The Underrated: Dead Man’s Curve
You know a film has been completely forgotten about when you can’t find a single image of it on-line. Not one. So, for this week’s underrated effort, I’m going to write a little review in praise of Dan Rosen’s long forgotten career-launching vehicle, Dead Man’s Curve. Due to lack of images, this will be short.
Recently I’ve been binging on films from the late 1990’s, and I have to say that I’d completely forgotten how many good ones are out there- and seriously offbeat movies at that. This one landed in the Lovefilm “Watch Now” pile, and I vaguely remembered really liking it at the time, but couldn’t really remember why. So, being a bit skeptical (the presence of Matthew Lillard, Michael Varten and Keri Russel guarantee a healthy cynicism) I gave it a spin not expecting too much of it, and much to my surprise I found myself really enjoying it again.
Dead Man’s Curve is based on an old stand-up routine/ urban legend. When in college, if your room-mate offs himself, then you get guaranteed Straight A’s for the year. Whether or not this has any basis in fact, and I would suggest not, is open to debate, but Rosen’s film takes a small-town University and a couple of the students decide that their roomy is enough of a dick to warrant being murdered so they can get into Harvard. The film follows the murder and the eventual break down of the two friends under the pressure- with a whole lot of twists and turns, that I won’t blow, and an enjoyment level set at high.
First up, the script is for the most part really good fun. At a party, they play a douchey version of Russian Roulette with beer, and bad room mate Rand, played by Randall Batinkoff, is completely over the top. He’s reciting passages from the Deer Hunter and generally behaving like a complete prick. Actually, now I think about it, the film sets him up as a dick from the moment they first meet. His long-suffering Canadian Girlfriend, Natalie, is severely ill (turns out she’s pregnant) and he creates a scene for no good reason. Lillard’s Tim and Varten’s Chris are also solidly established early on, although Tim does become a conniving prick and borderline psycho, while Chris has depths not hinted at until the end. The main female role, Kerri Russel’s Emma, is far less well established, but even then it works well in the context of the movie. She’s allowed to develop at her own speed, and she’s also got secrets that the other characters eventually discover.
This is a lathered in black humour and tension. For example, there’s a scene where the main characters are reliving Rand Stories and Tim tells one about Rand’s senior prom and taking a “Fat fucking whore” to it. It’s fairly evident early on that there is nothing funny about this story, but Lillard plays it as if it’s a comic gem- he savours the word “whore” and rolls it out at every chance. The other characters become noticeably more and more disgusted and uncomfortable and the tension in the scene hits boiling point.
Tim, by the way, is one of the more fascinating villains from the period. He’s a grade A asshole and a scheming shitbag. Lillard is in his element here, managing to come across as slimy, psychotic and untrustworthy, passing a look off that shows through the window into his empty, greedy soul. To be fair, though, Varten hasn’t been better before or after this, his Chris is the straight man of the three, and he’s excellent. Russel is good, being excitingly trampy and more than a little vindictive. This is an actors piece performed well.
Now, complaint time. I understand that after the Usual Suspects idiotic twists were de rigueur, but there’s an absolute stinker here. I won’t spoil the film and reveal it, but the final scene manages to almost completely devalue what we’ve watched, and seriously betray the characters. It isn’t terminal, but it’ s very frustrating, and I am recommending this for the journey and the performances not for the slightly unsatisfying conclusion. The final twist really is a twist too far, and I am not sure at all what Rosen was playing at, as there is a very easy conclusion that would have kept the integrity of the film alive, and this period of the 90’s was rammed full of bad-guy-gets-away-with-it movies. It is needless and aggravating.
Overall, I do recommend looking this up. Dead Man’s Curve is a good film that has been weirdly lost to the mists of time. Rosen himself, actually, made this and the severely underrated The Last Supper in the space of three years and then vanished. I see that IMDB has him listed making a comeback this year, and I hope it will be good. Dead Man’s Curve is a flawed film, but a worthwhile one, and one that does not deserve to have sunk without trace.
Until next time,