Coscarelli, who spawned the “Phantasm” (1979) film franchise, based his latest film on the serialized David Wong novel of the same name. “David Wong” is the pseudonym of Jason Pargin, senior editor at Cracked.com, not to be confused with the Dave Wong character in the film, played by Chase Williamson.
Try to envision a movie written and directed by a young David Cronenberg and the “Airplane!” (1980) team – the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams – and you’ll have some of idea what to expect.
See "John Dies at the End" trailer HERE.
Looking for crisp plotting and tight characterization? Rent “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992). Coscarelli doesn’t throw every rule of dramatic structure overboard, at least when it comes to his unique version of the Chekhov Gun Rule: If you do a phantom limb joke in the first reel, the limb absolutely must open a holographic ghost door later in the movie.
Dave and John’s story begins in a little Chinese restaurant, where skeptical journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) interviews Dave, who recounts in a series of flashbacks the imminent demise of the world as we know it.
David claims only he and buddy John (Rob Mayes) stand between the decent, 3-dimensional inhabitants of planet Earth – and a motley horde of shape-shifting critters conjured up from a parallel universe by an entity known as Korrok. Problem is, David and John appear to be better suited for dealing with problems on the “Dude, Where’s My Car” scale, not prospective girlfriends turning into snakes reanimating frozen meat products.
Certain elements of Dave's story do little to enhance his credibility. He claims he was adopted; his biological mother was a bi-polar meth addicted prostitute who dabbled in cannibalism and necromancy. Dad was a mentally challenged Amway salesman. Because he wanted to fade into anonymity, Dave tells Arnie he changed his name to “Wong” – despite his obvious Caucasian background – because it is the most common surname in the world.
Dave meets a Jamaican mystic named Robert Marley (Tai Bennett). Marley offers to wager a beer he knows a lot about Dave, including a dream that culminates in an explosion that turns out to be a real thunderclap.
Marley, a known purveyor of illegal pharmaceuticals, gets the dream right, and a whole lot more. He claims the source of his super-amped powers of perception is a mysterious designer drug called Soy Sauce – a powerful substance that has the combined effects of MDA, ayahuasca, bath salts and a pinch of extraterrestrial fungal spores.
Wong accidently sticks himself with a syringe full of the stuff. Then Roger North (Doug Jones) abruptly appears in the back seat.
“Things are in motion,” he says. Indeed.
The eye-popping special effects that ensue are just retro enough to startle, but not so CGI-perfect as to totally disgust.
North is an ally of Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown) in the battle against the hyper-dimensional predators. A professional spiritualist, Marconi has the hair and spiffy threads of televangelist Robert Tilton, the charisma of Tony Robbins and the woo-woo factor of Uri Geller.
Meanwhile, the police tell Wong his friend, John, is dead. Then the phone rings. It’s John, who may or may not be, in fact, dead. Likewise, the existence of a cop in the room is questionable, especially after his moustache flies off his lip like a panicked baby bat. A bratwurst dog becomes cell phone, at least functionally. It’s still a sausage wrapped in a bun slathered in mustard and onions – except that it can take calls from the existentially ambivalent John.
Whether Korrok was truly banished is about as certain as everything else in the film. Expect a sequel.
See playdates and locations for “John Dies at the End” HERE.
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