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Playful Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

June 23, 2009

Trevor Matthews as Jack Brooks is your everyday loser; hindered by rage, intuition, and lack of smarts, Jack Brooks embodies so many who constantly overlook their own shortcomings by blaming their troubles on everyone else.  If you are wondering why this review is spending this much time on characterization as opposed to monster mashing, it is because Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is really an exploration of how Jack becomes said slayer. It is a character driven piece with some cool monsters, 20-something victims, and a few head smashing moments littered about.

the beginning of the end

the beginning of the end

You may be disappointed if you were thinking that this was going to be a movie filled with latex creatures brutalized by the titular character. But if you give it a moment, you will find a funny, somewhat senitmental look at the creation of what should be a lasting horror movie superhero.

The dark opening scene of Jack Brooks preparing to do battle quickly gives way to a flashback of our hero’s past.  With the help of a humorous,  understated narration, a recurring comedic element, we learn that Jack the boy stood helplessly frozen while his family was savagely mauled by a horrific and well designed monster.  But, we learn from Jack’s narration, that is not the real reason for his problems.  Flash forward to Jack’s early 20s.

Jack is in night school, seeing a therapist, and dating a fellow classmate.  His visits to the shrink, spaced evenly throughout the film, provide us with an in depth look at Jack.  Struggling to maintain his rage, Jack continues to lose control.  His therapist, always smirking and calm, watches helplessly each time Jack ignites into hilarious denial.  These moments aren’t laugh out loud funny, but the fact that we are in on the joke right along with the therapist creates a connection so often missing in movies like this.  Jack is always wrong and always in denial; but what makes him worth following is that he knows it.  And each time he visits his therapist, the movie is elevated.  When his therapist tells him to meditate, Jack screams, “the next time I am cut off in traffic, I will pull over and meditate!”

only in the public schools

only in the public schools

Robert Englund, clearly enjoying himself, plays Professor Gordon Crowley.  After class, he invites Jack, a plumber by trade, over to “clean his pipes” up at the old house on the hill.  Jack, thinking he can earn an A in class by helping out, eagerly accompanies the old man to his house.  But Jack damages the pump even further, somehow unleashing the evil presence.

Back at school, Crowley begins his descent.  Of course, school is the only place where a teacher can slowly deteriorate into a hideous, chicken chomping, vomit spewing, slime dripping creature without raising any suspicions.  You see, Professor Gordon Crowley has been possessed by something evil, with tentacles, or sex organs, or something.  During one of just a few hilarious moments, a tentacle bursts from Crowley’s waist.  As he struggles with it, gripping the slimy appendage tightly in front of his crotch, he grabs the shears and proceeds to chop it off.   Ouch!

And once he is all the way gone, the movie jumps into overdrive.  Soon there are lots of appendages shooting from Crowley; one even bursts through a wooden board, making a perfect (glory) hole, and struggles to reach one helpless female student’s mouth.  The sexual in jokes keep coming and coming, (sorry, pun intended).  And maybe it is Jack’s lack of that actually helps transform him, or maybe it is the guilt he feels over his “running away like a pussy” the night his parents were eaten.

Either way, Jack Brooks: Monster slayer is a well paced, adequately directed beginning to a much larger mythology.  There are creatures, but this installment is about Jack’s transformation.  I wanted more creatures, more mayhem, but what I got was really a PG 13 story of a man who will become a monster slayer.  Trevor Matthews play Jack with a restrained, human touch while Englund is over the top, gross out hilarious.  The weak link is Rachel Skarsten, as Jack’s “girlfried,” who seems to have gone to the acting school of roll my eyes and look away.  With the exception of one hilarious “Clueless” moment, her presence harms more than helps the movie.

According to IMDB, part 2 is slated for a 2010 release.  Assuming director John Knautz grows a little between now and then, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer 2 should be one to watch out for.

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