Friday, April 14, 2023

Weekend Screen Scene: Renfield, Mafia Mamma

"What if Renfield were a superhero?" is the underlying premise of Renfield, the new horror comedy starring Nicholas Cage as the famous count, living in contemporary New Orleans, and Nicholas Hoult as his long-suffering familiar, Renfield, who has grown tired of a lifetime of servitude, even if the perks involve immortality and the ability to always win a bar fight.

It's surprising to realize Nicholas Cage has only played a vampire once before, in the dark 1989 comedy Vampire's Kiss (and whether or not he really is a vampire in that movie is open to debate); a vampy, over the top, blood sucking, narcissistic character seems so right up his alley it almost feels like type-casting. And even though Dracula is really a supporting player in this tale, Cage makes the most of his limited screen time. Even when he's reduced to a blackened, smoldering char, he can deliver a line like no one else.

Nicholas Hoult's Renfield is a sympathetic killer; a pale, sad-sack loner in a threadbare wardrobe who uses his toxic relationship support group as both therapy and hunting ground. This Renfield doesn't just eat bugs for fun, instead, bug-eating is the source of his superpowers, which include strength, immortality, and acrobatic fighting abilities.

The violence in Renfield is absolutely ridiculous, and for the most part, hilarious (I mean, at one point Renfield impales one bad guy with an arm he's just ripped off of another), even if by the time the climactic finale arrived, I was a tad tired of the fighting. The movie packs a lot into its scant running time, and I found it most amusing when it focused on its characters, including Awkwafina as a sardonic, second generation NOLA cop, and less on the plot involving a crime family and an attempt to take over the world. I thought I was over superhero movies. Turns out I just needed mine to be a little more goth...and gory.

Renfield is now playing in theaters.

Over-the-top violence also plays a part in Mafia Mamma, a new gangster comedy starring Toni Collette as a suburban mom who finds herself the head of an Italian mafia family, a plotline that can only happen in the movies. Which is fine! I just enjoyed a movie about a man who gets superpowers from eating bugs! I'd just prefer my stupid movie plots to come with some good jokes. At least.

Listen, I don't blame Toni Collette for signing on to a movie that required her to travel to Italy, eat a lot of pasta, and make out with hot Italian men, no matter how terrible the script may have been. Sometimes the good time she's so obviously having results in a few minutes of entertainment, maybe even a smile. She's always a charismatic performer. But it's not enough. Instead of genuine laughs we get a running gag about her never having seen The Godfather, gangsters who spit every time a rival family is mentioned, and a woman with a metal leg everyone seems to forget she has. (That woman is played by Monica Bellucci, who deserves so much more.)

That the violence is often played for laughs would have worked a whole lot better if the rest of the movie veered more often into the realm of outright parody, or even fantasy. But director Catherine Hardwicke just can't seem to stick to a tone, and the result is DOA.

Mafia Mamma is now playing in theaters.

No comments:

Post a Comment