Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
November Ist, 2005

Jack O' Lantern

Directed by Ron McLellen
94 mins

Lions Gate serves up a whole new batch of better than mediocre with "Jack O' Lantern," a direct to video surprise involving car wrecks and more hicks than you'll care to count.

So what we have here is Jack, a man who's been having a rough year. He was in a car accident, and ever since, he's been having some really unpleasant dreams. But it gets worse--Jack's visions are taking on a deadly life of their own, and each of them reveal just a little more hidden truth about the accident, and the plot that Jack has found himself a part of.

What you're going to notice almost immediately is the pumpkin they're carving in the first minute. That does NOT look like a pumpkin. It looks like foam rubber, is what it looks like. Why not carve an ACTUAL pumpkin? But it does improve from here. In fact, you begin to wonder just what kind of movie you're watching here, as a couple of redneck blood-drinking serial killers are themselves attacked by something in the woods around their shack.

In point of fact, the first ten minutes have precious little to do with the rest of the movie, except as a means to introduce our primary monster. This is an extremely odd approach to take, and yet on some basic level, it works rather well.

The really interesting thing about "Jack O' Lantern" is how it takes all these separate plot threads--the sequence at the beginning, Jack and his adoptive family, the five college kids who behave like something out of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (except for a change, WE DON'T!) and links it all together in a cohesive, coherent whole. This makes for a unique and highly watchable film.

But this watchability is tempered by horrible special effects work. For example, check out the first appearance of our jack-o-lantern character--you'll need to frame advance, it's over that quickly--and see what we're working with here.


A public service announcement hits us like a pickup that isn't paying attention at the forty one minute mark--hang up the phone and drive. The prize for "Sublimely Screwed Up Moment" goes to one hour and twelve seconds exactly. Check this out. This is beyond belief. One of our female leads, eyes wide, is clutching a teddy bear and a Glock. At least I think it's a Glock...may just be your standard 9mm.

The joke is, I'm not kidding! Look at this! Look at it and see if you can't suppress a giggle or two.

Even more unintentional laughs come from the sequence at one hour seven minutes and sixteen seconds. Start up your frame advances to watch Jack's face do this odd little morphing deal.

It's odd, but the plot somehow manages to be fantastically original and alarmingly derivative all at the same time. Despite the originality of hiding all the disparate elements' connections until the end, it's still basically the same old slasher movie it usually is. It compares all too easily with "I Know What You Did Last Summer," or "Urban Legend," or "Scream," or any combination thereto. Kevin Williamson could've written "Jack O' Lantern." And you may find that a good thing.

The ending does a surprisingly good job of bringing all the loose ends together, which is generally what an ending is supposed to do. The fact that "Jack O' Lantern" managed to hold the secrets until the end, with only a minimum of giving anything away is an achievement of no small note--let's face it, had to suspect they were involved in something, but the movie did do a fair job of keeping suspicion off the kids involved as long as possible.

At least until the rather incomprehensible twist...what was with that, anyway? Did we just need one last excuse to show off the giant pumpkin monster?

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, audio options, subtitles in English and Spanish, plus trailers for "Jack O' Lantern", "Bloody Mallory", "Zodiac Killer", "Vampire Assassin", "Fugitive Hunter", and for some strange reason, the only theatrical release in the bunch, "Waiting". What, couldn't we slap yet another screening of the "Saw II" trailer in there?

All in all, "Jack O' Lantern" will offer up the most original derivative plot with special effects cheap enough to be called direct-to-video. It's not all that bad. It's nothing great, but it's certainly not all that bad.

Irish American Ninja

Directed by David A. Cross
89 mins

Irish American Ninja" may well be the funniest ninja movie you've ever seen.

And it's got some pretty stiff competition on all sides. "Kung Pow: Enter The Fist", for example. "Shaolin Soccer", "Battlefield Baseball", and a handful of other movies just like them have flooded video store shelves in recent years. Hordes of Japanese imports and a handful of American titles have all gone after the rank of funniest ninja movie.

But the incredibly ambitious and gut-wrenchingly comical "Irish American Ninja" is a match for them all.

So what we have here is the story of George McGoogle, who wants nothing more out of life than to be a ninja. A DAMN GOOD ninja.

Now, most folks are going to see the humor in this right away. His name is MCGOOGLE. And he wants to be a NINJA. This is like a man with the last name of Zhou setting out to be the world's greatest polka musician. Or a fellow named Klein who sets out to be the world's greatest pig farmer. It's incongruous. It doesn't work.

But in George's will. Or so you can tell from the first seventeen seconds when they supply this pithy quote from George:

"The true measure of a man lies not in realizing his destiny, but in having the courage to follow it...even if it means killing your long lost brother." --George McGoogle

It's pretty much a dead giveaway at this point that George will indeed become a ninja. A damn good ninja.

And George, our Damn Good Irish American Ninja is on an appropriately complex quest to train, advance his skills, find his long lost brother, and of course, kick a whole lot of pajama-clad ninja ass.

First off, can you SMELL the parody? Smell it! It's thicker than Guinness on a cold November morning! Okay, for those of you who don't habla, there was a franchise back in the eighties called "American Ninja." I think they got as far as four with it, and Bill Sebastian is going balls-out in an effort to parody a movie franchise everybody pretty much forgot about by the end of 1993.

And the credit roll sequence for the first two minutes will show you, undisputably, what kind of movie we're dealing with here.

Introducing George's boyhood, and everything that led up to George's ninja career, is a brilliantly comical sequence that lasts several minutes and produces several high-quality laughs. The training sequences are a laugh riot.

All that's really missing from "Irish American Ninja" is Wally Pleasant doing a cover of "Kung Fu Fighting". Or maybe that's a little too obvious--I can't be sure.

And the sequence where George finds his long-lost brother for the first time...oh my. It's like three straight minutes of laughing.

Okay, plain and simple. "Irish American Ninja" is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. It's packed to the gills with parody, clever scripting, excellent acting, and all kinds of surprises. It encompasses so much more than any simple ninja movie has a right to--"Irish American Ninja" is really like "Enter the Dragon" on crack, and without all the stylistic overtones. The sheer ambition of "Irish American Ninja" is what gives it a lot of its comedic appeal.

There's not a whole lot in the way of actual story here. And at the same time, you don't miss it much. You don't watch "Irish American Ninja" for the compelling plot! No, you watch it for the incredible comedy. You watch it for the masterful parody. You watch it for a ninja...getting...hit by a car? You watch it for a lot of reasons.

The ending is a hoot and a half. Watch the fun as George McGoogle, Damn Good Irish American Ninja, tries to establish a link between "Barney" and a homosexual agenda. Not even Jerry Falwell could go that far! And George's burnout tantrum is beyond anything you've ever seen before. But there is still a little hope as George finally, FINALLY, faces off against Gertrude, his long-lost-but-recently-found-and-then-lost-again-kinda-for-a-while-until-just-now brother.

The special features include audio commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, and trailers for "Irish American Ninja," "Portal: The Movie", "Midlothia", and "Zombie Campout".

All in all, "Irish American Ninja" may be short on plot, but what it lacks there it more than makes up for in innovation and pure, raw comedy. If you can find it, it's worth it!