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Movie Review

Slacker Dude Meets Splatter Flick in Energetic, Goofy 'Idle Hands'

April 30, 1999|GENE SEYMOUR | FOR THE TIMES

It may not be fair to castigate Rodman Flender's low-rent comic pastiche for using a gimmick that goes all the way back to 1946's "The Beast With Five Fingers," even though this movie doesn't do much more with it than attach it--literally--to the "slacker" mystique.

This time, it's a blithe, perpetually stoned teenage couch potato named Anton (Devon Sawa) who finds himself stuck with a right hand with a homicidal mind of its own. He's so out of it that it takes him several hours after getting out of bed to realize that he has slaughtered Mom and Dad.

Fellow basement-dwellers Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson) find themselves the next victims of Anton's demonically possessed hand, only to decide in true slacker fashion that they'd rather hang out with Anton's remote control and refrigerator than Move Toward the Light. So they become real zombies as opposed to the aspiring zombies they were in life. Anton thinks cutting off and microwaving the offending appendage will save himself and humanity. But the marauding hand seeks victims on its own and no one, except a no-nonsense druidic princess (Vivica A. Fox, camping it up), has any answers to its mayhem. Meanwhile, there's a Halloween dance at the local high school that's about to be scarier than anyone expects. . . .

Count the number of horror classics you recognize from that brief synopsis. "Idle Hands" is both shameless and affectionate toward its precursors. But after several editions of "Scream" and other teen-horror franchises, even the act of goofing on the genre has passed the point of critical mass. It doesn't take long for the you-know-what's-going-to-happen-next archness of "Idle Hands" to congeal into a been-there-done-that pallor.

But what "Idle Hands" lacks in originality, it makes up for in energy and insolence. It takes guts for a movie to indulge as much as this one does in proto-hippie humor and you find yourself tickled, in spite of yourself, by the movie's nerve, if not its jokes. And after the anxiety of so many recent high school epics, it's almost a relief to come across one that slouches at a cool, hazy distance from class conflict.

It may not be the best live-action splatter cartoon money can buy. And those 1940s Tom and Jerry cartoons weren't as well made or ingenious as the Tex Avery shorts made by the same studio. Admit it. You laughed anyway, right?

* MPAA rating: R for horror violence and gore, pervasive teen drug use, language and sexuality. Times guideline: The violence and gore may be comical but it's graphic all the same.

'Idle Hands'

Devon Sawa: Anton

Seth Green: Mick

Elden Ratliff: Pnub

Jessica Alba: Molly

Christopher Hart: The Hand

Vivica A. Fox: Debi

Columbia Pictures. Directed by Rodman Flender. Written by Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer. Produced by Andrew Licht, Jeffrey A. Mueller, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd. Executive producer Jeffrey Sudzin. Director of photography Christopher Baffa. Music by Graeme Revell. Editor Stephen E. Rivlin. Production design Greg Melton. Art direction Roland G. Rosenkranz. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

In general release.

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