When James Gunn isn’t ripping up the box office with big budget “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies he occasionally let’s his freak flag fly by writing smaller, stranger movies like “The Belko Experiment.” A grisly look at human nature, it’s a riff on the bloody Japanese cult film “Battle Royale” with brains and plenty of brain splatter.
It’s just another day at the office for Belko Industries workers. Housed in a monolithic building outside Bogotá, Columbia city limits, the non-profit company facilitates the hiring of American workers in South America. Today, like every day before, the workers answer phones, drink coffee, talk about their weekends and some even pass the time flirting.
It’s just like any other day except today new security at the front gate sent all the Columbian nationals home. Then an announcement came over the loudspeaker. “There are currently 80 of you in the building,” says a mysterious voice. “By the end of the day many of you will be dead. To survive you must follow instructions. First order: murder any two employees. Doesn’t matter how but there will be repercussions if there aren’t two bodies in half an hour.”
Some think it’s a company wide psychological test, others drift into paranoia. The workers soon learn there’s no place to hide. Surveillance is everywhere and the mysterious voice seems to have tabs on what everyone is doing. With nowhere to hide, nowhere to run panic ensues and the bodies start to pile up.
When a second announcement instructs the workers to kill thirty of the remaining staff it is every man or woman for himself or herself.
Will anyone survive? Will whoever is in charge allow anyone to tell the story of what happened? Well they work together or will they kill one another?
If blood splatter is your thing “The Belko Experiment” may appeal to you. It’s a gory, brain bursting (literally) exercise in nihilism that masquerades as an unfettered social experiment. Which is not to say it isn’t entertaining. For much of its running time it is a compelling cat-and-mouse game but by the time everyone is slipping and sliding on blood soaked floors I was left hoping for a bit more satire or social commentary and a little less sadism and plasma.
Before “The Belko Experiment” becomes all about the blood ‘n brains it does feature some interesting human behaviour by the varied and noteworthy cast. “The Newsroom’s” John Gallagher Jr. is voice of reason Mike who stands in stark contrast to the bloodthirsty survivalists Barry Norris (Tony Goldwin) and Wendell Dukes (“Office Space’s” John C. McGinley). A study in how far people will go to stay alive, it doesn’t offer many surprising answers—here’s a shocker, people will do almost anything not to be killed—but at a lean 89 minutes it’s brutally entertaining.
There’s something missing in the new Adam Sandler movie. Notable in their absence in this story of a cobbler with the uncanny ability to change into other people, are jokes of, how to put this delicately… a gastrointestinal nature, one of the hallmarks of the Sandleronian oeuvre.
In “The Cobbler” he plays Max Simkin, a shoe repairman from a long line of cobblers. Like his father and grandfather before him, he runs the family business on New York City’s Lower East Side. He’s dissatisfied with his work, with his non-existent love life and living with his elderly mom. When he repairs Leon Ludlow’s (Method Man) shoes on an old stitching machine, unused since his father left the business years ago, Max discovers the machine imbues the shoes with the magical power of transformation. With that discover Max steps into a world of wonder where he can be anyone he wants… as long as he has their shoes and they are size 10 ½.
This is a slight movie; a one-joke idea stretched to feature length with the addition of a crime subplot. There will be no spoilers here, but let it be known that by the end of the movie he becomes known as The Cobbler, a guardian of souls.
There are jokes to be made about walking a mile in a man’s shoes before you can presume to know them, but this movie doesn’t make them. In fact, it makes very few actual jokes. There are laughs but this isn’t one of those Adam Sandler movies that strains to make you giggle several times per minute.
It’s one of his kinder, gentler fantasies, like “Click” or “Bedtime Stories.” Sandler is the likeable center of the story, and he carries it through the first half until the plot starts to become cluttered with characters and later, sentiment. The amazing transformation shoes could have been used to deepen the story by showing Max learn about himself as he learns how the other half lives. Instead he goes undercover to get money to buy his mother a headstone which leads him to help an old man keep his apartment and possibly even get a date with a pretty activist (“Fruitvale Station’s” Melonie Diaz). Deep it ain’t.
Then it flies off into a wild flight of fancy that I still can’t decide if it is the greatest or stupidest plot twist ever in a movie. There’ll be no spoilers here, but let’s just say the film is set up to be the first in a series.
“The Cobbler” has more sole than soul, and is a bit flatfooted in its approach to the story, but it is a nice change to see an Adam Sandler movie and not be bombarded with bathroom humor.