Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: Lord of Illusions (1995)

Am I dreaming? Is this movie part of some kind of freakish, nightmareish sub-reality in my mind brought on by some guy sticking his fingers in my head? Is Clive Barker stupid or actually so subtly gifted and talented that I can’t even perceive how great he truly is? Was the Kennedy assassination the work of a lone gunman, or was there something more at work? For the answers to all of these questions…don’t watch this movie, because it’ll just confuse the shit out of you and you’ll spend your time pondering the answers to those questions PLUS the myriad more brought on by the film’s insanity. Trust me. I know. I’m a survivor of Lord of Illusions.

Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor

After watching this, you will be transformed! Transformed into someone who hates the art of cinema! Into someone who thinks the only way to make a good movie is lots of referential crap to dated stuff that nobody watches anymore, plus tons and tons of gore! Transformed into a mindless slave of the Clive Barker cult of nonsense!

The film begins with some people going in to stop this fat, balding guy who apparently has magical powers from using those powers to do something with a girl he kidnapped – it’s not entirely clear what his plan is. Except, of course, for being a fat, balding guy with no charisma, charm or acting skills…seriously, what is the draw to this guy? People are apparently worshiping him and lining up to join his magic cult thing, but this is the first really big hole. Who would follow this guy? He’s about as charming as a wooden fence post.

So yeah, I’m not kidding here, THIS is the leader of these mercenaries…rebels…whatever the hell they are:


What is that? The bastard child of Steve Buscemi and a weedwacker? Well, whatever, he goes in and tries to save the girl, telling her it will be OK but not actually saving her yet. Isn’t that the best kind of rescue? Also, why do they always gag people in movies where they can still talk? Doesn’t that go against the point of a gag?

She can clearly still talk through that, and as we'll see in a few scenes, she can still pick up and use a weapon even with her wrists tied like they are. So basically this is a failure of a hostage situation.

Then we see the best method of villainous plotting ever conceived – hanging out behind a rotating wall and then dramatically revealing yourself when you could have just stabbed your enemy from the start when he came into the room:


I guess the plot here is that this magician guy, Nix, is obsessed for some reason that is never fully made clear with that Steve Buscemi lookalike, whose name is Swann, and so he wants to “show him the truth of the flesh” or some inane bullshit; you know, the usual Clive Barker formula. Have a guy intone deeply and say cool sounding things that mean nothing, and then play some gory shots over it that also mean nothing. Maybe his philosophy is that two meaningless things, when put together, will create something of substance. But I think it’s fair to say it just annoys the living piss out of his audience and makes him look like a giant tool.

Then Nix gets shot in the back by the hostage girl he tied up. Gee. Maybe you shouldn’t have left her hands untied enough for her to use a gun. And maybe you shouldn’t have been so unobservant as to let her near that gun in the first place. You’re really not much in the brains department either, are you Nix? How the hell are people following this guy again?! They bury him underground and say he’ll never come back, but since the movie still has an hour and a half left, how much do you wanna bet he comes back?

They're putting down their bets right now...and hoping to win! The woman in the middle is putting all her rent money on the table even.

Oh, and this was all in less than the first ten minutes, by the way. Isn’t that a beauty? I’ve talked about so much already and the movie isn’t even close to starting its main plot yet. Ugh…

We then fast forward 13 years to New York City, where some private detective named Harry D’Amour gets a house call from his boss, generic frumpy white businessman. The conversation that follows is – I’m not gonna lie here – probably the most generic movie conversation ever made in the history of cinema. The guy in the suit says he has a job for D’Amour, who is skeptical about it while popping a bottle of beer. But we know he’s going to say yes and just go. Why wouldn’t he? When in the history of movies has the drunken, down-and-out detective ever said no to the One Final Job?

5 o'clock shadow? Rich 1%er boss with one last mission for him? Alcoholism problem? All checked off! You are officially the lead character in your very own terrible detective story...and seriously, how poorly acted is this character anyway? He blends into the background so much you almost forget he's even there most of this movie. I mean, he's only supposed to be our moral center of things. I guess that wasn't important.

So he ends up in Los Angeles chasing some guy who apparently is conning someone. He follows some guy to a fortune teller’s office where he finds a guy holding the fortune teller hostage, having already stabbed him several times in the chest. Then D’Amour is attacked by some bald bodyguard guy. How will D’Amour beat this guy? He slams the door in his face aaaaaaand that stops him cold!

Ugggghhhhhhh doors!!! I was trained for everything except fighting through them! Doors are my mortal enemies!

When the bodyguard FINALLY gets through the door several minutes later, D’Amour throws him out a window. Truly this guy was the best henchman ever. Then the other guy leaves as well, leaving D’Amour to tend to the wounded fortune teller, who dies. What are D’Amour’s chilling, poetic words to summarize witnessing such a painful death scene? None other than “Shit.” That’s all he says, and isn’t it just perfect? I think I’ve heard better eulogies from a five year old flushing her goldfish down the toilet.

So I guess the story behind this is that someone or something is killing off all the members of the squad who brought down that Nix character 13 years ago. Why did the killer take 13 years to get started with that brilliant plot? Because that fits the time this movie was released in the mid 90s. There literally is no other reason besides that. D’Amour gets hired by the wife of that Swann weirdo who is now a big time stage magician, who wants him to figure out what the hell is going on. Even though…he was already doing that anyway and didn’t need to be hired twice. Oh, wait! I know the reason!

"We have no reason to be attracted to one another besides the fact that I'm the main hero in a poorly written film noir detective story! Let's have sex!"

Literally without even saying anything, you know they’re going to have sex before the movie ends. It’s that friggin’ obvious. Why else even have this shit in the movie at all, if not for a cheap and poorly written romantic “plot”? This movie is as predictable as a weather forecast in the middle of a drought. I know it’s trying to be all homage-y to classic film noirs and detective stories, but god, would at least a little bit of energy and cleverness be too much to ask for?

Then D’Amour ends up going to one of Swann’s shows with the wife, whose name is Dorothea. The show is…well, it’s not really much of a magic show. It’s more like what would qualify at the video store as “special interest.”

Is that the Yogurt statue from Spaceballs?
Yeah, nice Power Rangers poses there you morons.

If you like seeing a bunch of mostly naked men wrapped up in metal wiring dancing around a statue of an ambiguously Indian-looking idol statue, well, then you would be in for a treat. I just imagine here all the people who brought their young children to see this, expecting a magic show. Wouldn’t this be just so strange to them?

Then Swann performs his ultimate trick – bloody, violent death!

Eh, I've seen better magic shows. 7/10.

And in the words of Harry D’Amour to describe the situation: “Shit.” That about sums it up.

Afterwards, D’Amour investigates some other magician guy and comes across the name Nix, which he figures is connected to the deaths of all these people, and when he asks Dorothea about it, she sends her butler to tell him to stop working and go home. So he finds out what she was looking for and she doesn’t like it? He DID HIS JOB, WHAT SHE ASKED HIM TO DO, and her response is telling him she doesn’t like it? What the hell? Is some kind of semblance of a logical sequence of events REALLY THAT HARD? Jesus Christ, Clive Barker! What’s wrong with you? Can’t you even just…try, for once, to write something that isn’t totally talentless hack work and just, maybe, I dunno, might be a crazy idea, TELL A REAL STORY? God!

So after that D’Amour ends up going over to Dorothea’s mansion where they have this conversation:

D’AMOUR: [Swann] thought Nix was coming back, didn’t he? Didn’t he?
[DOROTHEA slams her hands on the table and looks distressed.]
D’AMOUR: I can’t help you unless you talk to me.
DOROTHEA: Nobody can help me.

Normally dialogue like this wouldn’t be anything worth pointing out, except for what follows:

I mean really, REALLY?! "Oh, I just want to help you solve this crime" = making out with a stripper pole between your boobs? What universe is this?

Well, I called it, and it was totally predictable that they would end up having sex. But honestly, what the hell led to this? They were talking about the case and then, bam, they were making out, and one scene later they were in bed. Did Barker just miss a page of the script where they started flirting with one another? There was no build up to this at all! Usually there’s…something, at least, like a scene or two of them sort of being coy with one another, but here it’s literally just a totally unrelated conversation leading to them doing it! It’s like a parody of a film noir rather than a homage. But then again, expecting Clive Barker to start understanding anything about human interaction now would be an exercise in futility.

Then we see the worst special effects this side of Cube II: Hypercube as the ghost of Nix chases them around the palace and stuff:

If they were going for "childish red crayon scribble" then they got that one 100% correct!

After that, we find out that Swann is actually still alive, and faked his death so that the ghost of Nix would leave him and his loved ones alone. This is so stupid that even a dunce like D’Amour can point out the holes in it, like that Dorothea was the one who actually shot and killed Nix to begin with, so why wouldn’t he go after her anyway? It all just comes to point out how much of a goddamn pussy Swann is, and him being alive…really adds nothing to the rest of the movie, seeing as it’s almost over. So why add it? To pad out the running time, of course!

So apparently that one guy from earlier, who killed that fortune teller, is the main villain now as he kidnaps Dorothea and takes her to the site from the beginning of the movie, where they raise Nix from the grave as the incarnate of Frank from the first Hellraiser movie:

Can you tell this was made by the same guy yet? If the poorly written story and lack of serious atmosphere didn't give it away...

He almost kills Dorothea, but D’Amour saves her. Nix decides that he wants to explode Swann’s brain, so he does exactly that, rendering him a brainless vegetable. Then we see that he corrupts D’Amour by sticking his fingers in his head and making him see other people like this:

Well to be fair watching Clive Barker movies for too long makes me see people that way too.

…until Dorothea shoots Nix in the head and kills him!

Oh, did I say that kills him? I’m sorry. I meant he’s still alive after being shot! I always get those two confused…and seriously, can’t this shit JUST END ALREADY?! They push him down into a hole and kill him that way. What did we learn from this? That if you push people into holes and shoot them, they die? What the hell was the point of any of this garbage? I feel ill just thinking of the time wasted on this that I could have been using for something more productive, like watching paint dry, or reading my neighbors’ tax returns.

Lord of Illusions’ only real illusion is that it somehow got green lighted. You thought you were getting a good movie, movie studios? Well POOF! Bait and switch and you’re left with Lord of Illusions. God, what a mess. Did people ever really take this seriously? I mean Hellraiser is one thing; that at least had an iconic and memorable main villain. This? This has N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Sigh. It’s like Clive Barker has some kind of magical spell over his audiences blinding them to his talentlessness…some kind of strange pull over the minds of the weak…

…nah, people are just too easy to please and that’s all there is to it.