By Will Thompson
For Inland 360
For the time-conscious and reading-averse, here’s a summary of today’s film discussion: “Ghostbusters” meets “Evil Dead II” meets “The Matrix.”
Now, for the rest of us.
Action movies in the ’80’s were fun: a little camp, a little machismo, explosions — it was a good time. Somewhere in the ’90’s, things went awry. Perhaps it was around the time of the aptly named “The Last Action Hero,” which had one camera wink too many. After that, Hollywood reacted by instating what feels like a “zero jokes, zero fun” policy. Since then, it’s been glowering, stubble-faced dudes growling about whoever it is they have to beat up next. This stereotype is so pervasive that even Liam Neeson, an actual knight of the British Empire, became an action icon for his role in the “Taken” series. Just watch him growl into the phone at those kidnappers. All machismo, zero cheese, zero fun.
To borrow a query, where has all the laughter gone? Yes, action comedies are still produced, but they tend to lean toward the purely dumb side — top-name actors paid millions to mug into the camera like morons with explosions in the background. Nothing wrong with that, but it takes a perfect cross section of dumb-meets-smart to make great things happen in an action comedy.
Fans of action comedies got a reprieve in the early 2000s with British director Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End.” Wright continues to direct, but nothing quite in the vein of those first three features.
Thankfully, New Zealand hasn’t lost its sense of humor. The country is known best in the states for giving us the “Mad Max” series, “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson and his early gross-out horror comedies “Bad Taste” and “Dead Alive.” New Zealand filmmakers of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s drew from the gonzo spirit of the Australian Ozsploitation movement.
It’s in this vein that we have “Nekrotronic,” a 2018 film with a questionable title, clever premise and buckets of everything that makes a good action-horror comedy. The Drew Struzan-esque pyramid of characters on the poster alone is worth the price of admission (Struzan is the illustrator behind countless iconic movie posters and images:” Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Shawshank Redemption,” “Back to the Future” — this short list doesn’t do him justice).
The premise: Demons are stealing people’s souls through a smartphone app. The lead demon is played by model-turned-actress Monica Bellucci (likely best known to American audiences for her turn as Persephone in “The Matrix” sequels). A guy who empties out septic tanks is pulled into the plot by his idiot buddy, who downloads the app and starts capturing souls, a’la Pokemon Go. Then the carnage starts. There’s more, of course, but that would spoil it. That’s all you really need to know, honestly. I assume you’ve already pulled up the trailer and are saying to yourself, “Man, Monica Bellucci still looks amazing.” She does. Go have fun.
“Nekrotronic,” rated R, is available to stream through Shudder, the horror-specific streaming service, and available for digital rental wherever you rent digitally.
This week’s extra credit: Double feature time. Pull up time-bending stoner comedy “Mega Time Squad” on Amazon Prime. It’s another New Zealand-produced genre-twister.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.