Movie Review: Jay Baruchel steps behind the camera for a slasher comic adaptation, “Random Acts of Violence”

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That Jay Baruchel. Such a nice boy. Voice of the “How to Train Your Dragon” Viking, lovable guy who knows “She’s Out of My League.” Canadian. A real mensch.

But let’s leave as much of that behind as possible for our directing debut, shall we?

“Random Acts of Violence” is a serial killer thriller thriller that attempts to be a commentary on such entertainment, a pop psychology analysis of the realities where horror is born, the classic “Pass judgement, but wallow in it at the same time” double-standard.

And that turns out to be too ambitious, grappled with as an afterthought. So pandering slasher film it is, complete with the obligatory nut-with-a-knife — and oh — why not a welding helmet to boot?

Based on a comic book about a comic book author whose horrific “Slasherman” creation seems to be inspiring a new killing spree, all for the writer’ s benefit, “Random” has little that’s creative in the killing, even though there’s a lot of it. It shows us pangs of conscience and regret in that author, and it takes us towards a conclusion that plays like a bloody inevitability.

Todd (Jesse White of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Cabin in the Woods”) is finishing up his masterpiece, “the number one R-rated comic in the genre,” he says. Slasher comics are a genre. Good to know.

But he’s having a bit of writer’s block on the finale, which he wants good enough to “show the critics” they’ve been wrong about it. No worries. He and Kathy (Jordana Brewster) are headed off for a vacation. Inspiration will surely strike.

Because she’s researching a book on “The I-90 Murders,” the late ’80s killings Todd’s comic was inspired by. They’ll be covering much of the same ground as the killer, and the “hero” of Todd’s comic. Todd’s publisher (Baruchel) and the publisher’s organizer-assistant (“DeGrassi” alumna Niamh Wilson) will come along.

They’ll stop at colorful “no star” motels, question a few locals, unload some comics, do a radio interview and wind up at a convention in New York city.

The Canadian quartet pile into a 35 year old Town Car (Comic books don’t pay.) and brace themselves for the culture shock of the U.S. — “Everybody has guns,” everybody in a pick-up is road-hog aggressive, every store clerk is rude.

And that radio interview? It’s an ambush, a confrontation driven by a host who knew somebody murdered by “The I-90 Killer,” and doesn’t like the glib “heroic” take on a mass murderer Todd has conjured up.

But that’s where the one person who calls in changes the nature of their trip. A static crackled voice recites numbers, “One, twelve, eighteen.” What’s he mean? Driving by a scene of carnage, staged at roadside, Todd and his “huxter” publisher pal Ezra get a clue. It’s a scene out Todd’s grisly comics. And there will be others. Why?

“I’ve drawn, like, a thousand kills!

Everything that follows feels perfunctory, although the shock of the moments of violence is undeniable. Flashbacks to Todd’s childhood make us wonder just what demons he was channeling when he cooked up the comic. And no, telling the cops about all this is no help at all, unless judgmental contempt for Todd’s “creation” is helpful.

The artful folding of comic book animation into the proceedings works. The road trip structure is time-proven, although A) two lane roads are NOT “I-90,” and B) outside of LA, NOBODY calls interstates “The I-90.”

The odd pointless scene and debate is mixed in with the spiraling mayhem that they find themselves driving into.

And the scene when they first witness a violent act carried out right in front of them is laughably illogical, irrational and self-preservation inept, almost a parody of such “What are you DOING?” moments.

Don’t be fooled by the flashbacks and the brooding (Williams is adequate in the part, nothing more). And don’t let the animated trappings and “dark” tone convince you it’s beyond genre.

It isn’t. It’s as random as its title suggests, a genre flick that doesn’t do much more than stumble and angst-out from one killing to the next.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic, over-the-top gory violence, drug abuse, profanity

Cast: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Niamh Wilson, Simon Northwood and Jay Baruchel.

Credits: Directed by Jay Baruchel, script by Jay Baruchel and Jesse Chabot, based on the comic book. An Elevation Pictures release.

Running time: 1:31

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