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IDLE HANDS

by: Scott Renshaw

I don't think there's a time IDLE HANDS could have been released that would have made it a good film, but its unfortunate release at this particular time makes it seem even more rancid. In the wake of the April 21st shootings at Littleton, Colorado's Columbine High School, pundits and politicians have been holding forth on the desensitizing effects of violence in our popular culture, particularly that which is aimed at teenagers. The hard-core First Amendment advocate in me has approached most of this talk as conservative rabble rousing, but there's no defending something as brutally wrong-headed as IDLE HANDS. If this is what contemporary adolescents want to see in the movies, we really are in trouble.

The plot, such as it is, centers on a 17-year-old named Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa), whose life's goal is to lay around watching T. V. and getting stoned with his buddies Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson). Unfortunately for Anton, the devil will find work for idle hands to do, as a malevolent spirit takes possession of his right hand and forces him to kill his parents, Mick and Pnub. Then Mick and Pnub return from the dead to provide wacky comic relief, convincing a freaked-out Anton that extreme measures are required. That involves removing the offending appendage, leaving five demonic digits free to wreak havoc at Anton's high school Halloween dance.

Even on its most basic level, IDLE HANDS is either idiotic or pandering, when it isn't both. Vivica A. Fox appears as a druid priestess following the hand-possessing spirit's trail of mayhem, perhaps as some sort of misguided spoof of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The nubile lead actress (Jessica Alba) falls instantly for the slackerly Anton, naturally even finding his wayward hand kinky. Naked breasts appear because, well, that's what naked breasts do in teen-oriented films. The problem-solving powers of marijuana are lauded to the heavens. Mick and Pnub are the only two victims of Anton's to return from the grave -- even the internal logic of the film's supernatural universe is fuzzy -- only to invite comparisons to another horror comedy, John Landis' AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And the gore, it raineth down like waters from the heavens. Only Seth Green, with his wry delivery, offers a moment's entertainment amidst the stupidity.

I'll head off the rebuttals of the "dude, relax, it's just a movie" contingent at the proverbial pass: yes, it's supposed to be a horror comedy, with its absurd excesses probably intentional to a certain extent. The problem is that the horror and the comedy are not combined with a knowing wink, but sequenced in a disconcerting fashion. First, someone is killed in a horrific manner; then, someone makes a joke about the murder. The numbing nonchalance of the commentary lends credence to the harshest condemnations of media violence -- in this film, the ridicule isn't directed at the conventions of horror films, but at the deaths of teenagers. When characters in the film gather at a makeshift memorial to two of Anton's victims, it's hard to suppress a shudder when images of Columbine High School are still so fresh in our minds.

Of course it's a freakish coincidence that IDLE HANDS appears as it does in the wake of that tragedy, and that any of the film's images bring it to mind. It's harder to ignore turning straightforward carnage into comedy. I'm not sure whether IDLE HANDS could have redeemed itself if it actually had made a statement about the potential destructiveness of its protagonists' lives of sloth instead of celebrating same, but at least that would have been a nod to something beyond its audience's most anti-social tendencies. This film is a bad idea at an even worse time, little more than fuel for the fires of righteous indignation which, unfortunately, are seeming a bit more righteous all the time.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 false i

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