Early in The Last Stand,
the small-town sheriff played by Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "It's my
day off. Should be a quiet weekend." That's the new way of saying, "I've
got one week to retirement," because it signals — with flashing neon
and everything — that life is going to royally upend those plans.
One of the most inconsistent franchises in movie history is the one beget by Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. How does one follow all those less-than-beloved sequels? Lionsgate's latest in the series — the seventh — has a solution: Ignore 'em.
Not long after Batman changed Hollywood in the summer of 1989,
every studio wanted to have the next comics-based blockbuster. I
remember visiting Penn Square Mall’s multiplex (as I did often back
then) and seeing a poster for Captain America. The one-sheet was comprised of little more than a close-up of Cap’s iconic shield and a promise to arrive next summer.
With the Broken Lizard comedy troupe becoming increasingly broken, member Paul Soter has branched off to write and direct something about as far away as one can get from the likes of Super Troopers and Beerfest: a horror film. Now that I've seen it, I'm thinking maybe he should stay on his own.
The real-life Bernie Tiede was the toast of Carthage, Texas. An
assistant funeral director with a gift for consoling grieving widows,
the portly Bernie was gentle, solicitous and unflaggingly polite. He
spruced up many a funeral service with his spot-on tenor, to say nothing
of his penchant for lavishing gifts on everyone he came across.
Bernie was also a murderer, as it turned out, convicted in 1997 of killing an 81-year-old widow and stuffing her body in a meat freezer. But in the eyes of townsfolk, that didn’t make him any less lovable.
In Bernie, now playing, our antihero is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), but it’s not the feisty, mugging Black you’re used to seeing. Affecting a fey Texas accent and dainty mannerisms that stop just short of caricature, he deftly plays against type, but with enough bottled-up edginess to hint at darker recesses under the Southern congeniality.
Director Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles) has made Bernie a low-key docudrama and sly black comedy, especially in his generous use of recollections by actual Carthage residents who knew both Bernie and Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, Valentine’s Day), the mean — and very rich widow — he dispatched with a .22 rifle.
His consoling of Marjorie after her husband’s death had turned into a May-December courtship, despite the town’s widely held suspicions that he was gay. The two became inseparable, at least until she disappeared.
Buoyed by Black’s superb performance and a funny turn by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer) as the district attorney flummoxed by the killer’s popularity, Bernie is a compelling hybrid of true crime and dark comedy.