unique idea here that just missed its landing, but it shows enough vision that his next solo outing could be something special. Or the band could get back together and make Crank 3, either way I’m excited.
Tags: Brian Taylor, Crank, Mom and Dad, Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair