So, last night I yet again decided to wander down the block to my local video store — one of the few that still exist — and rent a couple of movies. This time, I was browsing the new releases and picked up “Dark Shadows”, because it sounded a bit interesting although I had heard that it was more of a comedy than I think the original soap opera-ish “Dark Shadows” was (I never actually watched the original, although I had heard a little bit about it). Browsing for my second movie, my eye fell upon “The Cleaner”, and I decided to get it for two reasons: 1) Lucy Liu was in it and 2) it was seemingly a comedy about an ordinary person mistaken for a spy, which can be entertaining. So, let me walk through these movies a bit more, and let me warn you again that, yes, there will be spoilers.
First, “Dark Shadows”. This was not, in fact, a comedy. It was not, at least to my mind, even a dark comedy. This is because, to my mind, it wasn’t structured like a comedy. In a comedy, generally the plot serves the jokes; the plot is the framework which supports the jokes, and the jokes then flow from the plot. The plot here, however, is the driving force of the movie, and it is a generally tragic and certainly dramatic plot. From the beginning, we’re thrown into a world of conflict and tragedy, with nary a laugh in sight. As the movie progresses, there are jokes, but good drama often contains bits of humour. But there isn’t that much humor in “Dark Shadows”, unless you simply laugh at his talking in a formal and outdated manner. For the most part, this is a drama, and the humour is used to lighten the mood and play off a bit of the formality, but the plot itself takes centre stage.
The plot, however, is a bit problematic. The reason is the incredibly number of storylines that it tries to cover. You have: Barnabbas and Angelique; Victoria and her link to Barnabbas’ lost love; David and his mother; the rebuilding of the Collins fortune; the doctor and her wanting to be a vampire; Caroline’s werewolfism; and David’s father and his issues. I think that the number of storylines here would have made up at least a season if not more of the original show, and it doesn’t do them any good to be crammed into a 2 hour movie. Because of this, Victoria’s character is reduced to nothing more than Barnabbas’ love interest, despite being an interesting character in her own right, with interesting problems. The doctor storyline is wrapped up in about 10 minutes of screen time, when it could have had much more. Caroline’s problems are barely hinted at before being revealed in the final scene (out of necessity). David’s father’s story is again about 10 minutes of screen time and is most of his actual screen time. Michelle Pfeifer’s role as the matriarch is a waste of an interesting character. The rebuilding takes about 10 minutes with no sign of struggle on the part of any of them. And so on.
What I would have done is focus on one part, with some hints at the others, and the main one likely would have been the rebuilding of the Collins fortune. Have them struggle with that against Angelique’s interference, and get a big win out of it at the end … and have Angelique swear revenge. This way, you’d have a tighter plot and have more time to develop some of the other characters in and around that plot without having to resolve them. The only problem with this is that it would cry “Sequel” … but the end scene with the doctor opening her eyes screams that anyway, so why not do it?
“Dark Shadows” was okay, but I wouldn’t buy the DVD. I’d be more likely to buy the original TV series based on watching this movie, because the threads are interesting but need far more development.
Now, onto “The Cleaner”. I didn’t laugh a lot at this movie, so that says something. Either about me or about the movie; I’m going to blame it on the movie. However, it was entertaining. The problem with the humour is that pretty much everything that happens was fairly standard for the sort of movie it was going for, and the way it was done wasn’t really any better than the previous attempts. The interaction between Jake and the butler early on was interesting, but not laugh out loud funny, at least for me. Plot-wise, it suffered a bit from leaving doubt in our minds about whether Jake was just a janitor or actually a spy, and I would have preferred he return to a more normal life at the end and take up with the attendant than take up with Lucy Liu’s spy girl at the end, but that’s a minor quibble.
Again, I wouldn’t buy this DVD, but it killed almost an hour and a half in a way that didn’t bore me or make me turn to reading the whole way through, so that’s something.
Interestingly, I didn’t fall asleep during either of these movies, which has to be some kind of record. Then again, I have fallen asleep during much better things, so that doesn’t say much.