Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Warlock: The Armageddon

Challenge: Make a Warlock sequel that's simultaneously more boring and more batshit than its predecessor.

It may seem impossible, but that's the impressive feat achieved by Warlock: The Armageddon. A predictable and unoriginal story accompanies ludicrous setpieces and greatly amped-up gore, but those aren't the only ways in which this sequel differs from Warlock. In fact, if they'd cast someone else as their warlock, you'd barely be able to tell that these two movies take place in the same universe at all—no direct reference whatsoever is made to the events of Warlock, and the only slight hint about those events is the fact that the Warlock seems to know a little bit about late-20th-century materialism and motor vehicle operation.

The only returning cast member is Julian Sands, who seems slightly more invested this time. Even his moments of apparent boredom often feel more like performance choices than actual boredom.

Apart from Sands, the prominently featured actors are

  • Steve Kahan (who looks just like Ann's uncle from Arrested Development, but isn't) as the head modern-day druid, yes I said druid, and father of…

  • Chris Young as  Luke Skywalker  the destined warrior-druid hero, and weaksauce love interest of…

  • Paula Marshall (whom you might remember as Dax's friend from Hellraiser III and the reporter who thought Jerry and George were gay in that one Seinfeld) as the spunky preacher's daughter/proto-witch; and

  • Joanna Pacula as some sort of fashion industry honcho who's doomed to die. She only gets one scene, but I include her here because she's the film's only other name actor besides Sands.

    Probably the weirdest thing about this movie is its editing. The two parallel stories at work throughout Warlock: The Armageddon are (1) hero boy very gradually learning about his destiny and subjecting himself to whimsical training montages, complete with music cues stolen from Star Wars; and (2) the Warlock's wacky road trip, taking him on a bloody rampage involving runway models, circus freaks, a hitchhiking prostitute, and a hyper-rich executive's office. (I was really hoping for a Sally Jessy-esque talk-show scene, to fully embody the film's era.)

    Now, when you've got a thin premise like this one, it makes some sense to divide your hero and villain characters up like this into dual storylines that don't directly interact until the finale. But what's strange is how frequently, and artlessly, the cuts from one to the other occur. You never quite know when a scene is really over, because it might just be "paused" to show Sands meeting some new doomed characters, and this leads to a dizzying and ultimately fatiguing effect, reducing viewer engagement.

    My hunch is that this editing choice was a deliberate effort to conceal just how boring the hero-boy storyline really is. Luckily, the crazy is on full display elsewhere, especially in the fairly well-done circus sequence. Not only is its overall feel appropriately icky and confusing, but the precise doom that the Warlock has in store for the Scott Adsit look-alike carny is pretty much the only slightly scary moment in the film.

    Sadly, the rest of the Warlock's shenanigans feel heavily influenced by such tripe as Nightmare on Elm Street, what with the Warlock's lame one-liners and thematically-appropriate kills. This tone replaces the goofy charm of the first Warlock, and the vaguely-drawn small-town hero characters bring nothing to the table. Nor is the early '90s CG very helpful: it mainly involves small objects spinning in circles, then other small objects spinning in circles. The result: a strong sense of sameness, and a yearning for the genuine menace of your Hellraisers or the low-budget idiosyncrasy of your Phantasms.

    In the end, the Warlock is of course defeated—for now—and everything just kind of ends, with none of the expected implication that Druid Boy and Witch Girl are gonna go off and have adventures or children or whatever. Perhaps that's for the best.

    If we are to try and make a coherent franchise narrative out of this film and its predecessor, we face a conundrum: the opening scenes in the sequel seem to take place in the Middle Ages, before the start of Warlock: The Beginnening. So does that mean the chronology goes (1) Warlock's birth is barely prevented by a bunch of unconvincing-looking druids; (2) about two or three hundred years later, he's born under circumstances not shown in these movies; (3) he gets arrested and escapes to the 1980s, then gets defeated; and (4) he's reborn in the early '90s, suddenly remembering the business with the stones, yet forgetting about the Grand Grimoire? Are we to infer that warlocks have a learning disability that prevents them from being aware of more than one MacGuffin at the same time?

    I'd guess the lack of continuity involves different screenwriters and the desire to avoid unnecessary royalty payments. Maybe the third and final (?) film—Warlock III: The End of Innocence—will surprise us all and tie its predecessors together somehow. That would represent a level of creative effort unapproached by Warlock: The Armaggedon.

    Star Score: 1.5 out of 5

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