You can't blame Ryuhei Kitamura of being a slouch. After being launched from a fanboy rocket for his audacious zombie/samurai/yakuza actioneer Versus in 2000, he has made eight features, one short film for the omnibus film Jam, and two TV episodes. However, I think there is enough evidence to blame Kitamura for occasionally falling short of the mark. In retrospect, Versus maybe wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but the communal swell of enthusiasm for this low-budget raw film was undeniably contagious to those of us interested in such things. I was even pleasantly entertained by the polished and lighthearted Azumi. But, nothing, I repeat, nothing can redeem him from the atrocity that was Godzilla: Final Wars: a film and concept (the death of Godzilla) that had so much potential was completely sold down the river for nothing more than cheeky spectacle.
Kitamura has always had aspirations to do Hollywood films and saw it as an eventual goal. So when Lionsgate, smitten with the bloody cash Saw, The Grudge, and Hostel turned out for them, signed on Kitamura to direct a film based on a short story, "The Midnight Meat Train," by none other than Clive Barker, this seemed to be his ticket. Not so fast. Working in the mysterious marketing ways the movie business does, Lionsgate changed gears, Peter Block, president of acquisitions, was shown the door, and all of Block's projects (which included The Midnight Meat Train) were cast to the dogs. In this case, they had an obligation to open the film on 100 screens. And that it did. Very quietly with no press. In the Twin Cities, it opened at our favorite Bollywood budget theater, Brookdale 8.
Although The Midnight Meat Train is not good, it's not all bad. As a matter of fact, I think Kitamira has turned in a decent genre film. If you don't go in looking for a love story, you will probably be pleasantly surprised. It is tasteless in all the right places with floors syrupy slick with blood and women slipping on eyeballs and a killer using what might be the largest meat tenderizer ever. However, it is well made production with sets that reminded me of a Kienholz installation and a character that looks like he just stepped out of Madmen in that dapper military kind of way. The film employs great shots of shallow focus where everything flattens out and things on the same plain have a wierd fuzzy/sharp thing going on (ala poster.) You can watch the trailer and get the gist of the plot without me reiterating it, but I will say there is enough fantastical mystery to keep you engaged. The cast does their part effectively with a cold Vinny Jones as a convincing psychopath and a surprising Brooke Shields as an art dealer. Everyone else including Bradley Cooper (who I just can't disassociate from Alias) falls predictably where they should.
In the end, I feel a little bad for Kitamura who definitely got screwed on this deal. Kitamura no doubt saw the writing on the wall about a month ago when he announced that he is working on an American version of Versus, piercing the heart of every Versus fan out there. The Midnight Meat Train is in its second week at Brookdale, and given decent crowd at the showing I was at, it may endure a third week. For horror fans, it is well worth your 3 bucks.