November 1, 2007

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Saw IV (R)
Jigsaw and his accomplice are dead but the torture (of actors on-screen, of me in the audience) continues in Saw IV, a movie which, as of Monday, Oct. 29, made $31.8 million, thus making Saw V pretty much inevitable.

Great.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the voice and brains behind that ominous puppet in the first three movies, is now lying deader than Costas Mandylor’s career on a coroner’s table. As the coroner and his assistant slice open his skull and his chest cavity we get all sorts of squishes and squirts until we get to the surprise discovery that the movie’s music tells us we’ve been waiting for, a wax-covered cassette tape in Jigsaw’s stomach. (Which, if you think about it, is a plan that requires you to be very certain about how soon you plan to die.) In comes detective Hoffman (Mandylor), who listens as the tape predicts that though Jigsaw is dead his fiendish “games” will continue.

And perhaps those games have already begun — an early torture features two men, one with eyes sewn shut and one with mouth sewn shut, attempting to free themselves and quickly deciding this is only possible if they fight each other. Later, a policeman, Rigg (Lyrig Bent) rushes into a possibly booby-trapped room to save a female detective only to discover that she’s one of the characters who died early in the last movie.

She was also the liaison to the FBI on this serial killer case, which is why two new FBI agents show up to do a little more digging. Agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) have information that some of the police working on this case might be in danger but they also suspect that Jigsaw still has a helper who has yet to be unmasked.

Thus follows the eye gouge, head squish and great gushes of blood that make up the bulk of every Saw movie. Occasionally, to mix it up, somebody gets shot with a gun.

Saw IV is hardly an actor’s showcase but the performance of particular note here is that of Patterson, best known for playing Luke, the grumpy diner owner on The Gilmore Girls. He’s quite ridiculous as an F.B.I. agent — his interrogation scenes are laugh-out-loud funny — but at least he seems to be having a good time with his stock character. After seven seasons of flannel and hang-dog-ness, I appreciate his desire to break loose and pound tables because “I! Want! Answers!”

Since one has plenty of time to think during Saw IV (the mind not being occupied by the movie, and all) and since the films are all about people getting hoisted by their own petards, I spent much of the movie considering the fairness of the criticisms I would lodge at it. Namely, that Saw IV is not just gory but uselessly gory, with no decent dialogue, characters or story points to justify, for example, the elaborate torture setup wherein one guy is hanging from a noose, kept alive only by the block of ice that is melting under his feet. Should he die (either at the end of the melting or in one grand gesture of getting it over with) the weight on the platform below will shift and the melted water below the ice will flow toward a man tied to a chair, where the water’s contact with a current will electrocute him. Two people in constant pain. And yet people in pain make up a good deal of the rock’em, sock’em action movies that I regularly enjoy quite a bit.

Is it odd that I giggled with delight during the arm-hacking-off scene in Kill Bill, Part I but looked away for many of Saw IV’s squishier scenes? Is it snobbery to appreciate the shoot-’em-up nature of The Departed or laud the grim violence of Gone Baby Gone but pooh pooh the excessive gore of Saw IV? Is it hypocrisy to say “yes” to the blood-on-ice in 30 Days of Night and “no” to the blood-on-ice in Saw IV?

Oh, probably.

But I’m also a movie critic who, deep down, hates to hurt people’s feelings and a girl who complains about the fit of jeans yet frequently uses the phrase “Donuts? Don’t mind if I do.” My Jigsaw ironic punishment will probably involve eating my way out of some kind of fried dough cage and then getting paper cuts from a rat’s nest of my own articles. And when that happens, I’ll think back to how unfair it is to criticize eye-squishing in Saw IV but more or less enjoy it in Kill Bill, Part II. Like the damned souls, though, I’ll wait for my own sugar-glazed hell to contemplate these things. Until then, I prefer to forget about Saw IV and its very likely sequel. D

Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Thomas Fenton, Saw IV is an hour and 35 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.