Editor’s note: This feature originally was published Feb. 24, 2006. It was assisted by my first experiences with Blockbuster Online, which allowed for renting these movies without feeling the silent shame of taking these titles to the cashier.
Direct-to-DVD sequels offer little more than rehash
When was the last time you experienced something completely, unbelievably, knee-weakeningly original? You know, the type of idea that fueled your own creative fires because you now know them to exist?
OK, it’s been a while. And maybe we’re asking too much, with all this human history, to expect the unexpected when filling our nights with entertainment. But, dang it, that’s the attitude that allowed for nine Land Before Time sequels — they’ve practically caught up to present-day at this point!
You’ve heard the cynics and depressed connoisseurs talk about blockbusters and their “brand appeal,” which basically means every movie contract details contingency plans in case anyone gets the bright idea to make Wedding Crashers 2: Motorboatin’. Many of these films make it to the big screens, like the Harry Potter and Austin Powers series, or 2005’s Elektra to 2003’s Daredevil.
And then there are the runts of the sequel family. They’re the films that look up to the successful older brother admiringly, or maybe with just a bit too much emulation. No one expects much from them, other to coast on the family name and to try and not hit on an underage cousin at the family Mother’s Day party. Heck, even that might not be so frowned upon, so long as it brings money to the family.
A rash of these odd sequels gives credence to the idea these cheapie titles make money at the fringes of the major film business. And, as you’ll see, profits such as these make the opportunist smile and the optimist teeter on the verge of a weeklong bender.
American Pie: Band Camp (2006) — The fourth installment of the American Pie saga opens with a crappy cover of James’ “Laid.” Given that the original film used the original song in its trailer, it’s a self-reflexive cue for any fans of the original to lower their expectations. When the fifth American Pie (American Pie: That Monkey the Blink 182 Guys Hung Out With) opens with an elevator Muzak version of the song, you’ll know they’ve found new depths to this barrel.
This film fits into the Pie mythology by featuring the younger brother of Stifler (Tad Hilgenbrink). He hopes to follow in his unseen brother’s Girls Gone Wild-type directing success, all the while making the Cobra Kai kids from Karate Kid look sympathetic by comparison. A prank gone wrong sends him to band camp as punishment, “paying off” jokes from 1999.
The first film shouldn’t be sullied by all these sequels, even if Eugene Levy stops by here for a paycheck. Embarrassing pratfalls by likable characters eventually turned into Stifler riffing in the following two movies. This sequel tries to have it all sorts of ways – having its main character act jerky AND have him get his embarrassing comeuppance AND redeem himself in the presence of the world’s most forgiving high school girl AND disavow his Stifler-ness. And, if this just so happens to involve hidden cameras in showers, well … it’s all part of a jerk’s journey, I guess. The attempts at humor, warmth, outrageousness and sexiness all fail. Grade: D-plus
8MM 2 (2005) — The major problem with 1999’s 8MM was that watching a family man (Nic Cage) descend into the world of illegal pornography depicted such depressing filth that viewers needed to take a shower equal to the movie’s length afterwards. And no one has four hours to spend on a middling movie that makes you yearn for the days when holding hands represented your goal with the opposite sex.
And so, borrowing a page from the Cruel Intentions 2 playbook, 8MM 2 jettisons the stars, increases the skin quotient and bats at thematic strings like a shadowboxing cat. Actually, according to some Internet Movie Database information, the film’s working title didn’t even mention an 8MM connection — they just tacked on the name for better filming through branding.
David (Johnathon Schaech) and his well-to-do fiance find their stay at a foreign hot spot resulting in a romantic entanglement more French than Hungarian. But the three-way somehow ends up caught on film and conveniently e-mailed in segments for proper blackmail. The rest of the movie seems to depict the diplomat’s efforts to avoid a “Gary Hart situation” for his fledgling political career. This allows the film to delve into a somewhat sedate Hungarian underground community, at least compared to dealing with someone looking like James Gandolfini in the original. All the lighting and plotting resemble something akin to Cinemax’s finest Friday night programming, but on a higher budget. And while the fianc» comes to grips with almost enjoying this trip into the supposed gutter, the film’s absurd twist ending almost makes sense. Grade: C
Wild Things 2 (2004) — Spending money renting this film just means you’re paying for the privilege of someone spitting in your face. It’s a sequel that relates to the original like an American Idol contestant warbling an off-key rendition of “Respect” relates to Aretha Franklin’s version: it tries to emulate all the significant features with none of the talent.
And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it added more spice to its south Florida brew. But, no. For some reason, the sequel demands even the film’s behind-the-camera situation carry over for the “2.” One of the actresses obviously uses a body double, almost as an homage to Neve Campbell’s refusal to act sans top, during a tired recreation of the original’s steamy sex scene. For a low-budget movie whose main horndog audience will recognize such shenanigans, it just doesn’t make sense. Like using Chinese actresses in Memoirs of a Geisha or something. Wait …
The film also inducts another member of the “Midlife Crisis in High School All-Stars.” Leila Arcieri plays the bad influence schemer patrolling the school halls at the ripe age of 31. And people say there aren’t any roles for older actresses. Grade: D-minus
Wild Things Diamonds in the Rough (2005) — And while you’re wiping away the spit from your eyes, the third movie in the Wild Things trilogy kicks you in a very uncomfortable spot, steals your movie rental money and then makes fun of your mom for raising a kid with hope for such a movie. It’s greatest hits time: old girls supposedly in high school, a conveniently lurid “school” activity for the Florida Everglades region (this time, a diving team), a “shocking” sex scene that uses a body double and plenty of double crosses. The staid screenplay features more mold than a forgotten sandwich left in the Florida humidity. A detective connects the second and third installments, but you’ll be forgiven if you don’t exactly remember. He’s stuck in his own version of Groundhog Day, where pouty girls seek an inheritance, turn on their lovers/friends and seek the same perfect crime. The only greater crime might be greenlighting Wild Things 4. Grade: D