Film Reviews

Goodness Gracious!

As one who assesses creative works, you try to separate the individual artist from the output they produce. Watching Bedtime for Bonzo, you don't want to think about Reaganomics. Viewing The Pianist tends to produce thoughts of the Holocaust, not of drugged and raped girls. Going back a little further, enjoying and applauding a Van Gogh painting doesn't mean you condone ear removal, or even take it into account in any way that might affect your aesthetic appreciation. But Jeepers Creepers 2 writer-director Victor Salva doesn't make it easy to ignore the fact that he was convicted for molesting (and videotaping) the 12-year-old lead in his 1988 film Clownhouse.

It's not just that the premise of Jeepers 2 and its predecessor both deal with an ancient demon known as the Creeper who periodically emerges to literally sniff out teenage boys and eat certain parts of their anatomy while laminating the rest. Jeepers Creepers 2 centers on a high school boys' basketball team called the Bantams. And what's the significance of that team name, you might ask? It gives the boys an excuse to chant a fight song featuring the lyrics "Better not mess with the mighty cock!" Their bus breaks down, so naturally some of the boys decide to sunbathe shirtless on the vehicle's roof, while several others go off to urinate together, making jokes about smelling jockstraps and calling one another names like "butt sniff." Either Salva's deliberately doing this as a twisted joke, or someone like executive producer Francis Ford Coppola said something like, "Look, Victor, we know you have to put some sort of teen-boy fetishism in all your movies, so just get it all out of your system up front, 'kay?"

Though the creepy subtext never totally goes away, given that the devilish Creeper likes to lick and sniff and sneer in suggestive fashion (at one point tearing off a victim's shirt along with his head, leaving a buff and bare torso twitching like a chicken), and that one of the lead characters may or may not be a closet case, the rest of the movie is less focused on flesh and more on fear. On this score, Salva seems to have learned some skills since the first installment. He still isn't great at building suspense (his sense of pacing feels off), but there are plenty of sudden shocks, many of them exceedingly cheap but fun.

Jonathan Breck has grown into the character of the Creeper quite effectively -- his malevolent stare is almost as nightmare-inducing as the notion of Salva moving into your neighborhood. And the costume's come a long way -- the exposed-zipper green rubber suit has given way to a glistening animatronic nightmare. The wings still aren't quite right, though -- in the long shots they look computer-generated, and close up they resemble cheap tarpaulin. At least the focus on what the Creeper actually is gets more defined; there's no beating around the bush that it's a giant flying reptilian thing, albeit one that can use ninja stars made of skin and teeth. The first film couldn't seem to decide whether to make its monster humanoid or more of a creature -- here it's all beast, save the silly hat and trench coat which eventually get mislaid somewhere.

It's a shame the rest of the cast isn't as effective as Breck -- Salva's script may be partially to blame for badly defining them, but the generic performances don't help. We can figure out that there are some black guys on the bus, some jerks, one or two apparent nerds even though this is supposed to be a sports team, and the token cheerleader girls. Many of these are interchangeable, save for Suddenly Psychic Girl ("You were waving pompoms this morning, now all of a sudden you're a psychic hot line?" exclaims Generic Jock #5) who conveniently receives visions that reveal the entire plot unto her, courtesy of the ghost of that dorky kid who died at the end of the first flick (Justin Long).

Fortunately for these boring Creeper-baits and us, Ray Wise comes to the rescue, playing a father who lost his youngest son to the Creeper at the start of the film, and during the course of a single day has become a highly trained demon hunter. Wise doesn't have to be backed up by a solid script, as any Twin Peaks fan will automatically associate him with the role of grieving dad (and, come to think of it, that of child molester, too. Hmmm . . . ). It's fun to watch him play the Ahab role (complete with harpoon gun!), and even more fun to watch the stupid kids die.

Salva's paid his debt to society, so we probably shouldn't pick on him too much. He certainly wouldn't be the first director to throw his own psychological baggage onscreen, and if making movies with creepy subtexts keeps him from actually acting out, we should all root for Coppola to keep bankrolling his features. In the meantime, it looks like his directing skills are at least getting a little better. The first Jeepers was ridiculous and annoying; this sequel is still ridiculous, but on its own terms, it works.

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Luke Y. Thompson