During the Bill Clinton years, stand-up comics never worried about running out of gags. It’s movies like “Bones” that make movie critics heave a similar sigh of relief. There’s just so much material.
But just as comedians loved to hate the former president, Ernest Dickerson’s latest is a film that is best at its worst. “Bones” satisfies the meager demands of the horror genre by serving up cheesy gore, to which Dickerson, the maker of “Tales from the Crypt:ÊDemon Knight,” is no stranger. While it’s easy to criticize the ridiculous plot and over-the-top thrills, they’re also laughable and enjoyable, if only for their kitsch value.
Snoop Doggy Dogg, who plays the undead pimp Jimmy Bones, seems to appreciate the campiness of the horror genre. But even with his dynamic presence, “Bones” and its old school spookiness sink under the weight of confused social commentary, misused special effects, and largely inept actors who can’t even scream well.
“Bones” begins well enough, immediately creating a gothic, fantastical setting with a modern twist: Jimmy Bones’ old neighborhood, once a utopian black community where pimps toss money out of Cadillac windows, has degenerated into graffiti-covered gang turf. The black kids are drug dealers; the white kids are clueless customers who listen to Eminem.
In the center of the block and the movie is the quintessential haunted house. The second-story windows are gaping, sunken eyes and the door is a swallowing mouth; it is a skull, and clearly no one in their right minds would go near it. Of course, the actors go near it.
In fact, they want to turn it into a night club, and as they toil and reconstruct, Bones, buried in the basement, is gaining strength and waiting to seek revenge on his killers and “clean up” his hood. Bones grows increasingly powerful as a not-so-mysterious dog with red eyes kills and eats clueless victims.
The house demonstrates Dickerson’s attention to horror aesthetic. The set is about as dreary and forbidding as it gets, minus rolling thunder and bolts of lightening a la “Frankenstein.”Ê Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano pulls some “Blair Witch”-style camera jitters.
Labiano also creates a contrast between Bones’ neighborhood in the present and in 1979, taking a cue from Dickerson’s own cinematographic techniques in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Bones’ town is sun-baked Brooklyn in 1979 and shadowy South Central in 2000.
Aside from these artistic considerations, though, Dickerson shows no subtlety. The haunted house is not enough; Dickerson turns it into a veritable roller coaster (and this isn’t praise). Shadows of hands hover behind oblivious actors, along with heavy breathing, smoky images of Snoop, and the ghost perspective cam that makes everything blurry, red and vulnerable.
But this is nothing compared to his finale — a dog vomiting maggots and a city of the dead where writhing, slimy bodies are packed like sardines in a wall of flesh. While horror movies are often over the top, Dickerson does too much without the buildup. Dickerson’s horror doesn’t creep — it just hits us with one solid, unpleasant blow.
In other words, the actors don’t have a lot to work with. Nonetheless, they can’t even fulfill the basic needs of a horror movie. Dickerson seems careless with them, and consequently the audience can never really sympathize with them, particularly since the threat is ridiculously obvious and hokey. Furthermore the actors seem completely unperturbed although they should be wetting their pants — as when confronted with Bones’ skeleton, for example.
Snoop and Pam Grier are the only saviors here. Grier is a pleasure to watch, although her role, as Bones’ psychic lover, is far too insubstantial. Bianca Lawson in the role of Grier and Snoop’s daughter deserves some mentionÊ– she does what she can under the circumstances.
Snoop is also underused. His moments on screen are the best of “Bones,” whether he’s pimpin’ in pinstripes and ice or taking revenge in Keyser Soze-style locks and, well, pinstripes. He has the proper menace, that perfect mad-dog grimace, which strikes much more fear than the hokey special effects. Had he been on screen longer, “Bones” would have been much improved.
Atop the horror plotline, Dickerson throws pieces of social commentary and blaxploitation. The blaxploitation seems to fit — it looks just like a Snoop video. Women are objects; white women are “Marilyn Monroe hos” as one character puts it. The clothes are luxurious, if stereotypical, and drugs and money fly. Even some of the horror film is hip-hop-ified, as the creepy theramin score is set to a bass.
The social commentary, on the other hand, is completely misguided. Bones clearly prefers his hood in 1979, as he says, “the status quo is cool with me.”Ê The status quo is a segregated neighborhood where people are happy because Bones the pimp gives them money (just don’t ask whence it came).
Dickerson fails to show why social reform motivates Bones. We don’t know why or how the neighborhood descended into ruin, and how Bones might have prevented this. Furthermore, he attacks the very people who try to revitalize his neighborhood.
“Bones” is most watchable when it shows Snoop’s influence, or at least his style. The rapper showed his acting chops in “Baby Boy,” and while those skills are misplaced here, his persona still lifts the film during his on-screen time. Otherwise, the acting is bad, the social commentary useless, and the plot crumbles. Even on the lowest horror movie standards, “Bones” is too much gore, too little buildup and tension, and much too little interest in anything outside of blood and maggots.