It’s a trap! Fangasm prequel ‘Rogue One’ doesn’t have the Force

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)..Ph: Film Frame ILM/Lucasfilm..©2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.The adage “you always hurt the ones you love” applies as much to movies as paramours. Devoted Star Wars fanatics, especially those who grew up with the series starting a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (i.e., the 1970s), have long complained about two notable flaws in the original: First, Luke kisses Leia, which is gross, because they are siblings; and second, the mistake in the design of the Death Star that allows the rebels to blow it up seems pretty glaring. Nevertheless, Adm. Akbar asserts that many rebels died getting these plans to the Alliance.

Believe it or not, Rogue One is entirely about the backstory of that design defect… and the rebels who passed it along to Princess Leia before Darth Vader commandeered her ship.

We are deep in fanboy territory, people.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones)..Ph: Film Frame ILM/Lucasfilm..©2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.Indeed, Rogue One feels almost more like fan fiction than a true part of the series (the fact the words “Star Wars” do not appear, officially, in the opening titles signals that they consider it a cousin-by-marriage more than the favorite son) — an explanation of a minor plot point that no one except die-hard devotees would have even noticed, not to say cared about. (It also casts Adm. Akbar as a bit of a liar, since in Episode IV he says they discovered the flaw once they got the plans, when clearly it was spoonfed to them. Not that I care or nuthin’.)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) ..Ph: Jonathan Olley..©Lucasfilm LFL 2016.George Lucas has said he based Star Wars on The Hidden Fortress, but Rogue One more closely resembles another Kurosawa film: Seven Samurai. Set between the events of Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and the original (A New Hope), the plot involves assembling a crew of outcasts to do the dirty work of saving the universe. It employs a mostly-new cast of characters who, for the most part, had never been mentioned in the series previously — among them a kind of female Han Solo (Felicity Jones) and a guerrilla leader, who seems to be included solely to give Forest Whitaker a strange cameo. These new folks, and tons of new locales, muddy the story considerably. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of several other canonical characters, most notably a digitally-recreated Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. The problem is, he (and at least one other) look as waxy and artificial as museum statues — a noble effort to flesh out some characters, but hardly effective.

On the other hand, Rogue One does benefit some from the historic shorthand build around the Star Wars mythos, as well as the backing of the studio which clearly wants to capitalize on owning the property, but doesn’t want to trash it… at least not too quickly. There’s a slickness and a familiarity to the score, the sets, the style. We know what the Force is, so explaining it doesn’t take up any time.

The film trots along, but it’s hard to imagine it attracting many new devotees. This is the Inside Baseball of scifi, a side show to entertain the masses while the headliners relax backstage.

Two-and-a-half stars. Opens Thursday, in wide release Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stake & aches

‘Fright Night’ remake preserves original’s orgasmic bloodlust — and homoeroticism

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FOR REAL | Jerry (Colin Farrell) defies the power of the cross in the smart update of the ‘80s cult hit.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The original Fright Night was one of the most subversively gay films of the mid 1980s: The suburban vampire Jerry had a suspiciously familiar relationship with his Renfield-like companion and more rayon disco shirts than any straight man should own. He also was more than slightly obsessed with his teen-aged neighbor Charley, although you could attribute that less to pedophilia than survival instinct.

But the original was also of its age, like lots of ‘80s pabulum — can you imagine a remake of Lost Boys? — a cult horror-comedy that didn’t really scream to be revisited. But since they have done so, this question is: Worth it? Yes. Pretty much.

Unlike many remakes, this new Fright Night — arriving in the August discount bin, just like its progenitor — sticks surprisingly close to the basic plot, with some sensible updates. Gone is Renfield, but Charley (Anton Yelchin) remains the virginal Everykid; Jerry (Colin Farrell) is no longer the suave metrosexual but a brutish laborer in a wifebeater, exuding bad-boy appeal with a lizard-like stealth; vampire chaser Peter Vincent (David Tennant) isn’t a washed-up horror actor but a Criss Angel wannabe on the Vegas Strip, where Jerry culls his victims.

Like Scream, the Fright Nights exist in a post-modern world where the characters are aware of the mythology surrounding the supernatural, gleaned mostly from movies. They joke about the Twilight books

Not all of the updates are improvements. Changing Peter Vincent from a film actor to a magician undercuts the subtle tribute to B-film icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, though Tennant’s Russell Brand-like whack-a-doodle performance almost rescues it. And director Craig Gillespie dispatches some peripheral characters without much sense, and the humor is not as prevalent as it was in the original.

But Gillespie keeps key (the seduction of Charley’s girlfriend, the unnerving “Welcome to Fright Night … for real” line), and the splatter effects — especially the unexpected moment where a “turned” human bursts into flame when struck by sunlight, enhanced by the cheesy ‘50s-style fascination with 3D “moments” — give the film a campy sensibility. And there are worse ways to spend a scary two hours than imaging the hunky Colin Farrell orgiastically sucking on your … neck. Hey, it doesn’t take a cape and an accent to woo everyone.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas