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Foreign Body

posted by Mel on 5/31/01

"When you're making a movie and you need someone to come in, reveal that a few years ago a bunch of local kids were murdered with a steel Mr. Potato Head and the killer was never caught, and then leave, and make it the best damned scene in the whole movie, well, look no further than the "H"'s in your Rolodex." -Andy Ihnatko, The Clint Howard Project

If you're reading this, then you have no doubts about Clint Howard's pedigree as a character acting force to be reckoned with. Clint has the Midas Touch when it comes to cinematic manure: whatever he brushes with a fingertip, a nasal growl or a furrowed scowl of teeth and eyebrows will turn from rancid celluloid shit to sheer nerd-heaven gold.

Clint has redefined the humble role of the sleazebag-cum-psychopath that has been lauded so many times when played by more "acceptable" actors like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys and Gary Oldman in The Professional by mainstream Hollywood. But unlike your standard pretty-boy or allegedly serious talent slumming for a break in their typecast, what you see with Clint is what you get. He attacks every job he's cast for with an infectious zest, whether it's the next A-Lister on the chopping block or some obscene and obscure stinker that's headed straight for the shelves, often lending even the most horrible screenplays and b-concepts a degree of credible watchability by virtue of his involvement alone. In a world where realism is the ultimate taboo, Clint knows very little else. He does his job well, he collects a check, he signs an autograph, he sits down to lunch with four star-struck dopes who bombard him with idiotic questions in return for a pastrami sandwich and cappucino, he plays a few holes and keeps himself humble.

But as good as Clint is and as diverse a testimony to that fact his resume in the Industry may be, let me tell you: by the time you've reached the bottom of the page, you will know exactly how much difference a little Clint can make for any film endeavor.

The name of today's lesson is Foreign Body. In the universal language of the Android's Dungeon Keeper from The Simpsons, we will say the following about this twenty-some minute production: It was made for nothing. It stars nobody. The credits attest that it was based on a short story by a gentleman whose name my brain refuses to immediately recall, but if there were any literary influences on this thing, they stemmed from one of those scary stories you write in second grade as homework for the night before Halloween.

It's very, very bad. And you know that comes as the opinion of someone who finds nothing but the most absurd joy imaginable in the oddest places, turning the bane of popular film culture's foibles into valentines of psychological analysis and social commentary. Foreign Body is, as many films before it, trying very hard to build a masterpiece out of the barest essentials imaginable--unfortunately for director Preben Lunding, he doesn't even have a button or popsicle stick to rub together. The film is short, but manages to flounder on a scale that rivals the pointless fodder pimped out during the span of the summer box office, an accomplishment unto itself. And while the movie may be lacking pacing, the barest trappings of coherancy or any real script, it does have one thing that proves Preben may have a future in the Big Show, yet.


And not just any Clint, girls and scumpigs. This is the bonafide Mr. Howard, the real deal in Atlas terms, a performer willing to shoulder an entire crumbling world and carry it through the flames of judgement. As I've meandered on oft occasions, Clint has no equal when it comes to elevating what would otherwise be a garbage scene with his insane workrate, but very rarely has he had so little to work from. Even the Ice Cream Man had a nice little sideshow of b-film oddities to complement the crowning jewel of the title role, but this time Clint is on his own.

How much difference can one dedicated actor really make? Read on and be educated.

As Foreign Body gets rolling, we're introduced expediently to our nameless protagonist. Played by somebody named Shawna Genieve (Who we'll assume is the director's friend/girlfriend/cousin/sister/video store clerk), our heroine instantly defines her character parameters as the most clodhopperish cat burglar to ever grace the small screen. Plodding around the front lawn of an unlit house, our girl eventually finds an accessible window and crawls in with a painstaking cinematic dedication that makes the pacing of a dung beetle documentry look like Hong Kong action fare in comparison.

Show me what you're workin' with!

Shawna has a lot of junk in her trunk, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, she can barely act and seems to be improvising every action off the cuff, which is not such a good thing. Five minutes plod by to open a film that isn't even a half an our long, as we observe the astute burglar stomping around a rumpus room, then popping open a utility closet and being scared by a black cat that's been inexplicably shoved on the top shelf.

Notably, the cat turns in the second-best performance of the picture by jumping off the shelf quickly and running away. Startled but ever-resilient, our scrappy sister of petty larceny closes the closet and heads up the stairs at the film's seven-minute mark.

The assumption settles in at this point that Preben either owns this house or is inexplicably overjoyed to have the privilege to shoot there. The thief meanders through the kitchen, heads up the stairs, steals a glow-in-the-dark crucifix that looks like it was bought at Venice Pier, then heads into the bedroom. We've reached eleven minutes by the time she makes her way back down to the hell house kitchen and fridge, giving Foreign Body the dubious distinction of offering its poor viewers the longest and most uneventful cat burglar sequence in modern cinema. Like My Dinner With Andre minus the phenomenal social value and attraction for self-involved actor dullards who find the film "brilliant" because they can't figure out what the fuck the point is and want to seem like they know something you don't.

So, with a bag of swag and nowhere to go but back out the window, the stompish Ms. S determines that it's time to eat a Pop Tart. Instead of merely cutting between her visit to the cabinet and the finished product, we're treated to another cinematic milestone: the most aggressive argument for General Mills' breakfast snacks ever crafted on filmstock. Shawna doesn't merely visit the cupboard, she EMOTES every step of the way. Fondling the cabinet knob. Considering the wares within. Making her decision. Withdrawing the box and unwrapping the slices of glorified cardboard with a jeweler's precision and dedication. The toaster is considered, then trusted with the confectionary payload.

And all the while, our punchy girl in the middle is wandering around near UNBLINDED WINDOWS with her flashlight blaring. Then she turns on the television. She steals some CDs. She isn't wearing gloves. It becomes painfully evident that someone was doing some serious overtime in the research department during pre-production, as evidenced by the method to the madness. But the dramatic thrust remains clearly buried in the belly of the viewer, as Preben took the time to add a five-minute scene where the burglar inspects a calendar and clearly notes the "Vacation" penned in over the current week.

Subtlety is your new God at the halfway mark of the film. Just as Exene and Jenkies were about to seize the VCR and smash it over my skull, the horns of archangels blared true and our crafty thief's sudden determination to pull an overnighter in the house she was set to rob was cut short by the stereo discovery of a decapitated head in the fridge and the arrival of a minivan in the driveway.

It's either Mrs. Vorhees or Bud Cort

The mutters of rude dissent were silenced. Edges of seats all over the living room were pushed flush with the asses of those in attendance. Perhaps a few toes were crossed. And smiles spread true as Clint stepped from the vehicle, moved to the hatchback and removed a fridge box on a dolly. Suddenly, we had a movie.

We find out what the fuss is about soon enough. After a two-hour sequence in which our clumsy robber re-wraps the Pop Tarts, makes a few phone calls, does her toenails, wins seven thousand dollars on Jeopardy and eventually hides behind the living room couch, Clint makes his presence felt fully by dumping a drugged sap out the box and tossing his limp carcass on the kitchen table. The Clintisms factor for this film is dismal, barely peaking over two or three total lines of prose in his time onscreen, but he does let us know that "That'll teach you (Table-boy) to fuck with me". A couple chains and a weird interlude where Clint blinds himself with his own flashlight later, and business has definitely picked up for the better.

"You've got some arch support problems, Mr. Dailing, but nothing a good, sturdy sole won't fix."

Relaxed and cutting a stylish white figure in his bathrobe, Clint heads back into the kitchen and our minds with a bucket of gardening and home improvement tools. What's amazing is that suddenly, Preben's predisposition to letting the camera run for twenty minutes longer than humanly necessary doesn't seem so bad: Clint considers each implement of sharp and nasty usage like a slicer looking for the right club on a rough patch, eventually coming up with the good ol' hacksaw.

And before you can sneeze or notice how wonderful the Foley mix for the "flesh being cut through with a serrated blade" sound really is, Clint has sawed the guy's foot off. What makes this scene worth noting is the melancholy way the victim just sorta groans through the whole dissection as if he were getting a foot massage from Clint's chromedomed lunatic rather than having a limb fully severed. With the poignant philosophical forehead of Hamlet and Yorick, Clint totes the shoe and attached ankle around a bit before finally setting it on the counter and wandering off again.

Clint heads into his bathroom and puts on some eyeliner and lipstick. God bless him. You can almost hear Preben's breath sucked deep and thorough into his lungs as he just sits back and watches his little film take on a whole new dimension of worth. Suffice to say, what happens after this sequence isn't worth mentioning in the grand scheme of the picture--as a matter of fact, if there is a grand finale' to it all, then this is most certainly it.

Don't pester us with your preconceived conceptions and claptrap about what beauty should be!

Someone with a copy of the script breaks the spell and reminds the crew that they've still got a page left. And so we go back to our stalwart brigand, who hasn't moved since we last saw her. Apparently just realizing that she's sharing floorspace with a homicidal maniac, Shawna sneaks back towards the basement as best she can, forgetting the cardinal motivation behind her role: be clumsy. Trip a lot. Grab stuff and put it down. Naturally, she trods on a creaky step in the descending flight and gets snagged while climbing back through the window and to sweet, ironic freedom.

Of course, Preben knows that you can't end the film without a patented Clint Howard curtain call. In the epic sense of Coppola, Lucas and Tony Anthony, Lunding opts for the full-circle approach in bringing closure to his baby, as our savior mulls over the contents of his fridge.

Yes, boys and girls. That is the cinematic equivilent of finding a hook on your door handle after dropping your nervous skank of a girlfriend off at her house. Clint does have a final delivery damning the fact that there's "Never anything to eat in here", and then we make the blessed and random fade to black.

And that's it. Done deal, credits roll and the music gets louder and more annoying, if such a thing were possible.

This flick wouldn't be terrible if Elixa and her family had thrown it together with their Super 8 and played it on Thanksgiving for grandma and grandpa, but as a production that wants to come off as slick and coherant, it's severely lacking. The looping is horrible, sacrificing even the best of Clint's one-liners to background noise behind the redundant pounding of the soundtrack. Shawna has a nice butt, but no real concept of scene blocking. Preben'll be just fine when he serves up some humble pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and throws together a few student films that are actually presented as such. Every guy with some funding and a vision wants to be the Hollywood harlot with their first swing at the plate, but you've gotta save the pretentious panning and excessive editing methods for when you're rich enough to justify it.

And Clint saves the day. A film that would have been on a yard sale table with any other actor tossed thoughtlessly into the role, made eminently watchable by a master of his arena. Your modern gladiator of bargain-basement entertainment and guilty cinematic pleasures and mine alike.

So, just how good is Clint Howard?

Your answer, kids. Real damn good.


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