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Dustin Putman

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Club Dread (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Kevin Heffernan, Jay Chandrasekhar, Brittany Daniel, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske, Paul Soter, Bill Paxton, Jordan Ladd, Lindsay Price, M.C. Gainey, Samm Levine, Dan Montgomery Jr., Tanja Reicher, Elena Lyons, Julio Bekhor, Richard Perello, Michael Yurchak, Nat Faxon, Michael Weaver
2004 – 104 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence/gore, sex, nudity, language, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 28, 2004.

The Broken Lizards gang, consisting of director-star Jay Chandrasekhar and fellow actors Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske, and Paul Soter, hit success in 2001 with "Super Troopers," a low-budget police comedy that did so-so business at the box office but soon became a cult favorite for college-aged kids. I awarded it a measly one-and-a-half stars, but didn't hate it; it's a hit-and-miss romp that seems better in hindsight than while actually watching it. With experience, however, this quartet of ambitious guys has luckily improved, even if there is still much room left for further enhancement.

Their latest film, "Club Dread," is a peculiarly entertaining item notable for somehow creating a genre that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. It is not a self-referential satire like the "Scream" trilogy, nor is it a spoofy send-up of horror movies like the "Scary Movie" trilogy, but something that places both in between and far to the left field. More specifically, "Club Dread" is a blood-and-sex-soaked '80s-style slasher pic that takes itself seriously most of the time, yet just so happens to be inhabited by loony, dimwitted characters who would be better off in a light comedy. Instead, and much to their dismay, they find themselves running from a psychopathic murderer—something they are not the least bit suited for. It's admittedly a pretty creative conceit and often quite funny and creepy, to boot.

It's spring break, and just as college kids are shipped onto Costa Rica's Pleasure Island for a week of partying, booze, and debauchery, a machete-wielding killer has decided to make mincemeat of the employees. The likely victims-to-be and potential culprit among them include magical masseur Lars (Kevin Heffernan), faux-British tennis coach Putman (Jay Chandrasekhar), Fun Police officer Sam (Erik Stolhanske), horny swimming instructor Juan (Steve Lemme), drug supplier and DJ Dave (Paul Soter), aerobics babe Jenny (Brittany Daniel), and the confusingly-named Yu (Lindsay Price). Running the show and owner of the resort is the once-famous singer Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton), a '70s icon whose #1 hit, "Pina Coladaburg," was overshadowed by Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" seven years later. Warned that if they tell the guests of the impending danger they will die, this bumbling group of workers are forced to go about their jobs, even as the body count rises and they realize any one of them could be the killer.

Like this week's abominable "Twisted," "Club Dread" is a "Ten Little Indians"-style whodunit. Also like "Twisted," "Club Dread" offers up a plethora of laughs (the difference is the former title was supposed to be serious, while this one is intentionally funny). Unlike "Twisted," however, the identity of the killer in "Club Dread" isn't immediately obvious, the storyline and red-herrings are reasonably well-constructed, and the plight of the endearingly kooky cast is surprisingly involving. Sure, most of the characters have the IQ of hair (one victim attempts to outpace the killer by jumping on a 5mph golf cart, while another nubile hottie inanely suggests they spend time in the old, deserted mausoleum), but they aren't supposed to be stuck in a horror movie in the first place; bad luck has simply placed them in the genre.

The actors have a grand time hamming it up. Of the Broken Lizard members, Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan have the meatiest parts. Chandrasekhar's Putman is a dreadlocked, tell-it-like-it-is sort who seems to have a few screws loose, while Heffernan's Lars is an endearing masseur who gives instant sexual gratification to his clients with a single touch. Amidst the chaos, he also has time to fall for the beautiful Jenny, perhaps the most resourceful of Pleasure Island's employees. Brittany Daniel (2001's "Joe Dirt") is a standout as Jenny; in many ways, she has the lead role and commands the screen with an infectiously perky sweetness. At the same time, Daniel, as with everyone, is genuinely horrified of the predicament she is caught in, and fears for her life in the same believable way that a heroine would in a straight slasher film. Adding further babe wattage for the frat guys in the audience are Jordan Ladd (2003's "Cabin Fever"), as vacationer Penelope, and Lindsay Price (formerly of TV's "Beverly Hills, 90210"), as Yu, whose very name pronunciation is the source for much confusion in the characters. One can never be sure after all, if the person is speaking of "you" or "Yu."

"Club Dread" is a superior motion picture in nearly every way to "Super Troopers." The plot developments flow more smoothly, the comedy is sharper, and even at a somewhat lengthy 104 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. Credit the Broken Lizards, also, for avoiding the temptation of going the "Scary Movie" root and creating a tone and feel all its own. With that said, there is the curious feeling that these guys are still holding back, capable of something much more than "Club Dread" offers. Even as the film keeps your interest, there are dry periods in which they almost seem to have forgotten to add the comedy or are afraid if they go too far they run the risk of offending someone. Nevertheless, the good-natured hijinks that fill out "Club Dread" pay off in the long run. It's a solid, fresh effort that will hopefully lay the path for bigger and better things to come.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman