BEAST MODE movie poster | ©2020 Devilworks

BEAST MODE movie poster | ©2020 Devilworks

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: C. Thomas Howell, James Duval, Carrie Finklea, Spain Willingham, Leslie Easterbrook, Robert Costanzo, Daz Crawford, Teddy Margas, James Hong, Ray Wise, Aliana Matheis, Douglas Bennett
Writers: Chris W. Freeman & Spain Willingham & Drew Fortune
Directors: Chris W. Freeman & Spain Willingham
Distributor: Devilworks
Release Date: December 1, 2020

To paraphrase a famous quote, dying is easy, comedy is hard, parodying Hollywood and trying to do horror at the same time on a low budget is super-hard. Credit BEAST MODE for giving it a go, even if it doesn’t hit the mark much of the time.

We begin with the opening crawl, “Somewhere in the South American jungle …” We are in a hut, where a woman is using a very special flower to try heal her daughter, who has grave facial injuries. Bandits come in and demand that the woman hand over the flower. The woman resists, declaring, “What is inside will be outside!”

The bandits kill the woman and her daughter, though not harming the little boy, Ezequiel. The bandit leader subsequently uses the flower and turns into a monster. Although BEAST MODE spells this out later several times in different ways, we get the point – people who are horrible in everyday life will become literally monstrous if they try to harness to flower’s magic.

Then we’re in Hollywood, where producer/manager Breen Nash (C. Thomas Howell) waxes philosophical in voiceover about the awfulness of the place and its people. Breen is understandably depressed. His last film was a notorious flop. Worse, Breen’s star client, Huckle Saxton (James Duval), is a drug-addled, unreliable rage machine.

Things go further downhill when there’s an accident. Breen is due to go into production with Huckle on a horror movie called BEAST MOON.

Luckily, Breen’s assistant Hampton (co-director/co-writer Spain Willingham) finds a janitor, Michael (also Duval), who looks identical to Huckle. Michael just has a couple of facial scars that require covering up. On the recommendation of a friend, Breen obtains a cream made from the flower, and applies it to Michael.

In order to make Michael seem more like Huckle, he’s encouraged to behave like a jerk. Michael, a naturally polite soul, gets into acting the part of rude celebrity – which in turn causes the flower-based cream to do its thing.

Directors Chris W. Freeman & Willingham, who wrote the screenplay with Drew Fortune, can’t settle on a tone. There’s a certain sweetness both in Michael navigating Huckle’s world, and in Breen’s relationship with his sympathetic dog (wonderfully played by a whippet).

However, there are so many subplots – magic, blackmail, revenge, stoned police officers, etc. – that we start losing track of how these things may all connect. Further, most things are played so broadly that even the jokes that work are oversold. The observations about showbiz are not precisely new, and much of the intended humor is crass. There’s a lot of blood, but no scares or suspense. Finally, there are some racial stereotypes (and a ton of homophobic dialogue) that won’t precisely endear the film to some viewers.

All that said, Howell gives a pretty deft comedic performance as the beleaguered show-must-go-on protagonist. Ray Wise, in a single expository scene, demonstrates how BEAST MODE might have played better if the rest of the movie had his deft touch with the material. The filmmakers also deserve credit for good use of real Hollywood/West Hollywood locations.

In its belly, BEAST MODE has some intriguing satirical notions. It just spreads itself too thin for any of them to really hit home.

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