Director: David Arquette
Cast: Jamie King, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas
Screenplay: David Arquette, Joe Harris
93 mins. Rated R.
I’m not sure when it was that I became aware of The Tripper. Some time around its release, I must have seen a trailer for it, most likely around the time that the 8 Films to Die For series began (The Tripper was originally a part of that branding before parting ways). The idea of Ronald Reagan (the actor!) being the main serial killer of a movie directed by David Arquette was a rather odd thing, but hey, I was open to the idea. I just never got around to seeing it. Flash forward to the closing of either Hollywood Video or Blockbuster, and I ended up with a copy of this movie, and still the years ticked by before I actually sat down this morning to see it. Wow. Just wow.
A group of hippie-ish friends are all riding down to the American Free Love Festival, a rock-and-roll music event held in the woods. There, the attendees are killed off one at a time by a killer who seems to be…Ronald Reagan. Deputy Buzz Hall (Thomas Jane, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Magnolia) is willing to do anything to protect these people, even if he doesn’t fully align with them. As the Reagan-obsessed killer chops his victims down with his trusty axe, it’s clear that Ronnie is here for vengeance!
It’s interesting to note that director/writer/co-star David Arquette intended to make a “fun” movie and didn’t want to force a political agenda with the film because it feels like that’s exactly what he is doing. The film is stuffed full of Reagan-era propaganda that makes it feel like he very much did have an opinion and a statement. Oftentimes, critics especially will see themes in a film or story that simply weren’t intended to be there, but this is a situation where it’s hard not to see it. Arquette’s film fills its opening and closing titles with a lot of flavor that seemingly critiques the animosity between political rivals, something that has made the film more relevant now than back in 2006 when it dropped. Perhaps he’s just asking questions, as some filmmakers are wont to do, but it feels more like he’s pushing in a direction.
All that aside, the film is meh. It’s not all that great, most of the characters are neither likable nor interesting with the exceptions of the always likable Jason Mewes, Paul Reubens, and Thomas Jane. Outside of that, I’d be hard-pressed to remember any actual details about the onslaught of uninteresting victims-to-be. It’s not so much that the film is poorly directed (it’s not great, but there’s potential), but perhaps that the concept could have used a few more drafts in the screenwriting stage to fine-tune some of the more captivating elements. As it stands, it’s just very messy. I don’t hate it. In fact, I could see it developing that midnight movie feel that I have to assume Arquette was going for. All the same, it’s a messy and flawed movie.
The Tripper is admirable for the attempt, and I do feel like I’d like to see Arquette take another crack at directing a feature, though perhaps one with a better screenplay. The cast does the best they can with the material, but this movie just needed more than it got. That being said, it mostly worked for the first hour before ultimately falling apart near the climax. File this one under midnight movie and you may just have something here. Just not in the light in day.
-Kyle A. Goethe