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Ravenous

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Ravenous

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle
Director: Antonia Bird
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genres: Comedy, Horror, Suspense


*Also starring: Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, David Arquette, Stephen Spinella, John Spencer, Neal McDonough



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Ravenous" tries to be both a hoot and a horror but despite some breathtaking photography succeeds in being neither. The targeted audience is probably teen-aged males who probably would not have the title word in their vocabularies. To get an idea of its driving force, pretend you are in poor health: you have fierce headaches, your skin is always pale, five cavities are diagnosed during your last dental visit, and you're afflicted with borderline tuberculosis. Then a pharmaceutical company discovers a cure but there's a heavy price, more than you can easily afford. Would you buy the prescription drug? Of course you would. You would pay any price. Now make believe that the drug does not exist but health practitioners discovered that eating the flesh of dead human beings could shape you up. Could you go for it? Sounds disgusting, but probably, yes. Push the envelope a notch or two further. You have to kill other human beings because the flesh must be fresh. No? Probably not. But don't put this solution past some people, particularly those with addictive personalities, for whom the sense of elation will cause them to turn their backs on the usual moral standards. In that respect, "Ravenous," an unusual piece of storytelling, could be taken as an allegory about heavy drug users who would steal, prostitute themselves, even kill to get their hands on that nostrum without which live seems not worth living. The theme is a powerful one which, given the right treatment on the big screen could mesmerize an audience. But "Ravenous," whose strangest notion is that it is directed by a woman whose previous movie "Safe" offers little indication of this current output, is oddly devoid of suspense. Antonia Bird, whose movie features only a single female, goes for the gore instead.

A twist on the vampire legends, "Ravenous" is the story of men who kill other men and eat their flesh in part to appease their voracious appetites, in part because their diet makes them feel stronger, healthier, better. They are like vampires, who each have the strength of ten men but who are not limited by a need to remain indoors during bright, icy, California days. The tale takes place in the Sierra Nevada mountain area of our most populous state in 1847, at the time of the Mexican War--which added a large and wealthy territory to the U.S. The great Gold Rush would come in a handful of years and Manifest Destiny was America's logo. As the most villainous character in the movie tells us, "This country is stretching out its arms, consuming all it can." Colqhoun is the story's central scoundrel, of Scottish bent, who takes that slogan personally.

The film opens on Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), considered a hero by some but exposed as a coward by his commanding officer--who banishes him to a forsaken military fort in an icy region of California. He reports to Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who commands a motley, dissolute bunch of sad excuses for soldiers. They include Toffler (Jeremy Davies), the fort's religious leader; Knox (Stephen Spinella), who "never met a bottle of whiskey he didn't like;" Reich (Neal McDonough), a Nordic-looking zealot; and the drug-addicted Cleaves (David Arquette). Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), a shivering, starving Scot arrives looking for shelter, and promptly rivets the ragtag bunch with a yarn about a group of settlers who killed one another for food in order to survive a treacherous snowstorm. He guides the soldiers to a cave that reveals a stack of mangy-looking skeletons, soon revealing that it was he who killed the entire bunch to satisfy his unusual gourmet tastes. After additional, graphically depicted bloodbath, a showdown develops between Colqhoun and Captain John Byrd. Byrd, who retains some semblance of moral behavior, is faced with a choice that would send most of us running to the psychiatrist's couch.

The picture's leading attribute is Anthony B. Richmond's dazzling photography, using the sparkling mountain scenery of the Czech Republic and Slovakia which stand in for the California of the mid-19th century. In one extended and particularly well-staged sequence, a character leaps from a cliff like a championship bungee jumper and is photographed in free fall down the rocky mountainside, his plummet broken by a series of tree branches--all to Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn's inviting soundtrack. Parts of Ted Griffin's screenplay provide a modicum of amusement--but not fright--to the intended audience. Much of the humor comes from Hart's wit, which has dried up during his extended stay at a barren, godforsaken outpost and delivered effectively by the always amusing Jeffrey Jones. "It's lonely being a cannibal," he moans, "It's tough making friends." Believe it or not, there are references to Plato and Aristotle, with a quick debate on whether Aristotle's highest good was happiness or truth.

Robert Carlyle, known to a more select audience for his comic role as Gaz in the surprise hit "The Full Monty" and his capacity as Glasgow bus driver George in "Carla's Song," has mastered an American accent (despite his usual shtick uitilizing in a barely decipherable Scottish dialect), though he occasionally slides back to his native enunciation amusingly. Guy Pearce manages to keep a dour face, though we can imagine his breaking into laughter frequently during rehearsals of this sophomoric horror-comedy. Jeffrey Jones remains the comic centerpiece, reminding us at one moment of Harvey Keitel's plea in "From Dusk Till Dawn," to kill him when he turns into a vampire. The big disappointment all around is Antonia Bird, who has opted for playing it box-office safe after affording us the pleasures of sophisticated charmers like "Priest" and "Face." Inspired by the box-office success of "From Dusk Till Dawn," Bird has afforded us a reasonably charming first half with good character development and a fascinating image of a man's throwing up when cutting a steak. She spends the remaining time dishing up the usual banalities of the carnage and general mayhem.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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