Monday, August 25, 2008

Movie Review: Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008)

Before I sat down and watched the recently released direct-to-video sequel to The Lost Boys, I fully expected my blog entry on the subject would take the form of a public service announcement. I had already seen a few reviews which made it sound like the worst cinematic crime perpetrated on genre fans since Highlander 2: The Quickening. In reality, the film isn’t all that bad taking into account it’s a DTV film with not much in the way of ambition . . .

First off, what you have to realize going into Lost Boys: The Tribe is that it’s basically a remake of the first film. You have two siblings (this time a brother and sister) who move to a kooky seaside town to live with their quirky aunt (at just 94 minutes they didn’t have time to introduce the single mother character and love interest from the original). Upon arrival they encounter a fun loving group of surfers (i.e. The Tribe) who happen to be vampires (which I guess is sort of like Point Break except they don’t rob banks . . . and speaking of Point Break isn’t that a franchise begging to happen on DTV. Seriously, you know they could totally convince Swayze to do this, as you never actually see his character die. Sure Keanu Reeves probably wouldn’t go for it at this point, but maybe they could get his Bill & Ted counterpart Alex Winter. A Swayze Point Break quote comes to mind that seems relevant. “Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation can cause your worst fears to come true.” That being the case, if the DTV powers that be are afraid of taking the Point Break plunge, their hesitation could cause fears of lost revenue to become an actuality. Come on DTV producers more Point Break!). One of the siblings (the sister) gets tricked into drinking the head vampire’s blood (this time Angus instead of Kiefer Sutherland), and the brother must work with Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman) to prevent her from becoming a full blown vampire. Pretty much a carbon copy of Lost Boys 1, with the exception of “The Tribe” subtitle and some gender switches. Now you could make the argument that the creative team was pulling a Gus Van Sant Psycho type experiment, or a John Carpenter Escape From L. A. update. I’m not convinced of that though as in the former case it’s not a shot-for-shot remake, and in the latter it doesn’t go far enough in announcing itself as a version for another era. I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary, but at this moment in time I’m not buying that The Tribe team undertook some radical cinematic experiment here.

In truth, the fact that The Tribe is a remake is probably its greatest deficit simply because it forces the viewer to constantly compare it with the first installment. If this were an entirely new scenario it would be much easier to lose oneself in the film due to the novelty factor. However, despite being an underachiever on the creative front, The Tribe is not the disaster you may have been anticipating. The film works as entertainment (assuming you can overlook the fact that it is supposed to be a sequel to a much loved 80’s cult film) because the cast and crew seem to have set out to make a fun B-movie with no pretensions. In that regard I think they succeeded for the most part. The Tribe never drags, and does an adequate job of holding one’s interest. Also, for a DTV title the film looks pretty nice (it even adopts the 2:35:1 cinematic ratio of the original), and the camera work is fairly dynamic (without succumbing the ever popular Michael Bay syndrome). And as for the cast, while they lack the talent of the first entry’s roster they make up for it with enthusiasm. The sole exception to this would be Angus Sutherland, who’s a little too mellow to be very threatening. It’s true that he’s supposed to be a laid back surfer, and in the beginning the mellow works. When the fangs sprout though, the role could have used a little more bite (couldn’t resist : )

At this point I would be remiss in my duties if I did not highlight the contribution of Corey Feldman. One of the things the first Lost Boys film is most remembered for is the presence of the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman. While this one doesn’t sport a Haim (more on that in a moment), Feldman does return to perhaps his most famous role as overenthusiastic vampire hunter Edgar Frog. I confess when I saw the original back in ’87 I enjoyed Feldman’s performance a great deal . . . and the movie as a whole. The intervening years have not been so kind to the film, but it still remains a nostalgia fixture of sorts for me. That said, I think Feldman’s character has fared pretty well in terms of not dating. Consequently, the presence of Edgar works nicely in the sequel as Feldman assumes the role of elder statesman (what a strange concept). He updates Edgar in a believable way that respects the character’s history, while avoiding mockery in the name of pop culture irony. Truly I’ve got to give Feldman major points, as this performance is pitch perfect ( I just hope he brings the same gravitas to his role in any forthcoming Goonies DTV sequel). If you liked him the first time around, you’ll be happy with Edgar 2.0.

Another strength of The Tribe is the special effects. While no awards will be handed out, they aren’t sloppy and strike a nice balance between practical makeup and stunt work with CGI. It was nice to see such restraint in a DTV offering. Usually cheap CGI is the order of the day in the DTV world due to budgetary restraints, and every young filmmaker with a Mac seems to take a kitchen sink approach. Interestingly The Tribe opens with the worst CGI shot of the film, which shows a bird’s eye view of the town. In the original this would have been accomplished with a helicopter shot of the actual coastline. Here it has to be achieved via a computer. This opening filled me with dread, but honestly the rest of the effects are pretty decent. The vampire makeup in particular is nice, as it resembles that of the original instead of trying to do some unnecessary revision. One other item to mention is that the opening scene features a cameo by Tom Savini. Perhaps they got him to do this as a nod to the fact that they were updating an 80’s horror film, and intended to do so with plenty of practical gore/monster effects work (even though Savini has no involvement at that level). Or maybe they just like Savini – who knows. The strange thing is that literally moments before watching the film I was thinking of Savini and wondering what he’d been up to lately. Creepy.

One thing I mentioned recently in my review of Indiana Jones and the Case of the Crystal Skull (and applies here), is that fans of genre sequels have a tendency to critique films because of what they are not. In the case of The Tribe, a lot of negative reviews focus on the fact that it is nothing more than a remake and should have covered new ground. While I understand that sentiment, I believe you have to look at what the filmmakers set out to do and how well they accomplished that. Here they were not attempting to tell a new story, rather it seems they were looking to transplant the original plot in a slightly different setting. To that end I’d say they achieved the objective with relative success. Where they fell a little short was in the performance of Angus Sutherland, and perhaps not pushing the limits quite enough. Ironically the filmmakers invite this criticism themselves by providing a tantalizing glimpse at the film that could have been. After the end credits roll for a while, we’re treated to a short segment that reunites the Coreys and suggests the possibility of a forthcoming adventure. Although very brief, the snippet manages to generate more excitement than anything seen in The Tribe.

Even more interesting than the “official” Haim cameo, the DVD offers two alternate endings that are cooler still. Both open up the door to a sequel that would bring in Haim (who appears to have suffered a vampire attack) and the absent Frog brother Alan (Jamison Newlander) who is referenced several times in The Tribe. What’s incredible about these alternate endings is that to me they looked like what would happen if Rob Zombie were doing a Lost Boys sequel in both tone and execution. I’m not the world’s biggest Rob Zombie fan, but I have thought his directorial efforts were both decent and interesting (including his reimagining of Halloween). Furthermore, unlike most modern genre filmmakers, he has a signature style that’s identifiable (which is a breath of fresh air these days). I wouldn’t mind at all seeing him take on the project, or having director P.J. Pesce continue on the path toward emulating his style. Either way is fine by me. It may sound incredible, but in the space of a couple of minutes Pesce creates a thrilling scenario that I hope gets taken seriously should they continue making Lost Boys sequels.

Sleep all day. Party all night. It’s fun to be a vampire. Such was the tagline of the original film. It may not be as fun this time around, but given its constraints The Tribe does a decent job of entertaining even if it’s not a great sequel. If the powers that be allow the creative folks to move forward with the scenario suggested by the alternate endings, the franchise could take a very interesting direction which (dare I say it) might surpass the original. Here’s hoping they do just that and give fans the true sequel they’ve been waiting 20+ years for.


Chris Johnson said...

I think there is supposed to be another DTV Lost Boys sequel released next year. Also, I did read on Ain't it Cool that there were plans for a DTV Point Break sequel. Remember thought, Swayze has cancer bad now so it will have an all new cast. The rumor was it would feature a gang of bank robbers all dressed as members of the Bush administration. Supposedly they were inspired by the Ex Presidents. I'll watch it.

Jim Blanton said...

I really hope that's right - and that they honor the setup from the end of The Tribe!

I had heard that Swayze was getting back to work, but maybe that was premature. It would be a shame to not have any of the original folks participate. Maybe they could get John C. McGinley or Lori Petty to co-star! I like the idea of them using a new administration (genius : ) And of course 100% pure adrenaline!