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Review: 'John Dies at the End' is energetic horror-comedy nonsense

Don Coscarelli's 'John Dies at the End' stars Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes and Paul Giamatti in an enjoyable but uneven genre experiment.

January 24, 2013|By Robert Abele
  • Paul Giamatti stars in "John Dies at the End."
Paul Giamatti stars in "John Dies at the End." (Evans Vestal Ward )

Flaked with offbeat witticisms, cheese ball effects and fanboy splatter gore, the surreal "John Dies at the End" has the vibe of a shaggy dog story, which works both for and against it.

Cynical slacker Dave (Chase Williamson) meets jaded journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti) to tell him about a powerful street drug called "soy sauce." After Dave and buddy John (Rob Mayes) have ingested the substance, they find themselves on an adventure involving co-opted life-forms, mind reading and dimension-traveling insects.

The result is an energetically nonsensical stew from horror outlier Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm," "Bubba Ho-Tep"), working from the same-named cult novel.

There are enough chunky bits of tongue-in-cheek — namely in the enjoyably deadpan performances, including Glynn Turman as a philosophical, shotgun-wielding cop — to satisfy aficionados of cross-bred genre experiments.

But by the time attention must be paid to actual narrative momentum, the loose fun of nutty encounters with a monster made of frozen meat, a combatant whose mustache rips off and flies away and a drug-affected dog named Bark Lee, gives way to the forced whimsy of stop-the-apocalypse comedy, a subgenre that already feels passé in the fantasy/horror world.

Until then, however, "John" lives in a frisky otherworld of willful incoherence all its own.

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'John Dies at the End'

MPAA rating: R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: The Nuart, West Los Angeles

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