After ‘F9,’ We Watched the Ninth Movies of Other Franchises. Oof.

by Msnbctv news staff

I’m not sure anyone imagined, when watching “The Fast and the Furious” in the summer of 2001, that a modest flick about street-racing car thieves in Southern California might one day yield eight sequels. It’s not so much that this material didn’t warrant a return trip as that almost no material gets returned to so many times.

But what about those rare movie series that make it that far? In honor of “F9,” I watched the ninth installments of some other franchises. As you might expect, the quality varies wildly, from painfully derivative to astonishingly fresh.

Of course, the subtitle is a misnomer: “Jason Goes to Hell” was far from the final “Friday the 13th” movie; for one, it was succeeded in 2001 by “Jason X,” which was set in outer space. Part 9 starts with Jason Voorhees being blasted to bits by a SWAT team, but naturally getting blown up doesn’t prevent him from continuing to wreak carnage on the denizens of Crystal Lake. Possessing another human body with his evil spirit, he extravagantly stabs, crushes and impales attractive teenage victims in various states of undress. It’s a brutally violent and luridly graphic slasher, although not a particularly frightening one, that culminates in a bewildering last-second cameo by Freddy Krueger’s glove.

Ernest P. Worrell, the cartoonish buffoon immortalized by Jim Varney, started his career in a long-running series of popular television commercials, promoting Sprite and Chex cereal, among other products, with his signature catchphrase: “Know what I mean, Vern?” He went on to star in several hit movies, including “Ernest Goes to Camp” (1987) and “Ernest Scared Stupid” (1991), but by the late ’90s, the schtick had hit a point of diminishing returns, to put it mildly. “Ernest in the Army,” the ninth Ernest feature, is a direct-to-video farce in which the eponymous hero enlists in the Reserves and is shipped out to Karifistan, a fictional country in the Middle East that provides much of the film’s absurdly racist humor. Varney died two years later, ending the franchise here.

Blake Edwards, creator of the original “Pink Panther” (1964) and one of the greatest American comedy directors of all time, was still making excellent comedies as recently as the late 1980s, like the uproarious “Skin Deep” (1989). “Son of the Pink Panther,” his final feature, feels like the work of a different filmmaker entirely. A limp, superfluous movie arriving a decade after the dismal “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983), it starred Roberto Benigni as the illegitimate adult son of Inspector Clouseau, and was of course similarly blithe and bumbling. Benigni is funny; the material isn’t. The one bright spot is the original score — the last by the great Henry Mancini.

Many of the “Hellraiser” sequels are bad. “Hellraiser: Revelations” doesn’t even try to be good. The ninth film in the grisly supernatural horror franchise was made strictly to satisfy a condition in the studio’s contract with the series’s creator, Clive Barker, that a new installment be released every few years, lest the studio relinquish its rights to the franchise. The script was written in a matter of days and the movie slapped together in a couple of weeks. Doug Bradley, who starred as the villain Pinhead in all eight of the previous iterations, declined to participate. “If they claim it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie,” Barker tweeted during production.

The original “American Pie” (1999) has three true sequels — “American Pie 2” (2001), “American Wedding” (2003) and “American Reunion” (2012) — following the same characters. But the franchise has also spawned a series of spinoffs made in a similar spirit of raunchy jubilance, including “Band Camp” (2005) and “The Naked Mile” (2006). The ninth and latest, “Girls’ Rules,” is a gender-swapped riff on the first film. It follows four young women who resolve to find romantic satisfaction before the night of their high school prom. What charm it has is thanks to its charismatic leads — particularly Lizze Broadway as Stephanie Stifler, cousin to Seann William Scott’s memorable supporting character from the original series.

Shintaro Katsu starred as the blind masseur and Edo-era swordsman Zatoichi in no fewer than 26 features between 1962 and 1989, sometimes making as many as four in a single year. The quality of each installment is remarkably high, considering just how many there are, and the ninth, “Adventures of Zatoichi,” is no exception: The dramatic swordplay, political intrigue and upbeat physical comedy that are the hallmarks of the series are on grand display, as Zatoichi dispatches the usual processions of villainous samurai with gratifying flair. And if you just can’t get enough Zatoichi, Katsu later reprised the role for television — and made more than 100 “Zatoichi” episodes.

The ninth “Star Trek” picture is also the third oriented around the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” whose small-screen voyages on the Starship Enterprise are some of the most beloved by “Trek” fans. Starring the inimitable Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, paragon of interstellar virtue and decency, and directed by Jonathan Frakes, who also plays the handsome ladies’ man William Riker, the movie feels a bit like a feature-length episode of the show. After the blockbuster action of the previous installment, “Star Trek: First Contact,” that TV-movie quality is fairly refreshing, and Stewart and the cast, as always, are a pleasure to watch. It also compares very favorably against the next film in the series, “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002), about which the less said, the better.

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