Movie Review: “John Dies At The End” – Bill and Ted’s Bad Trip

Written by Travis Pulchinski January 16, 2013

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From the mind of Don Coscarelli, the eclectic pseudo-visionary whose movies never quite live up to their premises, comes “John Dies At The End”. It’s a horror/sci-fi/comedy that melds B-movie cheese with drug-induced psychotic surrealism in an unabashedly bizarre blending of ideas that somehow manages to entertain despite its incredible incorrectness.

“The Soy Sauce Chooses You.”

He’s not Asian, he’s just making it harder to find him.  Why? Because some weird shit is happening to David Wong.  He’s gotten himself hooked on ‘Soy Sauce’, a dangerous black gooey drug that he was introduced to by his best friend John, who may or may not die at the end.  The side effects of the sauce include, but are not limited to- telepathy, superhuman intellect, ability to communicate with the dead, ability to see and travel to alternate dimensions, and a tendency to view time non-linearly. Through sporadic jumps through time and the planes of reality, the Buffy-like buddies combat the demonic forces of inter-dimensional evil along with a truck driving German Shepherd named Bark Lee. HANG ON!! Don’t go running off to watch the shit out of this movie quite yet! I know, based on that description (which doesn’t so much as scratch the surface of how amazingly ambitious this movie’s story is) this sounds like the greatest movie of all time.  But please recall my previous accusation of Don Coscarelli’s inability to live up to the awesomeness implied in his premises.  Yea, that.

Chase Williamson and the Soy Sauce

Black Goo: The Universal Plot Device

“Stuff is both real and not real at the same time”

My first experience with Don Coscarelli came several years ago when my friend suggested we watch “Bubba Ho-Tep”, which he sold me on based solely on the premise.  “Old Elvis and Black JFK fight a mummy in a nursing home”.  RIGHT?!  It was then with great incredulity then that I found myself utterly bored less than half-way through the film.  I am very pleased to report that this was not the case with “John Dies At The End”, whose failings come in much more spectacular fashion.  The movie provided me with an utterly entertaining sixty-somewhat minutes before collapsing in upon itself like it was a bouncy castle and I was wearing cleated shoes.  While the movie thrives on the nonsensical nature of its elements and revels in its own superfluousness, all the excess eventually becomes… excessive.  The film’s reach unfortunately exceeds its grasp as the relatively low budget and cheap looking effects can’t keep up with the exorbitant nature of the story.  The film’s climax in particular would probably sound brilliant on paper, but winds up looking like a ’90s “Doctor Who” episode with cheap looking CG monsters and excessive use of green screen, abandoning the practical B-Movie effects that served it so well early on. More than just looking shoddy, the film’s insistance on drastic twists and tonal changes, even near its conclusion, prevented me from becoming immersed in the narrative, gradually relinquishing the grasp it had held on me in the first two acts.

John Dies At The End Meat Monster

Yup. Meat Monster.

What is going onnnnnn up here?

Despite its shortcomings however, the movie has a ton of standout moments and performances.  The two male leads are fantastic, outshining both Clancy Brown (who is criminally underused) and Paul Giamatti (who showed up to the wrong set).  But as much as I wanted to love this film, I wound up only sort of liking it.  While it admirably embraces what it is, there comes a point where the wackiness stops serving the narrative and starts being a distraction from it, eventually turning this imaginative, drug-induced thrill ride into a creative overdose.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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