2.5 out of 5 stars

A brilliantly farcical premise and perfectly-judged caricatures unfortunately don’t rescue Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun from feeling slow and over-extended. It’s a 101-minute movie that, at 75-minutes, perhaps would’ve had the necessary zip to make us forget that nearly all the jokes are introduced early and only slightly altered throughout the course of an insubstantial narrative.

Indeed, the first gag encapsulates (though we don’t fully see it at the time) one of only two real plot revelations. It’s Minnesota in the 1980s, and in a motel room a man is sharpening a knife, his face unseen. He’s soon revealed to be Phil (Joe Bostick), friendly enough when he’s offering a lift to a young woman at the motel, but then sporting a fantastically horrible leer once he locks the car doors. Clearly, he’s a serial killer…

…but so is she, a sudden turning of the tables suggests. And, indeed, Carrie (Amber Goldfarb) turns out to be far from an anonymous scene-setting victim. Before we meet her again, though, we’re introduced to Joel (Evan Marsh), deputy assistant editor of a horror fanzine called Vicious Fanatics, who’s earnestly interviewing a schlocky director (Gord Rand, nicely self-absorbed). We then see Joel’s home, shot like the house from The Exorcist (1973), as he dictates a purple-prose screenplay for his own serial-killer film. And we also see that Joel’s a bit of ’80s-movie-style loser, affable but nerdy and with an unrequited crush on his roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele).

It’s this that leads him to follow her date, the wonderfully-misnamed Bob Nice (Ari Millen in a magnificent scenery-chewing, eye-popping performance), to a local restaurant, hoping he can secretly record Bob saying nasty things about Sarah and thus split them up. Unfortunately, Joel also gets so drunk that he passes out, and on waking up finds a meeting in progress at the now-closed restaurant.

Its members welcome him as a new participant, and he plays along to avoid embarrassment, though there’s worse than that in store once he discovers that it’s a self-help meeting for serial killers (or “more of a business retreat”, clarifies Carrie, who soon turns up too).

All of this is, essentially, set-up, and the rest of the movie proceeds from the two points it’s established: that Joel’s in the midst of a bunch of homicidal maniacs who’ll turn on him the moment they realise he’s not one of them, and that Carrie’s a killer who preys on other killers. While the bumblingly naive Joel and coolly ruthless Carrie aren’t exactly an obvious match, they now have a common interest and inevitably team up to pick off the murderers one by one.

And that’s kind of it. While Calahan and co-writer James Villeneuve certainly spring some cute and well-devised surprises in the earliest stages of the film, from hereon the progress of events is sorely predictable. There’s some fine if unsubtle humour (both verbal and physical), some gross kills, and a diversion of events away from the restaurant for a while (to a police station manned by three moustache-obsessed cops), but the pattern followed by most of the film is so familiar and repetitive that Vicious Fun’s undoubtedly successful comic moments aren’t enough to disguise the fundamental lack of interest.

Indeed, just like the plotting, the humour itself’s rather formulaic, raising smiles but rarely an outright laugh or gasp. The subject matter seems to call for an outrageousness the script doesn’t deliver it.

None of this would matter so much if Vicious Fun moved faster, but it takes too long over everything—from fights to meta moments like a cop’s explanation of the horror genre—as if it’s more pleased with itself than the material justifies. As a result, it’s the cast which has to save this movie from becoming dull, and a terrific ensemble is thankfully the film’s saving grace.

Every single performance is just right, with Millen—evoking Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000), right down to the business cards—the clear stand-out. But all the other characters are equally vivid, including the huge, lumbering serial slasher Mike (Robert Maillet) who describes cleaning up a crime scene as “doing the dishes”; the bony, pedantic, efficiency-obsessed killer Fritz (Julian Richings); the former government death squad assassin Zachary (David Koechner) who convenes the meetings; and the elegant, impassive cannibal Hideo (Sean Baek). In the police station, John Fray as the laid-back Officer Tony is comedically spot-on, as well.

Cinematographer Jeff Maher contributes an appropriately brash, superficial ’80s look, and Steph Copeland’s score has its moments too. Many of the ingredients for a smart film are in place, then, but Vicious Fun simply isn’t as smart as the cast and the production values merit, and that deficiency’s compounded by a runtime the story can’t sustain.

CANADA | 2020 | 101 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Cody Calahan.
writers: Cody Calahan & James Villeneuve.
starring: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings & Robert Maillet.