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Idle Hands (1999)

Review

Author
Date
12-14-2007
Comments

It's like a cruel, twisted Reese's commercial. "You got your stoner comedy in my monster horror!" "You got your monster horror in my stoner comedy!" While these two concepts aren't totally incompatible, the 1999 film Idle Hands doesn't gel them into something as easily consumed by the public as chocolate peanut butter cups.
 
The plot is based around a literal use of the phrase "Idle hands are the devil's playthings". Anton Tobias (Devon Sawa) is your typical slacker in high school. He skips class and does little but get stoned and watch television. Since Anton doesn't seem to be using his hands for any sort of gainful activities, the devil gets to possess his hand and begins to kill people around town while Anton sleeps. However, when Anton discovers that his parents have been killed by his evil hand, said hand decides to start killing while he's awake. Anton then has to try and save himself, his friends (including two he accidentally kills who return as zombies), and his sexy love interest (Jessica Alba).
 
Idle Hands owes a lot to Evil Dead 2. While there are plenty of films that feature the evil killing hand, it's the slapstick qualities of this evil hand that seem torn right out of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's playbook. Add in the severed head antics of Anton's zombified friend Pnub, which loosely parallel those of deadite Linda in the other film, and its more than obvious that there was some definite influence. This, however, isn't a bad thing. If you're going to steal, steal from the best.

The slapstick in Idle Hands is hilarious, from the ridiculous beheading of Pnub to the even more over-the-top scene where the now-severed hand plunges its fingers into an electric pencil sharpener to make itself even more deadly. However, this slapstick is not for the faint of heart, either. The biggest problem is that it can get over-indulgent in the gore. Tops of heads are ripped off for a punchline and girls get improbably mulched by fan blades; it takes a strong stomach to laugh through such things.
 
While the horror sometimes overpowers the humor, the opposite situation also becomes a problem as well. It's hard to take the threat of an evil, severed hand with razor sharp fingers (courtesy of the pencil sharpener) seriously. In fact, when the climax of the film involves a hand puppet, the ripping of Jessica Alba's clothes for the sole reason of exposing her midriff, and the triumph of pot over evil, you can't really take any of the jeopardy seriously. If the film played itself solely as a comedy, we could look past this, but the numerous attempts at scares and dramatic tension just don’t add up to a simple comedy. The tone and mood of the movie are just unbalanced in both directions.

The cast turns in some mostly solid performances, but what’s really interesting is the smattering of various stars (or in many cases, soon-to-be stars). A mid-"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" run Seth Green is hilarious as Mick, one of Anton's best friend-turned-zombies who delivers his lines with a bottle jutting out of his head. A pre-"Dark Angel" Jessica Alba does a decent job as the mouthy and sultry love interest Molly, and Vivica A. Fox's turn as a sexy demon hunter seems as if it would be at home guest-appearing on an episode of The CW's "Supernatural". Throw in Fred Willard, Kyle Gass, Connie Ray, and a pre-"Dancing With the Stars" Kelly Monaco, and it's a great ensemble as a whole. The cherry on the top is Christopher Hart, who performed as 'Thing' in the Addams Family movies, portraying Anton's evil hand.

Now, the whole package may be a mixed bag, but it's a lovable mixed bag. If you have a strong stomach for silly gore and the ability to laugh at really dumb jokes, it's a fun movie. If you can't, well, Idle Hands just isn't for you.

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