October 30, 2008

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Saw V (R)
The Jigsaw killer doesn’t let being dead hamper him from continuing the game of trapping people with some kind of character flaw in sort-of ironic torture devices in Saw V.

Remember how Saw IV ended? Me neither, really, but don’t sweat it. As Jigsaw/John Kramer (Tobin Bell) died two movies back, this movie has to give us plenty of flashbacks to work him into the action, and through that you can figure out that (a.) he was a bad dude, (b.) he’s dead now, and (c.) he had a helper in the form of police detective Mark Hoffman (a very broody Costas Mandylor, who is probably going to dress up as Devil’s Advocate-era Al Pacino for Halloween because that’s what he seems to be going for with this performance). Chasing down the spirit-of-Jigsaw-motivated Hoffman is FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), who was also in the last movie (though Mandylor wins the “Who’s more Saw” contest by having been in the mix since Saw III) and who is also hilariously bad at emoting the big anger. In addition to Hoffman’s torturing of Strahm, there’s also the torture of five totally unimportant characters in a house filled with traps to make them Think About What They’ve Done. The only thing this part of the movie has going for it is Julie Benz —known for her performances in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel universe and, more recently, for Dexter. She is great in these kinds of roles that require her to be bitchy, scared, a bit smarter than everybody else and just a twinge campy.

I’ve seen lots of movies in the last few months that I hated more than Saw V — Quarantine was staler, Beverly Hills Chihuahua was more patience-trying, An American Carol was more poorly made. Saw V is a watered down version of a film I wasn’t in love with the first time I saw it but that has become comparatively kind of tolerable as its iterations are out-crapped by imitators and are slowly descending into camp. The reaches of storytelling required to keep Jigsaw in the game even two movies after his death (because Tobin Bell’s husky creepiness is the glue holding this Rube Goldberg box of pain together) have become increasingly absurd — and cheesily entertaining — as the story has to fold back even further on itself with flashbacks further back into the past. But 90-some minutes (and $7 to $10) is too high a price to pay for a semi-funny joke that is boring you when it’s not amusing you with it’s unintentional badness. D+

Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and brief nudity. Directed by David Hackl and written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, Saw V is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.