Mladen and Del review ‘The Black Demon’

Image courtesy of The Avenue.

Starring Fernanda Urrejola as “Ines,” Josh Lucas as “Paul,” Venus Ariel as “Audrey,” Julio Cesar Cedillo as “Chato,” and Jorge A. Jimenez as “Junior” and others; Directed by Adrian Grunberg; Rated R; 100 minutes; Amazon Prime

Mladen’s take

Like a good movie can be ruined by one bad scene, a bad movie can be redeemed with one good bit of filmmaking. The problem with “The Black Demon” is that you must watch the mostly bad movie to the end to see that one good scene. You’ll know when you see it because the antagonist and the protagonist are calm when death arrives.

“The Black Demon” offers a duel between a big shark body armored with sturgeon-like scutes and humans of varied races and socioeconomic status. The big shark is the Aztec god Tlaloc incarnate. Come to think of it, maybe that’s also a reason I found the film good enough. The gringos in “The Black Demon” are unable to pronounce the name of the god without help from native Spanish speakers. The “Tl” in Tlaloc throws English speakers off balance. As a guy with a first name that also juxtaposes two seldom, if ever, side-to-side consonants in the English language, “Ml,” I sympathized with the villagers trying to teach Americans the correct pronunciation.

Anyway, Tlaloc, the god in shark’s clothing, appears as a deformed megalodon to avenge the destruction of a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Huh, a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Sound familiar? You’ve already forgotten the months-long British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil hemorrhage in 2010 that all but wrecked my beloved Gulf of Mexico, haven’t you?

Of course, the humans hunted by the black demon find themselves stranded on the oil rig without a way to communicate with shore or hope that some boater will come along to rescue them. And, there’s no way for the humans to wait for someone on land to realize they’re missing and send a search party because the rig is falling apart. Its demise is aided by Tlaloc occasionally ramming it. Oh, the shark god has some sort of telepathic power that allows it to conjure foreboding hallucinations in humans when they’re in the water.

The movie’s cheap thrills come along by placing children in harm’s way. I hate that. And, there’s always the accidental fall into the water or the decision to kill the shark by using a person as live bait and then what? Poison the multi-ton shark by pricking it in the mouth with a 5-inch-long, 25-gauge hypodermic needle? No, no, that was “Jaws.” Explode the shark with a jerry-rigged dart bomb triggered by attaching the contraption via cable to a car battery? No, that was “Deep Blue Sea.” Damn, how was the meg in “Meg” whacked?

Del will belly ache about the movie’s derivative character. He’ll complain about the mediocre CGI. All of that will come after he details to the nth minutia the history of big shark movies and their impact on pop culture, our eating habits, environmental preservation, and treatment of toenail fungus. My advice to you? See the movie because it’s good enough to be entertaining and among the better of the B-schlock films that have blazed across the big screen since pictures started moving.

Del’s take

Poor Mladen.

By the way, I pronounce that “muh-LAH-den.” As far as I know, that’s correct. I pronounce the Aztec god Tlaloc “tuh-LAL-oc.” I think that’s correct. And Mladen thinks I dwell too much on detail.

Yes, I’m a gringo who mispronounces the names of Aztec fish gods. I also recognize the role sharks play in the environment, but like many gringos who can’t pronounce the names of Aztec fish gods, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that environmental role when it means having the lower half of my body reduced to shark kibble. So I’m a fan of sharks only if they come no closer than the movie screen – speaking of which, did I mention I’m tired of movies about sharks. I mean, what are we up to now? “Jaws 47”? “Meg XXXI”? “Deep Blue Sea: The Neverending Story”?

Mladen, by making me watch “The Black Demon,” thought he was punishing me for inflicting “Chopping Mall” and “Barbie” on him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d already seen “The Black Demon,” already noted the shitty FX, and yes, already thought it was stupid.

“The Black Demon” is a good example of the chaff Amazon Prime uses to flesh out its movie offerings. While there’s room in my heart for bad sci-fi and horror movies, that room is leavened by nostalgia. I don’t watch “The Tingler” or “The Giant Claw” for their riveting depictions of human drama. I watch them because they remind me of when I was a little kid and believed that crap could actually happen. Alas, “The Black Demon” does not evoke such happy memories. It’s the seaside version of “Maximum Overdrive.” I watched it, didn’t like it, and flushed it down the toilet, like you would that favorite swordtail you found floating belly up in your aquarium.

I mean, c’mon. The premise of “The Black Demon” is idiotic. An American petrochemical engineer takes his wife and kids on one last job in Mexico, leaves them in a town full of hostile locals, makes his way to a haunted oil rig, the wife and kids follow along, everyone except one altruistic soul are in league with the shark, and somehow they’re supposed to defeat this – this creature that’s big enough to take out an oil rig and swims faster than a speeding cigarette boat? Next you’ll be telling me Marjorie Taylor Greene has an IQ higher than a cement block.

One point on which I and the movie agree: The real villain is the corporation responsible for the leaky oil rig, in this case an outfit called “Nixon.” Get it? Nixon, so very, very subtle. Why didn’t they just call it “Satan” and be done with it? And the real black demon may not be the shark or the pissed-off fish god, but the stuff leaking from the oil rig. But somehow I doubt that much thought was put into the movie’s subtext. In fact, I don’t think there is any subtext. I think “The Black Demon” is a movie about a supernatural shark picking off people responsible for trashing the environment in and around the oil rig. Or more basically, a movie about a scary shark-like something-or-other.

I’ll grade this movie a C- because I’ve spent worse hour-and-forty-minute time spans of my life, but unless you’re a fan of modern schlock, which I’m not, then stay out of the water.

For a real shark movie check out “Blue Water, White Death,” a darned good doc from the early ’70s. They don’t make those, or schlocky B-movies, like they used to.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Paramount.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and Hugh Grant. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. 2 hours, 14 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release.

Del’s take

“Honor Among Thieves” is silly, stupid, fun, and undeniably entertaining, even for an avowed hater of all things fantasy. Yet there’s little meat on the ribs of this escapist fantasy showing at a theater near you – assuming a theater near you remains in operation.

The story is about widower Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine), whose wife was killed by a vile group of conjurers known as the Red Wizards. Edgin, along with growling sidekick Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), half-baked wizard Simon (Justice Smith) and shapeshifter druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) embark on a quest to retrieve a relic that can bring back Edgin’s wife. Along the way they must free Edgin’s estranged daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman) from the clutches of Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), a former ally who has turned traitor, and thwart the restoration of the Red Wizards, led by Sofina (Daisy Head).

It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

The journey takes them through various magical realms where they meet new friends and defeat old enemies. Talking corpses, overweight dragons, raging owlbears and magic portals make for a colorful if not eventful quest.

Humor is pervasive, which suggests “Honor Among Thieves” does not take itself that seriously. And with Chris Pine leading the campaign, how could it? Pine imbues Edgin with plenty of James Tiberious Kirk – alternating swagger and joke-cracking – as he and his merry band of adventurers tumble from one cliffhanger to the next. The movie’s standout performer is Smith as fumbling Simon, the wizard with a heart of gold. Simon pines for Doric (Lillis) and along the way discovers that with sufficient self confidence he can reasonably go toe-to-toe with a powerful mage like Sofina.

“Honor Among Thieves” closely follows the Marvel model of moviemaking – lots of action, gorgeous special effects, not much in the way of character development or world-building, and a thin plot to frame the action sequences without telling too much of a story. Entertaining, yes. Memorable? Hardly. It’s like having a Mimosa and Eggs Benedict for brunch: By mid-afternoon you’re already wondering what’s for dinner.

As quests go “Honor Among Thieves” doesn’t compare to “Lord of the Rings.” It’s like “Narnia” with dirty jokes. You’ll be entertained but a day later you won’t remember a thing.

But do see the movie in a theater if possible. Only a theater can deliver the grandeur, and the shared experience, that all movies deserve.

I give “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” a solid B. It was entertaining and well acted, but the story was forgettable.

Del Stone Jr. is a writer and former journalist.