Disturbing Behavior

Who put acid in my spam?
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1998
Director: 
David Nutter
Starring: 
James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Bruce Greenwood
The Setup: 
Teens in Washington town are becoming violent preppies.
Discussion: 

This has been on my Netflix list forever, because I love 90s teen horror that is trying, like, SO hard to be, like, so, SO serious. For real. And that’s before I knew that the guy on the cover is James Marsden, and the glowering girl on the cover is none other than Katie Holmes! But even with all this, it turns out to be a godawful mess, offering very little in the way of quality, but not quite bad enough to be fun in that way either, with scene after scene of flat energy, until it finally just ends. Nevertheless, it was over before I knew it, and I hadn’t fast-forwarded at all. And, to my shock, it has a lot of people on the IMDb who love it. So let’s get started…

We open with credits that seem very, very serious. Then we have a young couple parking, and after some discussion, the girl willingly offers to give a blow-job to the guy—I know, serious science fiction, right? She’s busy when he snaps her neck. They are discovered by the cops, and one cop shoots the other and advises the boy, who is wearing a blue varsity jacket, to dump the bodies and get out of there. This is all observed by Gavin, stoner played by Nick Stahl.

We then join James Marsden as Steve, as he moves with his family to a house with a [ludicrously] spectacular view in this town in Washington state. He’s troubled by the death of his brother, which has caused a strained relationship with his castrato father, not that any of this will result in anything. He starts school the next day—this is the kind of teen movie in which rock music plays every time we cut to a school hallway, and this soundtrack is so seriously slumming—where he meets Gavin, who gives him the down-low on all the various groups at the school, the only one which is pertinent being the Blue Ribbons. They are these preppy jocks who all wear blue and gold varsity jackets and are weirdly aggressive. By the way, Marsden was 25 when he filmed this high school role, and he looks it.

First we meet Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Caldicott, so we can have introduced our villain at a respectably early time in the proceedings. Then we meet Holmes as Rachel, who is supposed to be this burnout rocker chick with half her hair in braids, introduced dancing by herself in the back of her pickup as she wears a black leather jacket. It’s hilarious. She also has the burden of the worst lines in the script—which is trying desperately to invent a convincing new vernacular for these teens, forcing her to say such things as “Fail to be a tumor,” and “Sounds razor!” The script is trying to sell us that Rachel uses “razor” as a synonym for “awesome,” and it… does not work. At all. The poor woman, it’s bad enough to be a piece of shit character in this piece of shit film.

SPOILERS > > >
So after we see that a former burnout is now a Blue Ribbon [BR], which happens at what is CLEARLY a diner that they keep referring to as a “Yogurt Shoppe,” we also see that the Blue Ribbons are prone to violence, and when they attack, one eye glows red with a little glowing nick in it. We see that Gavin’s parents have signed him up for the program, but that he has a gun and plans to “smoke ‘em all,” even “my olds,” i.e. his parents. Diablo Cody has nothing on this script. Steve takes the gun, and the next day Gavin is indeed a BR, which causes Rachel to inquire: “Who put acid in my Spam?” The BR’s beat up Steve, and Gavin helps them, so we know he’s completely changed.

Now in here we have met the school janitor/simpleton, Mr. Newberry, who is obsessed with catching rats, and has a machine that emits a screech that supposedly drives rats wild, but it doesn’t work. Anyway, around now, we realize that he is actually only pretending to be a simpleton, in order to lay low. First we have a blonde BR come on to Steve, only she malfunctions because she is feeling desire, and keeps repeating “Wrong! Bad!” Then we suddenly find out that the BR’s have an implant that controls them. Not that Steve finds out—it is just suddenly revealed to the audience. Then we see that the rat-screech machine actually dives the BR’s into a frenzy. Gosh, I wonder if that will come into play at the end?

Well, now Rachel and Steve have fallen for each other, which means that Rachel abruptly drops any burnout look she might have had and her hair is now completely combed-through in a “good girl” way. They decide they have to go to Caldicott's [Bruce Greenwood, remember?] old institute, where we next she them, magically having gotten inside. They encounter a bunch of “creepy” mentally ill people, but learn nothing, and return home. In here Rachel has to say “Tell me you have a razor plan.” Then—are you ready for sudden wrap-up?

Steve goes home to grab his sister and run away [this plan was never discussed in the film] and Caldicott and the BR’s are there. They take him to a lab, where he is strapped in for total Clockwork Orange-esque brainwashing about being a good student and upstanding citizen, but of course he escapes before he gets implanted, and rescues Rachel, also conveniently pre-implant, which is so razor. Then this character so minor I haven’t even mentioned him comes to the rescue, but the BR’s are blocking the road to the ferry. But! Then Newberry comes out of nowhere with a trunk full of the rat-screechy things, which cause all the BR’s to jump on the car—and then he drives off the cliff! KILLING all those high school students! That was the film’s biggest shock, right there, and was so unexpected as to be almost razor. BUT! Caldicott is still alive, and he and Steve go mano-a-mano until Steve kicks him in the face and he falls off the cliff. Then Steve and everyone escape on the ferry, while you’re like “Why? If all the bad people are dead?” but let’s not ask questions. It’s ending, let’s just be happy.

Then we end with a rather shockingly uncomfortable scene as we suddenly are in a BLACK school, seeing a bunch of ill-behaved black students! Apparently we are supposed to think “Yeah! If we could just implant a few mind control chips in those no-good black kids, then we’d be able to make some progress in this country!” As a final “stinger,” we see that the new student teacher is… GAVIN! So it might happen. The whole thing is pretty ugly, and leaves one with a bad taste in the mouth, and what is the one thing the ending is definitely is NOT?
< < < SPOILERS END

Not Razor.

So you can kind of, in some way, see that the writer had an idea that may have been somewhat interesting at some time. This guy is named Scott Rosenberg and wrote the scripts for High Fidelity, Gone in 60 Seconds [the Nic Cage one], Con Air and Kangaroo Jack. So he’s a bit of a hack, right? Still, apparently the amount of deleted scenes on the DVD [which I didn’t watch] and the deleted ending speak to the film being hacked apart by the studio and its vision, whatever it may have been, totally destroyed, before they threw it out to make $17M on it’s $15M budget. Everyone on IMDb says that the deleted scenes are the best thing about the movie.

So, what do we have? A curious piece of cinema, for sure. The energy of the thing is strangely inert… we just start, then keep pushing forward. Nothing raises the pulse, and the revelations, when they come, are not dramatic reveals, and have nothing to do with the main characters, they’re just shown to us. I’m thinking of when we just suddenly see the glowing, slit eyes of a BR, shown to us, not a character, and when the movie decides to let us know that these kids have implants in their brains. A normal movie would have one of our characters DISCOVER that the BR’s have implants, which would provide some drama, and bring us closer to the characters. But everyone here just goes through the motions, relationships just happen, are not developed, and events just occur, are not motivated by character actions. So, much as we’d like to believe that the studio messed this thing up beyond recognition, I suspect that the script probably wasn’t all that great to begin with—efforts to create a new teen vernacular notwithstanding.

Anyway, skip it. There are other, more fun 90s teen thrillers out there, like Urban Legend or the delectable Gossip. This one… let’s just stay real quiet and hope it goes away.

Should you watch it: 

For no reason, although it won’t kill you.

Comments