Laugh if you will, but I’m a sucker for the eighties. It’s the era in which I grew up and the pop culture from that time helped form the person I am today; so I guess Steve Guttenberg is to blame for where I am now, because that man was the eighties. Oh sure, you kids may laugh now, but there was a time when that man was the king of the light ’80s comedy, so imagine my surprise when he shows up in a pretty good low budget thriller.
Los Angeles is paralyzed by a string of terrible murders perpetrated by the so-called Convenience Store Killer, who specializes in (gasp!) killing convenience store workers. Murder is bad enough, but what makes the Convenience Store Killer even more frightening is the inventive ways he kills. Like a true artist, the killer never wants to repeat himself. No two murders are the same, and his inventiveness is as much a subject of discussion as the murders themselves. The only topic of discussion more interesting to the workers at the local convenience store is what they’d do with the $500,000 reward for the killer’s capture.
Steve, played by Eduardo Garcia from No Country for Old Men, owns the store and plays boss/surrogate father for his employees Jimmy, Jess, Donny, and Mona. The night the movie takes place this little dysfunctional family sits down for a game of poker, only to find themselves trapped in the store with the killer. Soon their fantasies of claiming that reward turn to fantasies of survival as the killer picks them off in ever more inventive ways.
One of the surprise joys of this movie was the strength of the characters. Unlike so many other thrillers, the characters in Cornered! are interesting and three-dimensional. Steve’s a bastard, but cares about his employees in his own clumsy, rough way, such as forcing Jimmy to stay at the poker game while the boy goes through withdrawal in order to make sure he doesn’t go and score more heroin. Mona works her second job as a phone sex operator while playing cards (all the while sucking on a popsicle), and Donny moons over the pretty Jess, all the while taking grief from everybody over his love of donuts and inability to stand up for himself.
Other than Steve, the majority of these characters are fairly likable. They all have some major flaws, to be sure, but those serve to make them fully realized characters, and, as a nice change, I had no particular desire to see any of them die. Anymore that seems to be a major accomplishment in modern thrillers. Part of this is due to the writing, but it helps that these are solid actors in the roles. None of them particularly stand out from the others and that really helps the movie given that this is an ensemble piece. Steve Guttenberg shines maybe a little bit more as Morty the amiable delivery man, but he has the bonus of being Steve Guttenberg, a known commodity with a cultural cache of charm to draw from. Honestly, he probably would have stolen the show had his character gotten more screen time. But that would have hurt the movie, because one of the strengths of having a balanced cast is that you feel like anyone can die at any moment, adding to the overall suspense.
The story doesn’t fare quite as well as the characterization. It’s hard to do a serial killer story, so I suppose it deserves a little bit of slack for that, but honestly, there’s really nothing new here. Compared to movies like Saw, the Convenience Store Killer really isn’t that inventive, and compared to other sociopathic characters like, say, Hannibal Lecter, he’s not that compelling. In a way Cornered! bucks the trend of modern horror movies by making the victims more interesting than the killer, and I rather enjoyed that, but it doesn’t change the fact that the plot is a pretty basic, by the numbers serial killer story: predictable, but enjoyable enough because of the characters.
No specifications were given on the movie, but it was presented fullscreen and there were no problems with either the video or the sound.
As far as thrillers go, Cornered! isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a pretty standard, middle-of-the-road movie that has some good moments and better than average characterization for a low-budget, direct-to-DVD film. Not to mention it was fun to see Steve Guttenberg in a different kind of movie. I wouldn’t go to the trouble of renting this, but if you see it on Showtime at three in the morning you could do worse.
Lightning Media presents Cornered!. Directed by Daniel Maze. Starring Steve Guttenberg, James Duval, Peter Story, Elizabeth Nicole, Eduardo Antonio Garcia, and Ellia English. Written by Darrin Grimwood. Running time: 87 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: June 1, 2010. Available at Amazon.