David Wong (Chase Williamson) introduces himself with a philosophical question - if he bought a new axe and decapitated a corpse, had the axe handle repaired and then dismembered the same corpse after it became reanimated, had the axe blade repaired after that only to meet that corpse, having found itself a new head, again and the corpse stated 'That's the axe that slayed me' - is he right? David believes than in the answer to that question lie the mysteries of the universe and he tells his tale of parallel worlds and the metaphysical to journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, "Cosmopolis") in "John Dies at the End."
Writer/director Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm," "Bubba-Ho-Tep") adapts David Wong's story with a fair amount of wit and low budget inventiveness, but while the tale begins well by its end he's thrown just about everything but the kitchen sink at us. The movie's inherited a great title and Coscarelli has a built in audience among genre fans, but it promises more than it ultimately delivers.
Production designer Todd Jeffery has done much with little, beginning with the otherworldly Chinese restaurant where Dave and Arnie meet. We learn that he and his best friend John (Rob Mayes, "Ice Castles") are something like ghostbusters, but that that all changed when a client, Shelly Morris (Allison Weissman, "Sex Drive"), hired them to stop her dead boyfriend from bothering her. Turned out Shelly was not what she at first seemed. Later, at a lakeside party, nine people David knew partied with one Robert Marley (Tai Bennett), a Jamaican mystic, and most of them died horrible deaths or went missing. David heard from one of them - John - desperately needing help in the middle of the night. David learns that John's shot up something called soy sauce, which heightens one's senses to the point that one can hear people's thoughts and see things that are not there except that they are - in a parallel reality.
The set up of the movie is funny, gory, crazy and intriguing. There is a freezer full of meat which reconfigures itself into an upright creature, exploding heads, a priest played by "Phantasm's" Tall Man, Angus Scrimm and a Large Man (Daniel Roebuck) whose moustache detaches itself from his face to fly around the room. There are amusing puns (a dog named Bark Lee, the Hot 'n Tot coffee shop). But once we learn that infected soy sauce users become pod spawns who will take over the earth in 100 days, the film flies off into too many different directions. Weird is usually good, but weird for weird's sake is indulgent. By the time the boys face battle with 'thinking machine' Korrock in another dimension, it's difficult to remain invested, although hallucinogens would probably aid immensely.
Post climax, the film makes even less sense. One isn't even sure if the title is true, perhaps another of those universal mysteries. "John Dies at the End" seems to have been made as a cult film when the genuine variety just turn out that way.
Robin gives "John Dies at the End" a C.
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