March 30, 2006

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Stay Alive (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Neither goth nor geek is safe from the fiery rage of video-game-regenerated serial killer in Stay Alive, a movie that explores the ways in which you can kill someone with a pair of antique scissors.

Stay Alive bills itself as a horror movie, a slasher flick, but I think it is actually Hollywood’s biggest fantasy. In this land of the movie industry’s wet dreams, video games (which far outstrip movies in annual gross and, in many cases, production value) have not only reverted to some rudimentary, hopelessly lame form but they also kill off anyone who plays them. The result? A populace that is either uninterested in or scared of video games. A populace that might just head back to the cineplexes for its jollies, willing to spend $9.25 on 90 minutes of entertainment and $6 on stale popcorn.

Aw, Hollywood looks so precious when it’s sleeping. Look! It’s moving its legs; it must be chasing a rabbit.

Stay Alive, aimed at a similar demographic as the gamer, is actually a perfect example of what’s wrong with the film industry (a reliance on demographically constructed, repetitive, half-baked, no-brained crap for which it will dole out the marketing dollars) and why it is losing to a much more innovative video game industry.

Let’s start, shall we, with the central hangout of the characters in this film. It’s a variation on the teen-hang-out designed for every The WB and Fox drama for the last 15-some years. It’s the Peach Pit, goth variant. So along with the requisite espresso machine are red lighting and Hot-Topic-ish decorations and, behind the “bar,” a lovely self-parody named October (Sophia Bush) who, in true Emily Bronte style, has as her only family a Ryan Reynolds-wannabe-brother named Phineus (Jimmi Simpson). When male lead Hutch (Jon Foster) finds out about the death of tertiary character Loomis (Milo Ventimiglia), it’s Phineus who suggests that the whole gang, including the dweebie Swink (Frankie Muñiz), the neurotic Miller (Adam Goldberg) and the personality-free female lead Abigail (Samaire Armstrong), get together to play Loomis’ final video game Stay Alive in his honor. (Clearly, the movie put all its creative energies into character names, to which I say, score one for you, movie.)

They log in and immediately get the willies from a low bass fog-hornish noise that precedes the death of one of the character, both in the video and, as Miller finds out (being the first character to bless us with his lack of presence), in real life. That’s right — get your Frogger squished in the game and the very same Mac truck will shortly thereafter flatten you IRL.

So begins the unimaginative carnage, with the mysterious villain soon revealed to be an even-gothier-than-a-raven-haired-barista-named-October countess (Maria Kalinia) who used to run a girls’ school in 19th-century Louisiana, the bricks-and-mortar (or, rather, Spanish-moss-and-crumbling-plantation) location of this haunted tale. She also made the mistake of killing off all of her clientele and did so with a pair of wonderfully ornate silver shears. Cue the Buffy the Vampire Slayer font and the haunting violins of evil!

As much as I’d love to see a major player from One Tree Hill and a minor character from The OC bite it at the hands of a pale-faced pseudo-aristocrat, I would be equally happy to see the entire casts of Laguna Beach, 7th Heaven and any of the last five seasons of The Real World plus Logan from Gilmore Girls and Lana from Smallville meet a gory end. Thus, my central criticism of Stay Alive is why kill so few people? (And so slowly? And so predictably? And surrounded by so much Recyclo-Script dialogue such as: “This can’t be happening,” whispers Fost “But. It. Is,” monotones Armstrong.)

If your movie has no redeeming value and the only suspense is over how a CGI ghost will scissor to death a bunch of B-list teen actors, why leave the corpse list at only half a dozen? Kill everyone from TV (which is also kicking the film industry’s ass in a variety of ways); those kids all need work during their hiatuses. How else can they pay for the acting coaches they’ll need to make the jump from broadcast drama to HBO hour-long or indie film role? Capitalize on your industry’s fickleness, Hollywood! Or will hiring those looking for another income source — a la the many actors who have appeared in various iterations of Grand Theft Auto — be just another way in which video games clean your clock? C-


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