The Strangers

Finally, a movie has beaten Sunshine for the shortest cast list, with a mere eight people. You don't even need to bother with three of the names. You never see what they look like, they don't really act, and they might as well have been played by three random body doubles. I mean, they cast a supermodel, and never even show her face! But they're the title characters, just the same, and they're darned annoying.

When I was little, watching Looney Tunes cartoons, I never liked to watch the Roadrunner cartoons because I always wanted the Coyote to win, and of course he never could. It was just that everything always went the Roadrunner's way, and poor Wile E. could never catch a break. After a while, I got so frustrated on his behalf that I couldn't bear to watch anymore. This is kind of like a 90-minute version of one of those cartoons, only here there are two coyotes: Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay, and Scott Speedman as James Hoyt. And there are three roadrunners: The Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl. The two girls get real masks; but the Man in the Mask is actually wearing a bag over his head, with eyeholes and a mouth painted on. I think it's burlap. Anyway, it must make it hard to breathe, because he spends most of the movie wheezing like an asthmatic. But even if he is asthmatic, it doesn't matter, because he's a roadrunner, so everything goes just the way he wants it to.

I'm not exaggerating. It's like covering their faces gives them the power to read minds. Their victims make a break for the car; they're waiting to stop them. Their victims set up a trap; they neatly turn it against them. About halfway through, I was absolutely desperate for those two to find some good luck. I wanted to help them, and just kept fidgeting in my chair.

I think part of the problem was that the victims weren't being quite as stupid as one might expect. They have their moments, of course -- for instance, when things start to turn weird, Liv very sensibly exchanges the frilly dress she was wearing (they've been at a wedding reception) for jeans and a flannel shirt. Except she never actually puts shoes on, or even socks, and runs around barefoot the rest of the film, which is the opposite of sensible when avoiding homicidal maniacs. But for the most part, they don't make a whole lot of moves that make you want to scream, "What were you people thinking of??" So I kept thinking that things would simply have to get better for them somehow, but they never did, and it was frustrating.

And you know how people say that having a cell phone is safe, because then you're never without a phone to call for help? It doesn't help these two any, because you still end up without a phone. The batteries die, you can't get a signal, or you leave it out in the car and the serial killers steal it; and you're so dependent on the thing you don't know what to do when hitting 'Send' doesn't get you anywhere.

*ahem* Anyway. Two and three-quarter idols -- one for Liv, one for Scott, and the three-quarters because the filmmakers took a bit of a risk, and it did work to an extent. The acting was solid, but it did suffer from something of the same problem The Hitcher did, and I can't believe I'm saying that, because this was way better than The Hitcher. But though it is cool and trendy to hide the villains' motives, too much of that just gets really aggravating. Basically, ninety minutes was a little too long. It needed to be more the length of a Loony Tunes cartoon.

First published 6/2008. Now made famous as one of my Top 5 Movies that Prove Cell Phones are Evil.

Liv Tyler competes in the 100-yard crawl under the watchful eye of a supermodel.


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