'Mother's Day' wastes a chilling performance by Rebecca De Mornay

Updated 5/3/2012 12:01 PM
  • Rebecca De Mornay plays a perfectly pitched psycho mom in "Mother's Day."

    Rebecca De Mornay plays a perfectly pitched psycho mom in "Mother's Day."

  • Schaumburg filmmaker Julia Gralczyk's short film "Prove Doubters Wrong" won Best in Show at the 6th annual Screen Test Student Fest in Schaumburg.

    Schaumburg filmmaker Julia Gralczyk's short film "Prove Doubters Wrong" won Best in Show at the 6th annual Screen Test Student Fest in Schaumburg.

Reel Life review: "Mother's Day"

Very little of Charles Kaufman's 1980 unrated horror opus "Mother's Day" survives in this remake from "Saw" veteran Darren Lynn Bousman.

The original tale centered around a sociopathic family inspired by "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Bousman's is more like the home invasion thriller "The Desperate Hours" with added sadism, gore and torment.

If Rebecca De Mornay's psycho caregiver had survived "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and become a mom, she would be the psycho matriarch she plays in Bousman's "Mother's Day."

De Mornay's chilling, perfectly pitched performance is the movie's raison d'être. De Mornay's Mother seems to be clear, logical and normal one moment. The next, she goes Mrs. Bates on everyone, dictating odd rules and holding everyone accountable for them.

When Mother's three grown sons botch a bank job, they return to their old house, not realizing that it's been foreclosed since last time they actually visited Mom.

The brothers, led by Ike (Patrick Flueger), take the new homeowners and their party guests hostage while brother Johnny (Matt O'Leary) lies dying of a gunshot wound on the couch.

What follows could have been a gripping drama examining just how strong the humanitarian convictions are among these friends as the invaders -- joined by Mother dearest -- ratchet up the tension and danger by pitting the hostages against each other.

Bousman is content with "Mother's Day" being an exploitative thriller afraid to go beyond the safe confines of an R rating, where clearly he wants to go. (Wait for the DVD release.)

But let's give his movie credit. It's the first film to show the real downside of purchasing a foreclosure in today's volatile market.

"Mother's Day" opens at the River East 21 in Chicago. Rated R for extreme violence and gore. 112 minutes. ★ ½

Reel Life review: "A Little Bit of Heaven"

Here's a morally skewed movie that rightfully should offend anyone afflicted with cancer, anyone who loves anyone afflicted with cancer, anyone who loves movies and anyone who believes in a religious afterlife.

Nicole Kassel's "A Little Bit of Heaven" hails from the school of unethical relationships portrayed as daring, edgy romance. (You know: teachers who fall for their students, bodyguards who fall for their clients, shrinks who fall for their patients, et.al.)

Kate Hudson brings her increasingly tiresome quirks to Marley Corbett, a successful single businesswoman who uses humor to keep away men because she's afraid to get close enough to be hurt by them. (We know this because everyone in the movie tells her, and she says it herself.)

When Marley discovers she has inoperable colon cancer, she and her best pal (Lucy Punch) hop in a car and sing along with the radio, because that's what women do when facing a life-threatening disease, isn't it?

Marley eventually has sex (while keeping her underwear on) with hot Dr. Goldstein (Gael Garcia Bernal), who doesn't listen to warnings from his boss that he shouldn't be playing doctor with his cancer patients.

Nothing in "Little Bit of Heaven" resonates with truth, compassion, insight or sincerity. Everything -- death, afterlife, romance, God -- serves as a cheap gimmick to suck us into caring for shallow, vacuous characters unable to create a single spark of chemistry.

"I've never met anyone who talks so much," the doctor tells his girlfriend Marley, "and says nothing at the same time!"

The movie's futile attempt to inject spirituality into the story occurs when Marley dreams she's in the clouds with God, who turns out to be Whoopi Goldberg.

Whoopi grants Marley three wishes. (I'm NOT making this up.) When two wishes actually become reality through convoluted "Monkey's Paw" contrivances, Marley realizes she hasn't made her third wish. (Maybe not to die of colon cancer? Just a thought.)

"A Little Bit of Heaven" isn't just the film's title. It's the nickname of a male prostitute played by Peter Dinklage, who offers his services to Marley with guaranteed satisfaction.

That's more than anyone else will derive from Kassel's offensively inane romantic tragedy, one with an ending so artificially upbeat that it's almost funny.

"A Little Bit of Heaven" opens at the River East 21 in Chicago. Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexual situations and language. 108 minutes. One-half star.

Congrats, Test's best!

Reel Life kudos to winners in the 6th Screen Test Student Fest at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg last weekend.

• Schaumburg filmmaker Julia Gralczyk's short "Prove Doubters Wrong" won Best in Show and Production Values plaudits.

• A Best in Show award went to "Elementary Musical" from fifth-graders at Dryden Elementary School in Arlington Heights.

• Greg Sobie of Schaumburg won Second Place for"Awry," foretelling the consequence of pouring milk in the bowl before cereal.

• Paige Velez of Naperville won Third Place for "Endless Days," a plaintive ode to a lost love. It also won the Audience Award.

• Chicagoans Krystal Y. Rivera, Dary Martinez and Jessica Artis won Best Achievement in Writing for "Rock, Paper, Scissors," a comic morality play on the stresses of adolescence.

It's epic, man

Join me and film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents "The Great Epics" with clips from "Gone With the Wind," "The Right Stuff," "How the West Was Won," "Ben-Hur"and 11 others. Free admission! 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Ave. Arlington Heights. (847) 392-0100 or ahml.info.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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