There’s a turn of phrase that I like to avoid in where a writer compares any eclectic crime film they can find to the work of Quentin Tarantino by labelling it a ‘Tarantino knockoff’, or any variation in vocabulary. I renounce this lazy, unimaginative jab as it’s based in the worst form of criticism, that of negative comparison and ignorance of a film’s original qualities. However, in the case of American Strays, even I have to concede that it’s a blatant, unapologetic ripoff of QT’s style that makes no efforts to mask the plagiarism or do it’s own thing. He should sue. Not to mention the fact that on it’s own terms it’s just a horrible, boring, awkward fuckin piece of shit movie. It’s set up in the same anthology sequence except none of them are even connected, let alone make sense. Two nimrod hit men (James Russo and Joe Viterelli) drive through the desert engaging in strained extended dialogue that’s neither funny nor stimulating. A psychotic vacuum salesman (the great John Savage) goes door to door harassing people until he meets his match in a femme fatale housewife (Jennifer Tilly). A stressed out family man (Eric Roberts, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else) drives his dysfunctional brood through the desert. Elsewhere, Luke Perry plays a depressed, suicidal weirdo who sits around in a shack with a guy he’s paid to literally beat the shit out of him. The worst is a cutesy pie, insufferable Bonnie and Clyde style couple that are so obviously emulating Clarence and Alabama from Tarantino’s True Romance that you begin to wonder if they gave up and just set the script on autopilot like one of those knowingly ridiculous knockoffs you see on Netflix that are simply there to decoy you out into clicking a title that looks *almost* like what you want to watch (TransMorphers, anyone?). None of these vignettes are remotely engaging, it’s like a parade of shitty, awkward, misguided SNL skits from a dimension where humour and wit don’t exist. Every actor just looks tired, every line lands with a hollow thud. Just. Don’t. Bother.
Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is so beloved and intrinsically bedded into our collective cinematic psyche that it’s almost less of a film these days than it is a lifestyle or cultural flourish, something that comes up in conversations as a given, an immediately relatable phenomenon in any dinner table banter or house party scenario. It also happens to be a great film in itself, full of instantly iconic idiosyncrasies and sincere storytelling that harkens back to the days of Grimm’s brothers and such. Populated by a pithily eclectic cast, and more than a few cameos, it’s a film one can watch as a kid all starry eyed at the fairytale intrigue, then revisit again as an adult and treat oneself to the raunchy bits we missed as youngsters. We all know the story so I won’t rehash it except to say that it’s the classic storybook fantasy given a decidedly more modern twist, especially with the dialogue. I’ll also add that it’s one of the few Hollywood fairytales to retain the grim, often perversely violent and scary elements that fables of olden times were known for. That water torture thingy (how does that work anyways?) used to scare the shit out of me as a kid, and who could forget the gruesome rodents of unusual size? Cary Elwes and Robin Wright light up the screen as Princess Buttercup and Wesley (he’s a lot more fun as the Dread Pirate Zorro Roberts though, isn’t he), on the run from evil Prince Humperdinck (lol) played by a preening Chris Sarandon, and his nefarious six fingered henchman (Christopher Guest) who slew the father of ruthless Spaniard Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), as we’re reminded sixty million times throughout. Damn, I said I wasn’t going to go all into plot, didn’t I? There’s just such a delicious host of characters running about the place, it’s hard not too. Andre The Giant scores as, well, a giant of course, Wallace Shawn is a scheming little shit who gets his comeuppance (inconceivable!!), Billy Chrystal shows up as a sort of goblin, looking like a walnut with cotton candy taped to it, and all this hooplah is read to a youngster (Fred Savage) home sick from school by a snarky Peter Falk, a la Neverending Story. It takes a special kind of film to earn endless revisits from us, the viewer, and be ushered into the exclusive classics club. This one should be used as example of how to flawlessly achieve those things though, via an engaging, smartly written story with actual tangible stakes, just the perfect amounts of humour and silliness, some darker aspects to pluck away at the morbidness in all of us, and of course a romance right at it’s core. Timeless.