October 29, 2009

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Saw VI (R)
Jigsaw continues his killing spree despite having died a couple of movies back in Saw VI.

Yes, that is pretty much the same way I introduced the last few movies. In fact, I’m not 100 percent certain this isn’t, like, Saw IV, but with the scenes edited together in a different order.

So, where were we? Luke from Gilmore Girls (Scott Peterson) was bested by Jigsaw acolyte Costas Mandylor (though not without first doing some mighty fine angry fist-pounding). The dead-but-still-heavily-featured Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) had a wife — let’s call her Mrs. Jigsaw (Betsy Russell) — who is both a kind doctor serving the most poor and desperate and also a woman potentially willing to engage in some “I want to play a game”-ing herself. Jigsaw’s other helper elf — Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the druggie from the first movie — has also been dead for a while but still appears in flashbacks.

But the real reason you’re plunking down your $7.50 starts with the first torture game: two predatory lenders have scary metal things on their heads. If they refuse to play the game, the metal things will punch through their craniums like a skewer through a crispy toasted marshmallow and, with a comparable amount of oozing, they will perish. Or, option two, they can try to survive, at the expense of their fellow credit pusher, by cutting off more of their body weight than the other guy and dumping it in a scale. Pound of flesh for their usury and all that. So no, we don’t feel sorry for anybody when the tubby guy starts slicing off hunks of his spare tire and the fit girl is forced to hack at her arm.

The bulk of the movie deals with a health insurance executive who is forced to answer for his la-di-da attitude about cutting people’s benefits by picking which coworker to kill, getting burned in the face with steam, etc. (There is this other section that involves the increasingly hilarious “acting” of Costas Mandylor and some plot about the final wishes of Jigsaw but that could really be the commercial break for all that it matters as to why you really came to this film.) The health care guy screams and cries and swears and we don’t find our hearts breaking for him either.

And that is what the Saw movies are now all about: trying to give audiences a naughty satisfaction at watching evildoers (particularly, evildoers of the white-collar kind) get a bloody what for. It isn’t scary, really; it doesn’t incite terror. (Look to the movie that beat Saw VI to number one in its opening weekend, Paranormal Activity, if you’re looking to have the bejeesus scared out of you.) It isn’t (and, good on you, Saw, for this) specifically sadistic to women or dependent on — as some horror movies have been — some female character being humiliated and terrorized to get its jollies. It’s gory, sure, but in a way that isn’t so much worse than other movies (or even all that shocking compared to, say, Inglourious Basterds, a movie whose gore I happily defend). It makes you cringe, a lot, and frankly that much neck-and-shoulder-tensing isn’t my idea of a good time but I guess I don’t think it’s going to bring down the Republic either.

More than anything else, Saw VI feels weak. Making the guy saw off his feet in the franchise opener was shocking; making people do something similar in this movie’s opener was a little ho-hum. And since we don’t have a particularly good story here — no fun creep-outs, no compelling characters and only the very rare bit of humor — there isn’t much left to turn out for now that we’ve seen most of the variations of eye-squishing, flesh-tearing, limb-ripping and skin-dissolving that a movie can get away with and still have an R rating.

I’m sure Saw VII is out there, chugging down the development tracks into a Theater Near Me one year from now and I’m sure they’ll have found some new bullies to inflict pain on (hmm, how will they work the bank bailouts into a Jigsaw torture device?) and some new little twist of the Jigsaw afterlife to carry on the plot. The only real mystery? How few people will have to show up to opening weekend before these infinite sequels are no longer financially viable. (And somewhere Jigsaw readies a saw and a head cage thing for the Hollywood executive who finally pulls the plug…) C-

Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture and language. Directed by Kevin Greutert and written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Saw VI is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.