Turds of a Feather
People once believed that when a career dies, a Crow sequel carries the fragments of a once-promising future to the netherworld of direct-to-DVD bargain bins. But sometimes--just sometimes--an actor is so awkwardly cast that he creates a must-see cautionary tale of epic proportions.
--Ancient Klingon Proverb
In 2000, I attended an advanced screening of the second Crow sequel, Salvation. The place hummed with anticipation for a return to form after the disappointing City of Angels. James O'Barr, who created the graphic novel on which the iconic series is based, introduced the film and talked about--as I recall--how proud he was to be involved. The actor who played the undead superhero, Eric Mabius, was also in attendance and sat two rows behind me.
A half hour into the movie, hope turned to hissing. By the end, the auditorium had become a cat-calling, comment-spewing episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and rightfully so. Salvation is a poorly conceived, no-budget film from which female lead Kirsten Dunst is lucky to have escaped (I guess she needed to eat between Bring it On and Spider-Man). After the show, I caught a glimpse of Mabius coming down the stairs with a look of disappointment, defeat, and embarrassment. An attendee put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Don't worry, man. It wasn't your fault."
The guy was right. It wasn't his fault, but somebody was sure as hell to blame; and that somebody didn't learn their lesson. There is only one decent Crow movie, the original, and all other attempts--including the short-lived TV series, Stairway to Heaven--have only underscored that fact.
Case in point: The Crow: Wicked Prayer. Truly one of the worst movies ever made, it ambles along like a culturally confused movie-of-the-week aimed at keeping Goth kids in school (lest they turn out to be fry cooks or the kind of desperate loser who has to appear in films like this to survive). Wicked Prayer is so bad that my Netflix stream broke down last night with ten minutes to go, the black "Connection Severed" screen both pleading with and scolding me to cut my losses.
The best way to describe Wicked Prayer's plot is to tell you which "one" the movie is. When talking about generic movies--usually slasher films--casual fans often use the shorthand of an entry's plot points instead of trying to remember the actual title or numeric place in the series (for example, Sleepaway Camp 2 is "the one where the girl gets drowned in a leech-filled outhouse"). It's also a way of saying that stories and character arcs don't matter--because they're nonexistent. In the case of The Crow, a young couple is murdered by a gang of freakish criminals; the guy is so distraught over his girlfriend's death that he comes back from the dead with superpowers to exact bloody vengeance--accompanied by an all-seeing, abilities-granting bird and an alt-rock soundtrack.
Wicked Prayer is the one that takes place on an Indian reservation that's populated almost completely by Mexicans. It's the one where Edward Furlong plays an ex-con who loves a girl from the other side of the tracks. It's the one where the villains are Satanists led by a mid-career David Boreanaz (post-Angel, pre-Bones) and comprised of "Hey-I-Know-That-Guy/Girl" actors looking for a second (or third or ninth) chance to make it big. It's the one where Danny Trejo's bouncy man-tits bring the titular bird back to life during the climax.
It's also the one that's a beat-for-beat remake of the series' previous entries. I haven't read Norman Partridge's novel, which was adapted by director Lance Mungia and co-writers Jeff Most and Sean Hood, but I imagine it's a copy-paste job with some easy Native American references thrown in for flavor. There isn't a single innovation in story, costuming, or deaths (which, let's face it, is the only reason people come to these movies anymore).
After Furlong (playing essentially a slouchy Michael J. Fox impersonator with wicked bed-head named Jimmy Cuervo) is resurrected, he sets out to kill the people who killed him and his bride-to-be (see The Crow). Boreanaz's Luc Crash tours the reservation collecting souls so that Satan himself will take over his body (see City of Angels; substitute Voodoo for Satanism). Jimmy must take down Crash while avoiding local law enforcement, who see him only as a no-good, convicted criminal (see Salvation). From Furlong's "death-made-me-caraaaazy" antics to the villain getting impaled in the last act and all the poetry-and-badass-lines-from-literature-quoting in between, Wicked Prayer is a self-loathing parody that's too lame to be funny and too stupid to exist.
So why does it exist? I have no proof, of course, but I'd be willing to bet that Lance Mungia is the agent for all of the principal cast. I imagine he got fed up with the "why-am-I-not-working" phone calls one day and decided to make a quick, cheap piece of teenybopper exploitation. Why the fuck else would anyone cast Edward Furlong as The Crow? Yes, he wears black well, but in the white makeup and black-teardrop war paint, he looks less like the tragic embodiment of vengeance and more like Robert Smith on a Ramen diet. He alternates between shuffling and mumbling to explosions of wide-eyed, spitting INTENSITY that are really, really funny.
Boreanaz begins the movie by sleepwalking through a variation on his Angel character, but after Dennis Hopper shows up as a hip-hop-speaking local gangster, the actor lets loose with what can only be described as a happy-drunk, script-free performance. I'm pretty sure I blushed through the last fifteen minutes of this movie, so great were my conflicting emotions of sympathy and disdain for everyone involved.
Perhaps there's a big conspiracy in Hollywood to preserve Brandon Lee's legacy. He brought charisma, humor and sadness to the original film and helped make it a flawed but significant modern masterpiece (Michael Wincott's contribution to its success shouldn't be overlooked, either; his layered performance as head-villain Top Dollar was as compelling--if not more--than Lee's). I wonder if the idea is to keep pumping out worse and worse sequels so that anyone who might want to actually give the series a quality stab would be scared away by the franchise's poisoned past.
If that's the case, then I applaud Mungia and his fellow hacks in going above and beyond in their duties. But I suspect it's just a case of money-hungry suits and half-interested, not-so-talented hangers-on raping the corpse of a fine legacy. Which raises the question, "Who will be the crow for The Crow?"