Okay, I’m going to get this off my chest. I’m a Lou Diamond Phillips fan. There, I said it. I thought he was great in “La Bamba”, loved him in “Young Guns”. I was a bit excited to hear he was coming back for “Stargate Universe” until I found out his character was a tool and I even watched an episode of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” to see how he fared with the other D-List celebs. The idea of Lou fighting off circus freaks in the recent “Maneater Series” was a pretty exciting one until I found out that’s not exactly what he was going to be doing. I still managed to sit down and watch it and suprisingly enough, I didn’t hate myself by the time it was over!
The setup is simple. Lou Diamond Phillips is the sherriff of a small town. It’s a quiet place where everyone knows each other and what each other are doing. When the circus comes to town with its promises of the most amazing freak show ever, it sends this tiny country community into a tizzy. Like most carnivals are sterotyped, this one is lead by an underhanded crook who cares about nothing but the quick buck. When he finds his chance to lay his hands on the legendary Jersey Devil, he of course jumps at the chance to reap the benefits of its ownership and to find a buyer for the end of the summer. Unfortunatley for everybody, the Jersey Devil isn’t too keen on being caged up and soon breaks free. It’s up to Lou and the evil carny folk to try and take down the beast of lore.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a pretty bad plot; I won’t argue with you. It’s straight up basic with little to no frills. The presentation matches this in that we see the setups for many different sub plots and character archs that never come to fruition. Things are teased like a budding romance between Lou and the carnivals loverly fortune teller or the mysterious man that the Head Carny wants to sell the Jersey Devil to. We just never see how these things play out.
Even in the movies main feature, the Jersey Devil, we saw far too little. As the old rules state, it’s best to build fear in a monster movie by showing the creature as little as possible. These Syfy Channel stinkers aren’t your typical monster movie fare though. These are all about the spectacle with a very thin plot. In these cases you need to see your monster, to see the antics it gets into and the mayhem it causes. Throughout “Carny”, we see a number of people get knocked off by the brute, but we do not see the brute knocking them off. You see many cases of a person being shaken around by something that is just off screen. This serves to only be frustrating because since it is about the spectacle, you’re not watching to see a deep story unfold. You’re watching to see carnage. When it’s not there? It’s not so fun.
Despite these facts, “Carny” somehow manages to be a watchable film. While thin, the plot is straight forward and to the point. Carnival moves in, they steal a monster, they sell tickets to see said monster, monster breaks free, people die, the town fights back. Nothing to it. Yes, the hinted at sub plots can be annoying, but if you can look past them, the story doesn’t get bogged down in useless depth. Sometimes you want a basic and simple monster movie, shut off your brain and enjoy a rollicking good time. “Carny” doesn’t fit this description fully, there are problems. It comes closer than any other Syfy Original or Maneater Series movie that I’ve watched in a long time though.
Even the acting in “Carny” is above par for this sort of movie. Now, we’ve already stated the facts; me, Lou Diamond, we’re tight. Still, he comes across as believable and likeable all at once. Sure he’s stereotypical in his small town law enforcement role, but again, it’s a simple movie. The other actors placed around him do all right as well. Alan Peterson as the carnivals eveil ring leader is believable, even though he leaves you feeling a bit winded in the end. He’s a bit big and carnies don’t live the healthiest of lifestyles but holy cow man, take a break for a second and take a good deep breath or two. Your huffing and puffing wears me out. Even Simone-Elise Girard, as forgettable as her character is as the circus seer does all right. None of them come across as too hammy or forced which seems to be the running standard in these types of films.
“Carny” isn’t a revolutionary film. In fact, it’s a pretty bad film over all. It’s watchable though and can give you some basic entertainment for an hour and a half. If you’re a fan of Lou, (surely I’m not the only one) he does all right here. There’s worst ways to spend a lazy Sunday, that’s for sure and it really is a step above the rest as far as SyFy Orignals go.