BARRACUDA / ISLAND FURY (1978 / 1989). The Dark Sky Films DVD outfit releases another two-for-one deal in its Drive In Double Feature series pairing a couple of grade-B (or lower) efforts on one disc.
Subtitled The Lucifer Project, Barracuda (which I first saw back at the age of 13, probably one of only 24 people to catch it theatrically) starts out as one of the period's countless Jaws rip-offs before resembling a government conspiracy yarn more on the order of Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View (well, if Condor and Parallax had been made by rank amateurs rather than seasoned pros). Divers and swimmers at a seaside community are suddenly being nibbled to death by the title fishies, but can there be a link between the deaths and the nearby chemical plant dumping its pollutants into the water? The surprise ending might delight some viewers; the rest will be quickly forgotten. A marginally better bet is 1989's Island Fury (aka Please Don't Eat the Babies), an offbeat drama in which two young women (Monet Elizabeth and Tanya Louise) are forced by three mobsters to take them to the island where they once found hidden riches. As they journey to the destination, they flash back to their previous trip to the isle, where, as kids, they were part of a group of vacationers who had to defend themselves against a family of cannibals. It's startling to note that the head cannibal is played by veteran Hank Worden (part of John Ford's Western troupe in earlier decades), and his presence – as well as a memorable, John Carpenter-esque score by Larry Wolff – help offset the convoluted script.
The only standard extras on the DVD are both films' theatrical trailers. However, the disc comes equipped with vintage drive-in programming – ads for concession stand snacks, an intermission between features, trailers for disreputable films like 1973's Bonnie's Kids (with the tagline "Thank God She Only Had Two!") and 1975's Part Time Wife – and these provide the viewing experience with an added kick.
Island Fury: **
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008). Let's try to put this in perspective, shall we? On the Scale of Cinematic Achievements, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull places dead last among the four big-screen Indy adventures. Given the quality of its predecessors, however, that can hardly be construed as a smackdown. It's now 1957, and World War II has since been replaced by the Cold War, meaning that our intrepid archeologist-professor-swashbuckler (Harrison Ford) now has his hands full battling Commies instead of Nazis. The Russkies, led by a slinky ball of black-haired menace named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), are after an object – a crystal skull, of course – that will aid them in their quest for world domination. Standing in their way is Indy and his gang – chiefly, old flame Marion Ravenwood (three cheers for the return of Raiders of the Lost Ark's Karen Allen) and a brash young greaser (Shia LaBeouf). Longtime fans of the series will find the references to past films delightful, and they'll similarly be pleased to find Steven Spielberg once again at his most limber: The director hasn't made a film this light and carefree in a long time. The first two-thirds of the film are such a blast that it makes the final section – a CGI blowout low on thrills – feel like even more like a downer. But this is really about one character – and the actor who plays him. After frittering away the past 11 years in poor projects, the 65-year-old Ford again plays the role that fits him like a glove, and his enthusiasm and athleticism serve to further fuel our own glee for the project.
Extras on the two-disc Special Edition include an 80-minute making-of feature; a piece in which Spielberg, Ford, George Lucas and others discuss the iconic character's return; looks at the film's props, effects and makeup; and photo galleries.
THE STRANGERS (2008). One of my cinematic pet peeves (and they are legion) is when a fellow scribe describes a motion picture as pointless. Despite the scarcity of story, or lack of depth among the characters, or general ineptitude on every level, the filmmakers had some sort of vision – some raison d'etre – for making their movie, and that alone means it has some sort of point. But then along came The Strangers to test out my long-standing theory and risk turning me into a hypocrite. Is there a point to this anemic thriller in which a young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) are terrorized in a secluded vacation home by three masked invaders? Maybe the point is to show how none of us are really safe from the evils of the outside world, even when we're in our own homes. That's a moldy premise that barely needs repeating: For starters, just this past spring alone has seen the theatrical release of Funny Games and the DVD release of the French import Them, both wielding identical plotlines. Or perhaps writer-director Bryan Bertino's only purpose was to scare the living hell out of audience members, a noble pursuit in this age of fright-free terror tales. But The Strangers isn't scary, only boring, and the final image shows that Bertino didn't even have the cajones to follow the story to its logical end. His cop-out may not make the movie even more pointless, but it certainly makes it more insulting.
The DVD includes both the theatrical cut as well as an unrated edition that runs an extra two minutes. Extras include two deleted scenes and a nine-minute making-of piece.
YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN (2008). It was Mae West who quipped, "When I'm good, I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better." This film inspires a bastardization of that quote: When it's funny, it's very, very funny, but when it's bad, it's downright awful. That's a shame, because choice moments suggest that this could have been Adam Sandler's best comedy – not a Herculean feat, by any means, but after a career littered with the likes of Big Daddy and Little Nicky, we'll take what we can get. Sandler plays Zohan, an Israeli anti-terrorist agent who tires of his violent lot in life and becomes a hair stylist in New York. As with most scattershot comedies, some gags score while others widely miss the mark. This one contains a greater success ratio than most Sandler flicks, but these humorous moments are still too few and far between, like Easter eggs hidden throughout a grassy field. Most of the time, we're forced to contend with elements that drag down most Sandler comedies: puerile humor aimed at 10-year-old boys, "gay-panic"-inspired discussions of penis sizes, and Sandler regular Rob Schneider again demonstrating that he possesses the comic instincts of Dick Cheney. The final half-hour is especially ghastly, and as for the various cameos, they represent one squandered opportunity after another. And what's with the appearance of the wretched Mariah Carey? After watching her struggle through her agonizing scene, I was ready for Sandler to bring back the puerile penis jokes.
Extras on the two-disc unrated DVD edition include audio commentary by Sandler, Schneider, co-star Nick Swardson and co-writer Robert Smigel; separate audio commentary by director Dennis Dugan; 15 deleted scenes; and 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes. The set also includes a digital copy of the film.