October 14, 2011

Trespass

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Trespass

THRILLER:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-10-14

Running Length:

1:30

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Liana Liberato, Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok, Jordana Spiro

Director:

Joel Schumacher

Screenplay:

Karl Gajdusek

Cinematography:

Andrzej Bartkowiak

Music:

David Buckley

U.S. Distributor:

Millennium Films

Subtitles:

none


Spoiler warning: Technically, this review contains spoilers. But does anyone really care?

By writing this, I am reviewing a direct-to-DVD movie. True, Trespass is opening in a select number of theaters in mid-October 2011 (the word "select" being synonymous with "cavernous multiplexes desperate for anything new to show in their smallest auditoriums for one week"), but this is just a marketing mechanism to avoid the "never opened in theaters" tag. The real question may be why Millennium elected to screen this for critics since it assures a flotilla of horrible advance reviews.

Trespass is a home invasion movie, but not a clever, taut one; it's sloppy and obvious, with curves so un-serpentine they might as well be straightaways. The chief source of delight in any film belonging to this thriller subgenre is the high stakes game of chess, with its moves and countermoves, engaged in by the stalkers and the victims. A good home invasion movie results in an elevated pulse and a desire to double-check that the front door is locked at night. A bad one results in uncontrollable laughter and frequent watch-checking. Guess which symptoms Trespass causes.

The movie opens with Nic Cage talking fast (as only Nic Cage can do) to someone over his cell phone as he cruises up the driveway to his isolated, palatial home. For a moment, we think Cage might be complaining to his agent about the long string of flops and embarrassments he has headlined, but it turns out he's in character as diamond broker Kyle Milller, and he's trying to close a deal. His loving wife, Sarah (Nicole Kidman), waits for him inside, all ready to have a serious discussion about the state of their marriage. His daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato), is all hugs and smiles until he tells her she can't go to a party, then she regresses into sulky, rebellious teenager mode. Like any self-respecting high school kid who's told she can't go out with her slutty friend, she sneaks out. That's when the burglary happens.

The quartet of masked robbers gains entry by pretending to be cops. Once inside, they threaten and terrorize Kyle and Sarah using tactics learned from bad home invasion movies like this one. They want what's in the home office safe: cash, diamonds, old baseball cards, amateur sex tapes, whatever... Sarah recognizes one of them, Jonah (Cam Gigandet), behind his mask - he's the guy who installed their alarm system with whom she may or may not have had an affair. There are two other men - the leader, Elias (Ben Mendelsohn), and the muscle, Ty (Dash Myhok) - and a drugged out woman, Petal (Jordana Spiro), who is a stripper by profession but (despite the film being R-rated) keeps her clothing on. The lack of T&A is the only thing that will prevent this from being a Cinemax After Dark selection.

The lackluster screenplay, credited to Karl Gajdusek, tries to incorporate back-and-forth gamesmanship, but nothing really works. There's no snap-crackle-pop in the dialogue and no sense that anyone in the house is intelligent enough to outwit a turnip. Attempts at generating suspense are non-starters and there are times when the entire production slides into self-parody. Director Joel Schumacher, not known for subtlety in the best of his movies, makes sure we're aware of all the "little things" that will be important later. He doesn't employ lighted neon signs with arrows, but he might as well. See that nail gun - wonder if that will factor into things? How about the hairpin turn on the road - don't forget about it. Then there's the lighter found by the pool - just the thing when you need to start a fire.

Cage has now appeared in so many take-the-money-and-run productions that one has to wonder if he has some huge hidden debt he needs to pay off. There's nothing remotely resembling acting in his performance, much of which consists of him on his hands and knees trying to find his lost glasses. Nicole Kidman's participation is less easy to explain, especially since she takes the trouble to breathe some life into her character. Her first scene - a little domestic sparring match with Liana Liberato - is quite good. Of course, one could argue that Kidman is the movie's biggest problem. Had she joined the over-the-top, cheesy, scenery-chewing orgy engaged in by almost everyone else, Trespass might have seemed like an intentional parody rather than a horrible misfire. With this year's Drive Angry, Cage has shown an affinity for that sort of production.

Trespass' final act is a travesty of logic and intelligence, but viewers who stick around long enough to see it are unlikely to notice. One you've accepted some of the crap dished out in the first 70 minutes, it's not much of a stretch to buy into the "twists" offered up in the final 20. These include Rashomon flashbacks, a resurrection, at least one violation of the laws of physics, and a revelation about someone improperly medicating. The end product isn't salacious or violent or gory or surprising enough to be entertaining on any level; it's just a lackluster mishmash that makes you sad at having been cheated out of 1.5 precious hours. To trespass is to commit a crime - which is what these filmmakers have done.

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