When a director casts Dolph Lundgren in a movie, I know I’m probably on his wavelength to begin with. But when he does so and then nicknames his female lead Evelyn “Evil-Lyn”? I’m thinking possible soul mates.
But that’s not to say that director Mike Mendez, whose awesomely campy prior directorial effort Big Ass Spider still rules, is getting a total pass from me. There’s much we can pick on about Don’t Kill It, most notably, whether or not Lundgren has a tougher job in fighting demons or in affecting the Southern accent somebody has unfortunately asked him to adopt. However, when it comes time for the movie to deliver, it does, in buckets. The downtime is when we have a moment to critique.
With his cowboy hat and trenchcoat, Lundgren’s Jebediah Woodley seems designed to ape Woody Harrelson’s “Tallahassee” from Zombieland, though his humor is more one of odd juxtapositions. Harrelson clearly knew he was being funny, while Lundgren is mainly amusing in his attempt to fully commit to a bayou-born character, even ash hish Shwedish ashpirated eshes interfere with hish Shouthern drawl attemptsh (much of his dialogue was clearly looped in after the fact).
The plot is a riff on 1987’s The Hidden, with a twist: whoever kills the body currently possessed by a homicidal demon has basically tagged themselves in as the next host. And since each host tries to massacre as many victims as possibly, it’s tough not to give into the temptation to meet them with deadly force, thereby only propagating the chain. Jebediah knows this, and while he is naturally met with skepticism every time he tries to pass that knowledge along, usually the demon shows up quickly enough to change hearts and minds. When that happens, the set pieces are some crazy gore-hound fun. Mendez seems to have been inspired by Mark Millar, and to great effect; a church massacre here is far more fun than the analogous scene in Kingsman, while another battle favorably recalls Hit-Girl’s debut scene in the first Kick-Ass movie.
The scenes between the slaughter are the challenge. Mendez veers less campy here than in Big Ass Spider or Lavalantula, clearly wanting to transition from campy horror to true horror comedy. But then why make Lundgren so difficult to understand? Half the appeal of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old action flicks is the way he would be given all-American names like “Ben Richards” or, ahem, “John Matrix,” despite sounding like an Austrian heart attack. Calling Jebediah “Southern” while having him sound totally Swedish would have been the better/funnier choice here, if only because the conflict between Lundgren’s real and fake accents often makes him incomprehensible. (A side note: Dolph vaping heavily is funny, but maybe not quite as gut-busting as Mendez might imagine.)
On the plus side, hints at a larger mythology are always welcome so long as they don’t mean we get an ending that’s an insanely optimistic cliffhanger for an as-yet-undeserved sequel. Mendez has clearly mapped out something bigger, but it doesn’t matter if we never see the whole thing; like health insurance, just knowing it’s there is enough. On top of this, the gore-fests are glorious, never letting the viewer feel cheated. It’s just a shame we sometimes go long stretches between them.
Subtract a few points from Don’t Kill It if you just hate Dolph Lundgren, but maybe add a few if you understand that he rules. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can catch it tonight, Oct. 25th, as part of Screamfest at the Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood. 7 p.m.
Rating: 3 out of 5
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