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Freddy vs. Jason   C

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ronny Yu
Writers: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Cast: Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Kenna, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Katharine Isabelle, Brendan Fletcher, Christopher George Marquette.

Review by Rob Vaux

Critics dread movies like Freddy vs. Jason. Oh we talk a good game, falling back on the usual high-minded dismissals of pointless gore, flimsy plotlines, and shoddy scare tactics that wouldn't freak out a 10-year-old. But in plain truth, they have us over a barrel and we know it. Any serious attempt to critique Freddy vs. Jason is bound to fail; "good" and "bad" are terms that simply don't apply. Everyone made up their minds about this movie the minute they heard the title. Its values lie strictly in the eye of the beholder, and no one's going to be swayed by any sort of argument or debate. We don't even get to examine its post-theatrical legacy, for its 20-odd precursors (in both the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series) have been strip-mined of every conceivable Freudian/Marxist/formalistic/postmodern/kitsch/feminist/pubescent sexual anxiety theme they have to offer. Freddy vs. Jason is absolutely critic-proof: firewalled, fortified and dug in like an Alabama tick.

Personally, I'm quaking in my boots.

The enduring appeal of its two main characters has always baffled me. Jason Voorhees (played this time around by Ken Kirzinger) -- the silent, hulking, machete-wielding slasher who waded through hordes of horny high schoolers at Camp Crystal Lake -- and Freddy Krueger (always and only Robert Englund) -- the child molester murdered by vengeful parents only to return from the dead to stalk (and kill) through his victims' dreams -- were just too one-dimensional to be really frightening. Their viciousness had no resonance, it lacked the horrific appeal of other great movie monsters. And though Englund always brought an undeniable sense of fun to his performances, each successive sequel just regurgitated the same old shtick.

Yet to Freddy vs. Jason's credit, there's a real guilty pleasure in throwing these two at each other like an old Godzilla movie. The filmmakers shy away from obvious in-jokes, eschewing the oh-so-tiresome nudge in the ribs for something at least superficially serious. They even put some thought into the setup for their monster mash. Freddy starts things with a unique pickle: his powers have vanished. Everyone has forgotten his name, the records of his crimes have all been erased, and the survivors of his rampages are hopped up on dream suppressants. He can't hurt anyone if they aren't scared of him, and the folks on Elm Street have cut off all knowledge of him like a quarantined disease.

Jason seemingly provides a solution to his dilemma. The unstoppable hockey goalie doesn't need subconscious emotions, and can kill people just fine whether they're scared of him or not. Through a deft bit of mental manipulation, Freddy sends his distinguished colleague back to Elm Street, where a band of hapless teenagers goes through the usual rigmarole of underage drinking and premarital sex. Jason starts hacking them to bits and Freddy gets credit for the kills. As word spreads, he soon becomes strong enough to re-enter people's nightmares and start up his old gig.

There's just one problem: even though Freddy's back, Jason isn't going to just go away. Like Mickey's broomsticks, he can't be turned off once he gets started, and with only a finite number of victims, the two are soon horning in on each other's action. Naturally, neither of them is inclined to share. Director Ronny Yu prepares for the inevitable showdown between them by adhering closely to the characters' respective mythologies. Freddy has no physical form, but is a veritable god in the dream world, while Jason has no reasoning abilities, but literally cannot die. The first half of Freddy vs. Jason concerns itself with the logistics of how to get them together: to put Jason in a dream state and/or Freddy in reality. In the meantime, it treats us to the standard-issue grisly deaths -- which have some gross-out appeal, but are never really scary -- and an ostensible group of teen protagonists with whom we're supposed to sympathize during the mayhem.

Fat chance. The title bout is the only thing that truly matters here and anyone besides Messrs. Krueger and Voorhees are window dressing at best. The reliance on such standard troupes as the virginal heroine (Monica Keena) and various gimmicky forms of death keeps the film true to its predecessors, but stifles the B-movie cleverness to which it seems to aspire. The final battle (lasting most of the film's final 20 minutes) is engaging enough to justify the fans' interest, however, and Englund's capering keeps us in the right spirit without reducing the proceedings to farce.

As for recommending it... what the hell would be the point? Those eagerly waiting in line will be happy with what they get, while those turning up their noses at the poster are infinitely better off finding something else. Your gut instinct will serve you more reliably than any critics, marketers, or close friends. I picked the middle of the road for my grade (call it a "boogeyman's C"), but any labels along those lines are utterly irrelevant. Condemn Freddy vs. Jason if you dare; its ghoulish subjects will only laugh in your face.

Review published 08.17.2003.

For another opinion, read Michael Scrutchin's review.

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