Appealing to the lowest possible tastes, it elevates violence to new levels of pander.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I believe this 2005 release, "The Crow: Wicked Prayer," is the fourth movie installment in "The Crow" lineup, not counting the short-lived 1998 TV series. I suppose in today's day and age, that's par for the course, considering the "Crow" movies are based on a comic-book and comic-strip character. There's gold in them thar drawings. As the crow flies. Which I know makes no sense, but I like the line, and it has about as much meaning as anything you'll find in this film.

So, what's our fascination with crows? Is it their dark, ominous color that has earned them their ofttimes dour reputation? Is it because they're so plentiful all over the world, their frequent "caw" so familiar to all of us? Is it because they live so long, as much as a dozen or more years in the wild and up to twenty years in captivity? Is it because they're smarter than most other birds, which they are? Is it because they're omnivorous, eating virtually anything, including carrion, putrefying flesh? Or is it because Man has devised so many legends and superstitions about them and their relationship to death?

In any case, the "Crow" movies began big in 1994 with Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, starring in an imaginative, brooding production whose noir style harked back to the days of Tim Burton's "Batman." The younger Lee's death, tragic as it was, probably helped the "Crow" film franchise to grow in popularity, although this one and the last entry have gone straight to video, so perhaps the fad is dying. Surely, if "The Crow: Wicked Prayer" is any indication, it deserves as quick a death as possible.

The movie's opening scene sets the tone: It's a polluted mining town in the middle of nowhere, with dilapidated buildings, trash, and rubbish everywhere. Perfect, considering that everything that comes after it is equally trashy. The conflict develops when we see a clash between miners at some forlorn toxic excavation and a group of Native Americans who want to build a resort-casino on the site to revive the economy. Violence erupts almost immediately, with both sides looking for revenge against what they consider a violation of their rights and trust.

But that's not what the movie is about. The movie is about the conflict of two former friends, Jimmy Cuervo (Edward Furlong of "Terminator 2" fame) and Luc Crash (David Boreanaz). Jimmy has just been released from prison where he was wrongly convicted of killing an attempted rapist. Luc has just escaped from prison for evils unnamed. Jimmy wants to reunite with the love of his life, Lily (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and settle down. Crash wants to reunite with the love of his life, Lola Byrne (Tara Reid), and kill everyone in sight.

Now, here's the deal: Crash and Byrne (too cute for words) and their several psychopathic-maniac followers are Satanists who think they can turn Crash into the Antichrist by killing Lily and putting her eyes out, killing Jimmy and ripping his heart out, and then finding a virgin and...who knows what. So, they start their rampage by killing Jimmy and Lily in a scene so gratuitously grisly that only a confirmed sadist could enjoy it. Fortunately for the audience, though, we know Jimmy is not going to stay dead for long. This is because Lily has informed us earlier that, "...when someone dies, the crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. Then sometimes the crow can bring that soul back to release it of its burden, to put the wrong things right."

Therefore, we know almost from the outset that the movie is going to be about Jimmy's coming back from the dead to avenge his and Lily's death. And that's about it. That's the whole plot. He does, and it ends.

The problem besides the movie's obvious lack of creative energy or a story line is that virtually everyone in it except Lily is a vicious, nasty, mean-spirited, or simply vacuous person. At least the villains have some personality; we don't even care about the empty-headed Jimmy. Maybe it's just Furlong's vacant stares and languid delivery. I dunno. Maybe it's Tara Reid as a supposedly flamboyant cultist who looks more like she's playacting in a grammar-school pageant. Maybe it's a script that gives nobody anything to say or do worth caring about. Heck, not even the usually reliable Dennis Hopper as a goofball pimp and high priest of Satan or Danny Trejo as Lily's preacher father can do anything with roles so absurd. Both actors, especially Hopper, come off looking foolish.

Be prepared to watch deaths by hanging, mutilation, explosion, torture, crucifixion, you name it. The Satanists go on a killing rampage that makes "From Dusk Til Dawn" look like a Sunday School picnic. Wanton gore abounds in this weary excuse for entertainment, yet none of it is of the over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek variety found in "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill," or "Sin City." In "The Crow: Wicked Prayer" it's blood for the sake of pure blood lust.

There's never a mention of how Crash and his gang make their living or how they can afford their souped-up hot rods, but silly me for even attempting to find some logic or reason behind anything that happens. Yet, for all the movie's mayhem, the story, directed by Lance Mangia ("Six-String Samurai"), moves along at a deadening pace, with almost no ingenuity shown in its management or cinematography. Nothing happens but continuous killing, maiming, and mass murder. Meanwhile, the cast stand around doing practically nothing while the slaughter continues.

I would not stand around for this one. I would not even sit for it; which may explain why it took me over three hours to watch a ninety-nine minute movie. Life's too short.

If it were not for the video's overall soft quality and the noticeable grain in so many indoor and nighttime shots, the transfer might have scored a higher mark. The screen size measures an anamorphic ratio about 1.78:1 or so, nicely filling out a widescreen TV, and the colors are fairly natural and vibrant when they need to be. However, in matters of detailing and delineation, the image is only average. I suppose for a direct-to-video offering, we should expect this.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio surpasses its video cousin in that it's very dynamic, with strong transient impact and a thunderous mid bass. The surrounds produce a reasonably effective ambiance with the noises of gunshots and the like, but the general tonal balance is a little too bright to be entirely realistic.

This is another of those discs where there's more in the way of extras than there is of movie. Now, think about it: What people but those seriously interested in filmmaking would want to spend hours of their time listening to two separate audio commentaries and a boatload of other bonus items in the first place; yet, at the same time, what people seriously into filmmaking would be in the least interested in this disastrous film? Who could possibly want to see or hear this stuff? It's another of life's great mysteries. Anyway, there are two commentaries, one by director Lance Mungia and producer Jeff Most; the other by director Mungia and various members of his crew. Listening to a few minutes of each, it was hard to tell which one was the more dreary. These folks either joke around or point out the obvious.

Next, there's a twenty-nine minute, making-of featurette, "The Crow: Wicked Prayer," that is longer than most such promotional segments but no more illuminating. Each member of the cast and crew gets to expound on the importance of the story and the characters. After that are three more featurettes: "El Pinto," two fruitless minutes about the cars in the film; "Margaritas and Conversations," several more minutes of chatter from the producer and the director; and "Jamie's Attic," three minutes about the music of composer Jamie Christopherson. Following those are four minutes' worth of storyboard comparisons; two deleted scenes in very bad shape; and two separate production galleries of stills. Fourteen scene selections, with a chapter insert, and Sneak Peeks at six other Dimension/Buena Vista releases complete the package. English is the only spoken language available, but there are French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
I noted in the closing credits that the movie was "filmed entirely on location in and around Salt Lake City, Utah," a known hotbed of violent criminal activity. Those Mormons with their milk and cookies will get you every time. If I were from Utah, I'd sue for defamation of character.

"The Crow: Wicked Prayer" is about as bad a film as one will find coming from a major Hollywood studio. Appealing to the lowest possible tastes, it elevates violence to new levels of pander. All the while, the poor viewer can't even enjoy the compensation of finding it so bad as to be laughable in its awfulness. Hard to believe these "Crows" have gone downhill so fast.


Film Value