Don’t you long for that not-too-distant past when ironic, cynical, pop-culture-saturated humor was the exclusive domain of adults who spent their youths snickering in the back of the classroom? These days, every grownup wants to be a literate wiseass: the class president, the prom queen, the A/V club and even the stoners who wore cheap leather jackets and smoked barkies behind the theater before seeing the original Friday the 13th films. In comedy, as in so much of media today, the fringe has been overlapped by the mainstream. I blame The Simpsons, dammit.
Anyway, Jason X, that franchise’s 10th installment (and not the story of a spoiled prep-school kid who shoots for that passing grade in his World Religion class by joining the Nation of Islam—with hilarious consequences!), undertakes the fabulously pointless task of putting goalie-mask-wearing undead killing machine Jason Voorhees in outer space.
Approached with a straight face, this basic story setup and the convenience-store-security-camera direction of James Issac could have added a momentarily diverting new fanboy twist to a hoary formula, punched the requisite gore buttons, made its $40 million and leaped onto TBS. But nooooooo. Jason X wants to be cool. It’s got to let us know that it knows we’re sitting out there in the theater with Crow and Tom Servo, making fun of its every move. Somehow, it manages to be self-aware without having anything to say about itself. It’s like the filmmakers never saw Scream—which is quite possible, since this film has been in development and on the shelf for years.
But it goes like this: In 2010, Jason (Kane Hodder) is being studied by David Cronenberg (!) at the Camp Crystal Lake Research Facility (nyuk nyuk nyuk). But when he goes on a killing spree, he and bosomy scientist Rowan (Lexa Doig) accidentally get cryogenically frozen. Fast-forward to 2455 (or, as Rowan says, “455 years in the future!”), when the bodies are discovered by a bunch of spacemen and a sexy group of sexy students on a field trip to Earth, which is now all trashed and stuff. They get thawed out, and the chopping starts.
Everything here feels like the cleverest screenplay ideas an 11th-grade creative writing class could come up with—a tiresome series of subversive moments that never make the leap to smartass comedy. There’s a professor who wants to cash in on the spectacle of a 21st-century sociopath. There’s the whole irony of Jason taking his turn cutting up the distant future’s horny teenagers. There’s even the suit of super-armor Jason dons in the third act to turn him into some sort of a Terminator Jason. It’s also got some Dharma & Greg-rejected script doctor throwing in devious lines amidst the carnage, such as “You weren’t alive during the Microsoft conflict. We were beating each other with our own severed limbs.”
As these conceits pile on each other for about 90 minutes, we start rooting for Jason even more than we normally do in these movies. Actually, we’re hoping he’ll open a door to the production office and start reducing the film’s overhead. Cronenberg leaves in a body bag, just like most of the teens who eventually join forces and start to hunt Jason the same way he’s hunting them.
Some of the kills are inventive enough—one guy gets impaled on a giant screwing mechanism of some sort, and a scientist’s face gets frozen and then shattered. But just when you start to have a good old-fashioned laugh about the sheer stupidity of the whole exercise, that goddamn screenplay throws in another self-aware touch (like after the screw killing, some guy goes, “He’s screwed,” then grins to show that he knows it was a terrible line) that ruins everything.
Jason X can put down the machete. Its idea of sophistication is enough to slaughter everybody.