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Click for full sized poster

Frailty

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Booth
Screenplay by Brent Hanley
Directed by Bill Paxton
website: www.frailtythefilm.com

IN SHORT: Two tedious acts light on great scares and a good surprise ending. Flip a coin. [Rated R for violence and some language. 100 minutes]

When God tells you to kill, who are you to tell Him "no"?

One of these days, hopefully long before we either die or give up on big screen entertainment altogether, someone at the studio level will create the position of "he/she who pays bloody attention to details in the script that could wreck an otherwise good time in the dark". We could blame our problems with Frailty on a decimating edit job -- we've seen it all to many times before -- except that what is left is cleverly written. We know clever because we had way too much time available to us to try and figure out every ending possible and were still suckered, which is why we're dropping half a compliment to first time big screen writer Brent Hanley. Hanley's decision to write his film as a flashback means we can point the finger of blame just as easily at him since we couldn't tell one set of killings from another. Yes, two.

In what seems to be the present day, rural Enid County, Texas has been rocked by a series of six killings, all of which have been labeled the "God's Hands" killing due to notes left at the scene of each killing. Only one body has ever been recovered and the case, in the hands of FBI Wesley Doyle (Powers Booth), is considered cold. Cold becomes hot when a soft spoken stranger, Fenton Mieks (Matthew McConaughey) comes forward to reveal that the killings are the work of his brother, Adam. The story that Mieks tells, however, begins with a series of killings that began in 1979.

Then, twelve year old Fenton (Matt O'Leary) and nine year old Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are the devoted sons of widowed dad (Bill Paxton). Neither think otherwise when Dad tells them that he has had a vision from God telling him that an angel will deliver unto him a list of seven names of demons in human form. All seven must be "destroyed," as opposed to murdered, post haste. The weapon of choice is an double edged ax, with what appears to be the name "Otis" carved in the handle. Good father that he is, Paxton's character makes sure to share the thrill of doing God's work with his boys. Fenton knows immediately that what his father is doing is wrong, but who is he to doubt either the Word or his father? Adam, younger and completely impressionable, buys in whole hog and is painfully jealous when dad passes the ax to his older brother. Fenton tries in vain to convince Adam that dad has gone loony; that they have to run away or at least call the sheriff. When Fenton finally grows the hairs to seek out the man with the badge, things (finally) get terrifically interesting and shocking.

The strangest thing about this deeply religious, stuck in the middle of nowhere family is that there is almost nothing in Hanley's screenplay to demonstrate the depth of their religious affectation. Outside of a early scene indicating that the kids go to Sunday School, the family isn't seen going to Church or doing something as simple as saying Grace before meals. There's no interaction with neighbors or school friends. No home visits from the Preacher. Granted, total isolation can foster insanity -- always an important part of any serial killer story -- but Hanley doesn't go that route. In the meantime, we waited for scares that rarely materialized. Shocks, however, there are plenty of. We do appreciate that actor/director Bill Paxton tries to get scares and thrills without going the slice and dice route. The thought of an ax taking apart a victim is enough to creep us out no matter how many times or in how many moves we've seen it. Here there is almost a crying need for some kind of gore to keep our attention fixed on the screen. Paxton's pacing of his film is so deliberate and ponderous, we were tired of it far before it began to get interesting.

Here's where Hanley's screenplay is unclear -- we'll see Paxton take out at least four people from his list of seven. We'll see Fenton name brother Adam in the killing of six. Seven if you include the suicidal sibling. As far as the cops go, no one raises an eyebrow when the investigation of a current serial killer is set aside for the revelation of another serial killer twenty or so years before. It's either that OR Adam is completing Dad's list OR the cops flat out don't buy any of Fenton's story and are just humoring the guy. Anyway you play it, the details don't add up. Add to that McConaughey's monotone narration and you've got seventy minutes or so which aren't as interesting as they should be, considering the whammo which comes your way at the end. Conclusion? Hanley and/or Paxton were working so hard to keep the closing surprise a big one, at which they succeeded, that the setup is as flat and dull as you can get.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Frailty, he would have paid . . .

$4.00

We can't even get enthusiastic enough about Paxton's initial effort to think it'd make a passable dateflick. Wait for pay per view.

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