Idle Hands (1999)

Films that try to balance horror and comedy can often fail by not finding the right balance, focusing too much of their time on one aspect or the other. Idle Hands doesn’t have to worry about this problem, as neither genre has anything going for it. There are very few attempted scares, none of which actually have the desired effect. If comedy was attempted, it didn’t work. Even Seth Green, a funny person, couldn’t make me grin. Idle Hands falls flat on almost every conceivable level.

The film begins with the murder of a couple of parents. That’s always a good way to start, because it means that the slacker kid, in this case a guy named Anton (Devon Sawa) can get away with whatever he wants. No parents, no rules, right? After their death, which happens under a bed, the next bit of the film just has Anton sitting around, getting high. He has two friends, Mick (Green) and Pnub (Elden Henson), who also prefer to spend their time this way. Before you know it, they wind up dead, as it turns out Anton is the killer. Well, Anton’s hand.

Yes, Satan has possessed Anton’s hand, giving it a mind of its own. It is, unfortunately, still attached to his body (for now), so Anton still ha some power over it, although it somehow did manage to kill the slacker’s parents. Now it wants to kill everyone else, including the hottie who lives across the street, Molly (Jessica Alba). Obviously that won’t do, so Anton and his living dead friends decide to do whatever it takes to stop the hand from doing what it wants to do: kill people.

I’ll give you a sense of the attempts at humor that the film makes. When Anton asks his friends how they’re still walking around after he stabbed a bottle into the forehead of one and sliced the other’s head off the body, the reply is “We saw the light, but it was too long a walk.” Perhaps it’s delivered even less articulately than that; I honestly can’t remember. Not a single line of dialogue from this film sticks with you after it’s over. Comedies can sometimes be memorable because of just a joke or two being absolutely hilarious. Idle Hands doesn’t even have one.

There’s a subplot involving a woman played by Vivicia A. Fox, whose entire life is apparently dedicated to tracking down the possessed hand. We learn that it can jump around from person to person, picking people who don’t use their hand for enough activities. She’s like a bounty hunter, I guess, although she only has one target and is determined not to capture it, but to ensure that it is dead. You stab it with a special knife, you see, and that somehow stops Satan from possessing another hand.

It doesn’t have to all make sense, but considering that the entire purpose of this subplot is to try to explain the back story — and add an artificial time limit which has no impact on anything — it would have been nice if it did add up. As it is, it’s a subplot that could have been trimmed and the only thing we’d miss would be learning that, yes, Satan is behind it, and, yes, he can be stopped. You don’t necessarily need it to be a knife. How about you just kill the hand and see where it goes from there? If it doesn’t work, you have sequel material.

It’s overly convoluted yet too simplistic. You can summarize its entire plot in a sentence, yet the film takes 90 minutes to explain itself. It doesn’t try to scare you with anything more than a couple of “startling” jump scares, all of which are telegraphed so loudly that the film’s score practically yells to you that it’s about to have something pop up from out of nowhere. Improvisation can be funny, but it isn’t here.

One of the main things that Anton likes to do is get high with marijuana smoked out of his asthma inhaler. I can’t say one way or another, but if the people behind the film were high when making it, or at least writing it, that would explain so much. The director is Rodman Flender, the man behind Leprechaun 2, so it’s not like this is out of the realm of possibility here. All of the actors seem to be having a bit too much fun given how lives are in danger, so maybe I’m not just making things up for the sake of extending this review. Maybe…

Speaking of the actors, almost all of the performances are simply too nice given the grave situation the characters find themselves in. Everyone’s too cheerful, too happy, to make it believable that they even care that the entire world, potentially, is at risk. Even the ones who aren’t perpetually stoned act this way. Maybe it’s a simple lack of talent, or perhaps they were directed this way to be funny, but none of it works. The best actors are the guys from The Offspring, who play at the school’s dance for a couple of scenes.

Idle Hands is a complete disaster that might be funny or even possibly scary if you’re really high, but barring that, it features nothing that could even ironically be described as “competent.” Bad writing, bad direction, bad acting — even the effects for the evil hand are pretty bad! Nobody on this project seemed to care about it, and that’s exactly what you should do as well. Forget that Idle Hands exists and go do something more useful with your time.

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