It’s hard to think of a movie, short or feature-length, a TV show or a play that, setting out to ridicule the critic profession, hasn’t landed a few sucker punches and body blows.
Jon Lovitz, paunchy and animated for TV, always reviewing movies in T-shirts studios give out to advertise their movies, Bob Balaban’s owlish, self-serious impersonation of Stephen Faber in M. Night’s dog, “Lady in the Water” — on the money and I might add, “Ouch.”
If you want to see criticism at its most ridiculous, Tom Stoppard’s comic play “The Real Inspector Hound” delivers the death blows — smug, glib, not-so-secretly-imagining themselves in the “hero’s” role, crushing on the leading lady. That’s a bullseye.
Alas, the horror fanboy opining for a self-published horror ‘zine (it’s 1983) in “Vicious Fun” isn’t in their league. The most recognizable and amusing trait this guy (Evan Marsh) trots out is the certitude that he can lecture a Joe Dante look-alike about “what he’s doing wrong.” That, and his Incel status.
Joel is a classic “guy who needs a chloroform rag and panel van to get any action” type. “A touch, a touch, I do confess,” as the Bard put it. Again, “Ouch.”
Jealousy of his “friend zone” roommate’s (Alexa Rose Steele) latest date sends Joel on a stalk with Mr. Camaro and Members Only jacket (Ari Millen), then on a bender. Which is how he wakes up in a closed Chinese restaurant that’s playing host to a self-help support group. They confuse Joel for somebody else, so he ad libs his way in.
Turns out this group, led by Zachary, is supporting each other in their serial killing hobby. Sure, we knew that the moment we saw Zachary was played by edgy/obnoxious funnyman David Koechner, but “on the nose” casting can pay dividends.
Joel trots out his dream serial killer profile, “a taxi driver,” which the group of “types” (Amber Goldfarb, Sean Baek, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings) buys into.
Until, that is, “Bob” (Millen) shows up and does what any half-sentient horror screenwriter might do with the whole “perfect serial killer” idea — shreds it.
Joel is trapped in a room of seriously accomplished serial killers. Is he smart enough to reason, fight or scheme his way out?
Remember. He’s a “critic.” Rim. Shot.
The killers’ various MO’s — this one kills on “the third date,” that one hunts for remote cabins or summer camps “filled with sorority girls,” and those are the least icky — are amusingly on-genre. Millen and Goldfarb are the standouts in the cast, like Koechner, just the right amount of “over-the-top” to work as characters who are equal parts frightening and camp.
The assorted deaths in this long, dark night of a horror fan’s soul are well-handled, with some of the fights suspenseful enough to work. Director Cody Calahan (“The Oak Room,” “Let Her Out”) has some fun with the gore.
But actual laughs? Not really. A few smirks is all the “Fun” “Vicious” manages.
Our lead strikes the right tone, but seems to lack the spark required of a comic straight man. And his function, as a surrogate for the horror fan in a wish-fulfillment fantasy, is somewhat muddled.
So what we have here is a tolerably efficient horror title — not scary, not that suspenseful, just gory — that fails to deliver on the promise that casting that rascal Koechner makes. Not bad, but not exactly good, either.
MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence
Cast: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Sean Baek, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings and David Koechner.
Credits: Directed by Cody Calahan, script by James Villeneuve. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:41