[Deep Focus]
IDLE HANDS
GRADE: C
Brain dead.

OK, so this stoner high-school kid is so out of it, I mean so wasted, that he doesn't even notice his parents have been bumped off during the night until way later, when the dog has run out of food and the cat starts licking what turns out to be this human eyeball. So suddenly this guy, Anton, realizes that his parents are, like, these rotting corpses in his house, and before he can think about what to do next, a couple of his friends show up at the door. They freak out when they see the bodies, and Anton's all scared and everything, but here's the funny part -- it turns out that Anton, see, is possessed by a sort of evil demon spirit that takes over the hand of like the laziest slacker dude it can find and then compels that hand to kill.

Anton doesn't want to hurt anybody, but his hand has a mind of its own, so he has to fight with it, kind of like in Evil Dead 2 when Bruce Campbell goes nuts in the kitchen. So he kills both his friends in really disgusting ways, but then they don't die, see? They come back to hang around until Anton fixes things with his hand, sort of like that when that Dr. Pepper guy can't get rid of Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London. Even when the hand gets chopped off, that doesn't stop it -- it just crawls around town, sort of like in that old Oliver Stone movie with Michael Caine as a nutball cartoonist.

Well, that's how this movie goes, and don't even get me started on the similarities to Re-Animator, Carrie, and every Hands of Orlac clone ever made (Mad Love, Body Parts, etc.). I don't mean the slacker-stream-of-consciousness grafs above to be insulting, but they seem to best evoke the vibe this movie aspires to. Imagine a Cheech and Chong movie directed by Peter Jackson, and you'll get an idea. At its best, which isn't often enough, Idle Hands is a pleasant gross-out with game performances and plenty of morbid energy. Even at its worst, it's not obnoxiously bad -- it just stalls out repeatedly, as though the director took one too many bong hits himself and can't figure out why his movie is going, esentially, nowhere.

I blame the script, mostly. As indicated above, calling Idle Hands "derivative" is an understatement. That would be OK if it had a healthy share of its own ideas, but there's a distinct paucity of storyline on hand. Idle Hands has to spin its wheels awfully hard to eke 92 minutes of running time out of a very limited universe of possibilities.

As is, Dawson's Creek director Rodman Flender is hit and miss with this material. Highlights include the nifty opening bit, where Anton's parents are horrified to see that someone has written "I'm Under The Bed" on the ceiling in glowing paint, and subsequent gags involving mundane props put to grim use -- a pencil sharpener, a bagel slicer, and the dread microwave oven (a longstanding cliche of suburban horror). Some of the movie's most outre moments, including one character getting shredded into tiny bits of meat just off camera, should be shockingly funny but founder in the lethargic atmosphere. Idle Hands never works up enough steam to really capitalize on its crassness -- even the gratuitous nude scene is sort of a drag.

Performances are adequate, but mostly uninspired. There's the perpetually sleepy Anton (Devon Sawa) getting frantic, and his two buddies (Seth Green and Elden Henson) playing wry straight men. There's a smidgen -- just a smidgen -- of sex appeal courtesy of girl-next-door Molly (Jessica Alba), on whom Anton has a lifelong crush (his new hand winds up making the first move). And there's Debi (Vivica A. Fox), the druid priestess, who puts in what amount to a few fierce cameos. In the context of stoned-white-kid comedy, nothing's more refreshing than the arrival of a wise, righteous black woman with brains and guts who's ready to kick ass. She's the only character in here who knows the score, and we could have used some more of her.


Directed by Rodman Flender
Written by Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer
Cinematography by Christopher Baffa
Edited by Stephen E. Rivkin
Music by Graeme Revell
Starring Devon Sawa, Seth Green, and Elden Henson

Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.85:1

USA, 1999


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