Released into theatres on October 8th and then quickly transitioning to DVD a mere four days later As Good As Dead has endured scalding reviews from the critics (“Want to be one of a dozen to ever see a movie?” asked The Village Voice) and even tougher financial realities (it grossed $1,494. . .no joke). And even though it is trashy and confused, and even though it almost certainly had no business being in a real movie theatre it hardly deserves the shellacking it has been receiving. More or less a gruesome piece of torture porn served up to guilty liberals who happen to prefer their entertainment to fall on the shittier end of the spectrum, Jonathan Mossek’s film centers around Ethan (Cary Elwes) a Manhattan father who one day finds a gang of revenge seeking white supremacists on his door step. Led by matriarch Helen (Andie MacDowell) the group of three personifies evil and dabbles in horror movie clichés. They contend that Ethan perpetrated a terroristic attack against them many years ago that left Helen with a terribly scarred face and inconsistent accent.
The early scenes feel like the clunky exposition that they actually are. When you get introduced to Ethan’s dog, or his struggle to stop smoking, or his super hot next door neighbor it won’t take an Oxford candidate to know that they will factor in prominently later on. Ethan is already having apartment issues when the movie starts as ugly business interests are trying to force him to move out, but he, always the idealist, won’t budge. This means that when Helen, Jake (Matt Dallas), and Aaron (Frank Whaley) do find their way inside Ethan thinks that it is another bit of strong arming on the part of the developer. These people are much angrier and aggressive than that however and within no time at all they have whacked his curiously named dog Mao (sorry) and locked him inside and easily escapable refrigerator. From there things only become grislier and harder to watch as they go about trying to torture the truth out of him while he works hard to convince them of his innocence.
As a piece of art As Good as Dead is almost too easy to pick on. Even though there seems to be nothing inherently difficult about the filming here Mossek is incapable of taming it and thus gives the whole production that distinct straight to DVD flavor. His fight choreography is sloppy and his camera tends to be squeamish shying away from the really difficult parts. Whether this is because he was cutting the audience some sort of break or because he didn’t feel comfortable executing those scenes is left to our imagination. But he does have some overtly edgy material here and had he cultivated it properly he could have at least earned something of a cult following. I’m thinking especially of the scene where Ethan’s neighbor Amy (Jess Weixler) is captured, tied to a chair and continually injected with heroin. That scene also poses another question and that involves the film Beautiful Creatures (2000) and whether or not that idea was lifted directly from there (watch it on Netflix and decide for yourself).
Instead we should judge it as a piece of pulpy entertainment and in that case it’s not sooooo bad. There are delightfully campy shots such as a bloody and battered Cary Elwes stumbling down a ghetto staircase with a knife in his hand which is just priceless. It’s strong enough in its vision to take your already existing depressed mood and exacerbate it, whether that is a plus or a minus is up to you. Its politics, for those who care about such things, are muddled and often incomprehensible. I’m pretty sure that to Mossek murderous right wing nut jobs are a bad thing but even that is not something I would bet my life on. If I wanted to be ultra generous I could say that it is a sneaky, subversive attack against Bush era torture policies but more than likely that is giving As Good as Dead too much credit. But it is worth considering that we are watching a group of vengeance and torture obsessed conservatives enact a policy of might makes right that ultimately ends up working very much against them. I may be wrong, of course, but without kicking these theories around in my brain watching this mess would have been no fun at all.
We aren’t dealing with a Blu-ray disc here but everything seems to be of the utmost quality for standard definition DVDs. The sound is 5.1 digital surround and it sounded perfectly awesome to me.
The special features are rather lacking here. There is a quick making of documentary that involves your typical throwaway interviews with the cast and crew and then there are a few previews for other films. Only the film itself is worth watching here.
As Good as Dead is certainly an interesting little piece of cinema. It could potentially work in many different situations, but as a whole it can only be deemed a failure. It’s weak agitprop that struggles to find its voice and possibly even works against its own cause. Andie MacDowell is supposed to be a Southern burn victim but instead she comes off as a really old lady trying to do some sort of accent. See it if you must but skip it if you can.
Eclectic Pictures presents As Good as Dead. Directed by: Jonathan Mossek. Starring: Andie MacDowell, Cary Elwes, Frank Whaley, Matt Dallas. Written by: Eve Pomerance and Erez Mossek. Running time: 91 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: October 12, 2010.
Tags: Andie MacDowell, Cary Elwes