Imagine if the beloved family film Home Alone was a hard-R instead of PG, just so little Kevin McCallister’s DIY booby-trappings could draw geysers of blood. Now imagine that the bad guys he downed with nails and fire weren’t bumbling burglars but ruthless neo-Nazis, but also the baddest of the bunch was played by a primetime comedian with a swastika branded onto the back of his head. Finally, imagine that all of this played completely straight, its laughs almost entirely unintentional. Such a hypothetical project would look a lot like Becky, a new home-invasion thriller that’s as preposterous as it is gleefully “extreme.” Eyeballs get popped out of sockets, brutish white supremacists growl about racial purity, and the body count includes cute dogs and cute kids alike. Yet none of that can quite disguise the essential goofiness of the premise, in which an angry tween goes ham on a bunch of supposedly hardened criminals. And, oh yeah, by the way, their leader is Kevin James.
Far and away the casting of the King of Queens to play a hulking skinhead is Becky‘s biggest hook. It’s the kind of casting against type can be effective; think of Patrick Stewart, subverting regal dignity to play a Nazi kingpin in Green Room (a film roughly ten-to-fifteen times as intense and visceral as this one), or of Albert Brooks as a decidedly non-humorous crime boss in Drive. James, shaved head and face swallowed in beard, looks menacing enough. But the character, an escaped convict named Dominick, is one of those bad guys who likes to delay his violent outbursts with calm monologues, yet the actor just lacks the necessary presence to make that scary. The performance only works if you take it as a general burn on racist idiots, akin to what Spike Lee did with casting Topher Grace as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman. Continuing a James mainstay of one-location films, joining the Paul Blart films, Becky focuses on the titular thirteen-year-old (Lulu Wilson) seething with grief and rage over the death of her mother a year earlier. But it’s Becky’s father (Joel McHale) who has a new girlfriend (Amanda Brugel) with a young son (Isaiah Rockcliffe) and hopes a weekend at the family cabin will help ease tensions, that is until some Nazis come knocking.
There’s definitely some comic potential in a pissed-off middle-schooler barking threats into a walkie talkie while delivering violent screwball retribution upon incompetent Nazis, who mount a jailbreak in the film’s opening scenes and come searching for a vaguely significant item that may be stashed on the property. But Becky doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, nor the good sense to play the dramatic tension of an angsty kid forced to rescue people she resents, nor solid action direction from Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. There is some grisly low-brow pleasures, but nothing in the movie makes a damn lick of sense — not its heroine’s instant transformation into a killing machine, not the notion that James’ blundering scoundrel could inspire a loyal posse, not the shifting allegiances of a giant, lumbering henchman (Robert Maillet) suffering an unconvincing crisis of conscience. The film can’t even be bothered to explain its MacGuffin, the Valknut-branded key that draws Dominick and his gang to the premises. Is it supernatural? Do the heavies just believe it’s supernatural? What’s it doing at this particular lake house? The movie literally never says, which is pretty indicative of its general indifference to the plot mechanics fueling the gory mayhem. On that last front, it sporadically delivers, at least for those who might get joy out of seeing a Nazis getting messed up. Lacking in its comedic potential and in sustaining tension, Becky plays itself so incredibly straight and with such extremities that its ultimately just a display of unintentional goofiness. Essentially, in every similar raw, B-movie avenue, Green Room just did it a whole lot better.
Becky is available on VOD
For a good chunk of time, the ever-changing independent filmmaker Abel Ferrara has found a way to, if not thrive, then at least produce, while lost in a wilderness of his own making. With his new movie, the semi-autobiographical Tommaso, he reflects on the sober life, one that the filmmaker himself has reportedly been leading in Rome, where this film is set. Willem Dafoe, a longtime collaborator of Ferrara’s whose adeptness at portraying both tenderness and ferocity make him a very apt surrogate for the director, plays the title character who’s a clear stand-in for Ferrara himself (as well, Tommaso’s wife and daughter are played by Ferrara’s own wife and daughter). In early scenes we see him taking Italian lessons; getting an espresso and chatting it up with the attractive woman who’s making it for him; cooking dinner with the mother of his child; and working on a screenplay.
Even with the guerilla-style camera these opening scenes suggest such a sweet mood that’s actually shocking: Is Ferrara, whose movies almost compulsively dig into the darkest corner of human experience, going to pull off a modest cinematic celebration of relatively calm domesticity? Well, not quite. In Tommaso’s world, all is not entirely well. In a park with his daughter (Anna Ferrara) he sees his wife (Cristina Chiriac) kissing another man. He struggles creatively — in crafting his script and wrestles with his own ego’s place in a process that demands more empathy, he’s an artist who wholly needs people to believes his own self-loathing is self-sacrifice. After one Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, a fellow tells him, “Anger occupies so much space in your life, there’s very little energy for anything else.”
Throughout, Ferrara, importantly, never cheats his core subject. There’s no scene of Tommaso being tempted by drugs or drink (he’s six years sober, and remains so to the end). Ferrara’s 2012 film 4:44 Last Day On Earth found a simple and touching metaphor for sobriety in its depiction of someone focused on staying clean on the edge of an apocalypse. Conversely, Tommaso reveals another web of needy impulses under the daily efforts of sobriety, with the film occasionally entering a fantasy realm, while still going further than your average variant of Fellini’s 8 ½. Like so much in this deceptively earnest film, the Roman backdrop creates ambiguous terms. One is left to wonder whether Tommaso’s internal chaos is that of an eternal figure in an ancient city, or just another guy trying to keep it together as he makes it through the bustling city. Disarmingly empathetic, Tommaso finds an incredible Willem Dafoe and an open Abel Ferrara on a sobering journey of spiritual doom and crippling addiction.
Tommaso is open in Virtual Cinemas