Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)


Despite making its bow with very little fanfare last May, Slaughterhouse Rulez, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is not the latest “Cornetto Trilogy” add-on from writer/director Edgar Wright, the man who collaborated with those two chummy chuckleheads on Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.
     Nor does it star Pegg and Frost. They’re in it, of course, only in subdued supporting roles. Their major contributions this time out are as executive producers, for Slaughterhouse Rulez is the fledgling film from the pair’s new production company, Stolen Picture. An accurate moniker indeed, given that most of the film appears to have been borrowed from other, better pictures—Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Ghostbusters, This is the End, Tremors, the Harry Potter series, etc. Is it a spoof? An homage? I couldn’t tell.
     With Wright now spinning his wheels elsewhere (Baby Driver, anyone?), directing duties have fallen here to one Crispian Mills, who steered Pegg to comedy bronze in the promising if underdeveloped A Fantastic Fear of Everything in 2014. Mills also shows a lot of promise with the setup of Slaughterhouse’, which is only his second film to date: Northern lad Don Wallace (Finn Cole, TNT’s Animal Kingdom) is enrolled in the uppity-crust Slaughterhouse School in the South of England for reasons involving a dead dad and a clean break. He’s sorted into Sparta house, a Hufflepuff-styled homeroom that hemorrhages freaks and geeks and misfits, among them his snuff-snorting roommate Willoughby (Hugo’s Asa Butterfield). Pegg is Meredith Houseman, Sparta’s cricket-loving housemaster. My low expectations perked up a bit at this point. Decent acting, decent looking, tight pacing? For the first half hour I was on board.
     Following a-might-too-many obvious run-ins with the Hot Girl (played by Hermione Corfield) and the Cruel Prefect (Tom Rhys Harries), Don stumbles upon a fractious fracking operation on the periphery of the Slaughterhouse property, one strangely endorsed by the school’s wacky headmaster known, cheekily, as The Bat (a very broad Michael Sheen). Frost plays a mushroom-loving eco-terrorist hellbent on scuppering the land ravaging going down in the woods.
     Since British boarding school humor has already been deftly done (to death?) by the belles of St. Trinian’s (a rollicking film franchise based on the comic strip by Ronald Searle) and Geoffrey Willans’s Nigel Molesworth books (also illustrated by Searle; it’s no coincidence that Mills’s film directly references Molesworth’s comic misspellings), Slaughterhouse Rulez opts to morph into an OTT monster movie in its latter stages, when a massive sinkhole belches up some nasty, walrus-sized slugs with a nastier penchant for noshing on human flesh.
     Oh, and if you’re disappointed that Pegg and Frost aren’t in this much, you might be similarly bummed to learn that Margot Robbie’s role amounts to a couple of Skyped-in scenes as Meredith’s soon-to-be ex (she’s moved to Sudan to save the children, all with the aid of a hunky French co-worker).
     Slaughterhouse Rulez is just not in the same league as those early Wright/Pegg/Frost collaborations. By the time its overblown conclusion bludgeons its way across the dimly-lit screen, we’re left with just the one thought: Down with Skool!

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth

Twentynine Palms (2003)

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French provocateur Bruno Dumont’s subversive skin flick Twentynine Palms (not to be confused with 29 Palms from a year earlier, a Tarantino ripoff about a bag of stolen money) is either an arthouse masterpiece or an arthouse dud, depending on which side your pain is buttered. You know it’s an art film because at one point in the proceedings our bickering leads order ice cream and the waitress doesn’t even bother to ask what flavor they want. Bickering is pretty much all that David (David Wissak) and Katia (Yekaterina “Katia” Golubeva) do in the film, other than have sex, which they do almost as frequently. Said sex happens spontaneously, often in the great outdoors, and typically with no pretense of foreplay: “I’m very dry,” Katia complains during one such session, literally between a rock and a hard place. And she’s not talking about the arid Joshua Tree National Park, where the two of them journey in their sprightly red Hummer H2 for David, an independent photographer with bad bangs, to scout a photo shoot—needless to say he doesn’t do much scouting. Very little of interest happens in the film, named for the beautiful SoCal outpost in the middle of nowhere, including the bickering and the sex stuff, until a “shocking denouement” rears its fugly head late in the “action.” But by that time, alas—a grueling two hours, almost—we’ve decided that we don’t much care for these whiny have-it-alls anyway and dismiss their fates with a disinterested nonchalance. Much more tragically, Russian-born Golubeva (best known for the 1999 French-language drama Pola X) passed away in 2011 at the early age of 44 following a long battle with depression.

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth