Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Lancaster/Ryder ABDUCTION OF ZACK BUTTERFIELD: so wrong it's camp

What can one say? Maybe, "Whew!"

It's been several years since I have seen what would appear a provocative and interesting story idea made into a movie as insufficiently imagined and over-the-top misguided as THE ABDUCTION OF ZACK BUTTERFIELD, which was co-written by its director Rick Lancaster (shown below) and Stephen M. Ryder.  The latter is credited as a co-writer of L.I.E., though this current work ought to make us even more grateful for the contributions of Michael Cuesta, as director and co-writer of that earlier and groundbreaking  film.

This film's title tells you its story, while its poster (above) lets you see that abduction coming. Our protagonist, Zack, is the jogger and his antagonist is one, April McKenna -- played by newcomer Brett Helsham (shown below). April, a veteran of our current wartime follies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is one terrifically troubled young woman who has some major problems with men. And so she has decided to kidnap a teenage boy, hold him captive and slowly turn him into the man of her dreams. Makes sense, right?

If I tell you that my six-year-old granddaughter would make an equally believable war veteran/nutcase as the version Ms Helsham gives us, this should provide a hint as to how ridiculous this whole enterprise quickly becomes. I don't mean to demean the actress, who might very well go on to become a gifted rom-com comedienne. But she -- like everyone associated with this fiasco -- is way out of her depth.

From the "action sequence" of the kidnapping scene to April's dressing up as a seductress (above), this is a high-school-level performance. I would say this, too, about her co-star TJ Plunkett, below, except that he is in high school. Wearing one expression throughout the film, and sounding exactly the same whether he is simply having a conversation with his captor or trying to "put one over" on her, he runs the gamut of emotions from A to, well, A.

Much of this must be attributable to Mr. Lancaster, as co-writer and director and his associate Mr. Ryder -- who see fit not to have the abductee bother to ask his abductor "Why am I here and why are you doing this?" until the movie is more than half-over. The filmmaker allows a huge chunk of exposition -- April's past history -- to be doled out in one long, boring barf that practically puts us, not to mention her captive, to sleep. One of the more interesting characters in the movie (played by Walter Masterson, below) comes off needlessly confusing: Is this guy a little slow, or was he simply directed to act unduly goofy?

Even the card game between teen-age friends that take place early in the movie, shown at bottom, while relatively well-written, is staged without an accompanying sense of reality. Didn't anybody on set, or during the rushes, notice how silly this all looked? Or were they all just hoping for a miracle? The big "sex scene," during which the camera pans politely away, 'natch, is scored to the strains of -- oh, god, no -- Swan Lake. I never thought I'd ask for this, but, please, bring back Black Swan!

The supporting cast members do a bit better in their roles, especially Zack's mom and dad, played respectively by Lisa Gunn (above, right) and Aaron Letrick (left). But other than the glossy, infomercial-level cinematography (by Aric Jacobson), this is amateur night at the movies -- so bad that it becomes that much-sought-after but rarely discovered joy: unintentional camp.

The Abduction of Zack Butterfield (91 minutes) opens this Friday, May 27, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5. Go, I say, and giggle away!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie at a festival in Anaheim California. It was excellently filmed and the ending brought down the house. It wasn't "Art" - but it was good suspense. But this "critic" on here "James Van Maanen." I looked him up - he never wrote anything, or directed or produced, or acted. He is, I guess, a self-proclaimed critic, as no one will pay him for his sniping, and he is actually unemployed, which gives him the time to vent his senile bitterness and envy at the doers of the world. Hmmmm - Van Maanen (Dutch - the ones who, when they are not diddling little boys, are trembling in a corner every time they hear a Mercedes start up.) But Mr. Van Maanen is 70 years old, though he looks like a youthful 90 from his photo - a decaying, skeletal countenance accompanied by the boast that he is six foot nine. As if the NBA is reading. You've been reviewed, Van Maanen. How does it feel? Really? Well your meds are nearby.

James van Maanen, said...

How does it feel, Anonymous? Pretty much like nothing at all. It might have meant more if you'd had the balls to sign your name. (I believe the word for this is "cowardice.") As to my "senile bitterness and envy," if you'd read anything else I've written on this blog, you'd know that I like, often LOVE much of what I see and choose to cover -- probably 80 percent or more. But I stand by my assessment of The Abduction of Zack Butterfield. Oh, and as my blog states, I am 6' 8", not 9". Please don't make me taller than I am. I bump my head enough as it is....

Anonymous said...

Capt. Ronald C. Walsh, grandpa. And I'm not in anyway associated with this unfortunate film, just pissed at your arrogance and disregard for the obviously sincere actors who tried to do their best with very little.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks for coming clean, Ronald. And you are right: This is indeed an "unfortunatel film." Have you read the other reviews? They make mine look like I am praising the movie. I have no bone to pick with the actors, some of whom I even remarked about positively, and all of whom I am sure tried their best with, as you say, "very little." But we can only go by what's up there on-screen. And what's up there is the worst film I have seen in several years. (And I generally see between 15 and 20 movies per week.)

By the way I used to get paid for my criticism via the movie blog GreenCine.com. But as times got tougher, the money disappeared and it was suggested that I get my own blog. Which I did. And though I have never written or made a movie, back thirty years ago I used to write plays, and have seen a couple of them in various productions and staged readings in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, so I have had the experience of seeing my work criticized. Artists of all kinds need to thicken their skins, and so, I guess, do critics.

And I do appreciate your further comment.

Dominic said...

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that "Anonymous" is Lancaster or Ryder. Everyone seems to agree the movie is awful.

I suspect that they will come out eventually and claim it is intentional camp to save themselves from too much person embarrassment.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Dominic. I don't know what to think, since Anonymous now claims to be Capt. Ronald C. Walsh. In reading comments elsewhere on the blogs of critics (who also did not like the movie), I noticed that those comments seemed eerily like the one posted on my blog: details changed to fit the critic but with the same snarky innuendo.