News Column

This quake takes no prisoners [Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)]

May 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Poor Ariel. He's talking to hotties in a late-night dance club in Valparaso, Chile, when an earthquake hits, crushing a hostess before he even can get her number.

Worse, a falling shelf severs his hand, which flips across the floor. But, hey, a pretty girl retrieves it for him and puts it in her purse.

But then a purse snatcher steals the bag! "Please, my hand!" Ariel cries after the fleeing felon, in despair. And in subtitles: He's speaking Spanish.

"Please, my hand!" That's a subtitle you won't find in many art films, and "Aftershock," which opens Friday exclusively at Malco's Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, is no art film, even if much of the dialogue requires translation, as the characters alternate between English and Spanish.

If "The Impossible," inspired by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, was a disaster film for the art house crowd, "Aftershock," inspired by the 2010 earthquake that smacked much of Chile, is strictly grindhouse. What else would you expect from Eli Roth, who has been making the world unsafe for tourists for almost a decade, most notoriously with "Hostel" and "Hostel: Part II"?

Roth, a producer on the film, wrote the story of "Aftershock" with its director, Chile's Nicols Lpez. Both men act in the movie. Roth, as anyone who has seen his past performances can attest, is as unconvincing an onscreen presence as his mentor, Quentin Tarantino. The chubby, bearded Lpez, meanwhile, seem to have been separated at birth from Zach Galifianakis, star of the decade's other nightmare- tourism franchise, "The Hangover."

Until the earthquake hits at the 34-minute mark, the 90-minute movie is almost unbearable, a mlange of pointless meandering, pounding club music and boorish male behavior. "I'll buy you a favela poor people included!" rich party boy Pollo (Lpez) brags to a babe.

A saving grace of the "Hostel" movies was that they suggested that Eurotripping ugly Americans were reaping what they had sown when they became victims in a land they sought to sexually exploit. "Aftershock" casts no such judgments as it metes out its various violent punishments against natives and visitors alike: rape, immolation, impalement and so on. In fact, the temblor hits just as a slap-fight breaks out between two sisters, as if assertive, negative female energy were as disturbing to the Earth as it is to the story's dim males.

And yet, and yet ... once the characters escape the ruined club for the wrecked streets, just in time to learn that the collapse of a nearby prison has let the inmates loose, this sadistic button- pusher delivers the nasty goods. When a firefighter joins our band of desperate refugees, you know his ax will be put to good use.

So kudos to actress Andrea Osvrt as the story's levelheaded "final girl," who delivers the movie's most credible performance. Kudos, too, to Malco: The cinema chain lately has found room on random screens for such low-return, one-week-only B-grade fare as Rob Zombie's "The Lords of Salem," which might have puzzled even the late Jess Franco, and "Holla II," as close to a "blaxploitation" film as has played here in years.

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Movie Review

'Aftershock'

Rated R for strong bloody violence, profanity, nudity and the depiction of drug use.

Two stars

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