Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh (2020)

When I traveled to California for the first time last year, I was low-key worried that I might be inducted into a cult during my brief visit and be trapped there forever. I was already on the mailing list of a California-based U.F.O. cult at the time, and most of the cults I’ve become familiar with while researching movies over the past few years have originated in the state: The Church of Satan, Scientology, The Buddhafield, etc. There’s just something about the California temperament and its invitation for transplants to remake & remarket themselves in the state’s robust pop culture industry that makes its citizens uniquely susceptible to cult-leader predation.

Given how abusive most of those cult leaders become with enough time & unchecked power, that topic is a questionable foundation for a kooky, twee comedy. Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh is about a young couple of Middle America transplants who move to Los Angeles in an effort to reinvent themselves, only to immediately become involved in the treacherous, routine bloodshed of a suicide cult. It’s a lot cuter than it sounds, considering the real-life abuses that it parodies, but it might ultimately be too cute to resonate with any significance at all. Seven Stages is an overwhelmingly harmless, breezy movie about ritualistic suicide – which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it were funny enough to distract from that tonal discrepancy.

Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington costar as recent L.A. transplants who are horrified to discover that their new apartment is only cheap because it’s the preferred “worshiping” grounds of a suicide cult. Taika Waititi plays the cult leader—the titular Holy Storsh—which is excellent casting considering his magnetic charisma as a real-life Personality. Thanks to Storsh’s teachings, intruders repeatedly break into the newly arrived couple’s shithole apartment for the privelege to commit suicide in their bathtub – a ritual aimed to achieve the bliss of “instantaneous eternity.”

This seems like an extreme practice at first, but the more the couple digs into Storsh’s vague self-help mumbo jumbo the more they warm up to their uninvited, self-harming visitors. They gradually transform their apartment into a Luxury Assisted-Suicide B&B to accommodate the ritual, then inevitably become indoctrinated into the cult as active participants themselves. It’s a tale as old as California, although in real life it tends to end in devastated & befuddled relatives back home rather than light chuckles & a wasted afternoon. I don’t know that I expected the movie to operate with the same Traumatizing Apartment Cult intensity as Rosemary’s Baby or anything, but it certainly could have benefited from taking the violence that drives its light-hearted jokes more seriously, at least so that there would be some tension for the punchlines to relieve.

There’s a sitcom-style repetition to the visits from the guest-start suicide cultists as they take turns breaking into the apartment, which allows the movie to pack in a ton of familiar, always-welcome faces who’d please any comedy nerd with an affinity for the L.A. scene: Maria Bamford, Mark McKinney, Brian Posehn, Dan Harmon, etc. These tangential guest-star spotlights don’t register with any staying power outside their momentary gags, though, so all that really matters is the unraveling of the central couple who rent the doomed apartment.

Some signs of the couple’s mental unraveling are absolutely inspired, especially the loopy improv-style backstory of why they had to leave Ohio and the gradual escalation of their birdhouse-building home business that transforms the apartment itself into a Lynchian otherworld. Mostly, though, the only memorable details from the picture are Micucci’s natural adorability and the catchy bathtub-themed suicide jingle Taika Waititi’s enigmatic cult leader sings over the opening credits.

The rest of the movie just gently flows down the drain as a pleasant-but-forgettable amusement – decent enough for lazy-afternoon viewing, but not worth going out of your way for despite the impressive cast list on the poster. Given the ultraviolent premise’s connection to real-life California cult culture and the talent involved, I think it’s reasonable to expect more than that.

-Brandon Ledet

Show Dogs (2018)

Show Dogs is the most bizarrely problematic talking animal film I’ve seen in theaters since the Kevin Spacey talking cat pic Nine Lives two summers ago. It’s so problematic, in fact, that its own studio has since censored scenes of the film deemed dangerous for children’s well-being, something I learned was going to happen a mere hour after I left the cinema. Dangerous, censored, transgressive art is far from the first descriptor that leaps to mind when you set expectations for a children’s movie starting Ludacris as a rapping Rottweiler, but the original unedited version of Show Dogs is now effectively a renegade, outlawed production officially deemed morally unfit for public consumption. Its uncensored form, which screened in theaters nationwide only for the span of a week, has been orphaned as a lost art scene moment, a cinematic event. Banishing its real-world evil back into the pits of Hell was a necessary action Global Road Entertainment should be proud of taking, as the message its deleted footage was sending kids was genuinely risking their safety. Its deletion is also beneficial to adults looking to the ill-advised production for a stray whiff of absurdism, raising the film’s value from sub-Air Bud atrocity to a The Day the Clown Cried type Holy Grail. Show Dogs is now one of the premier cinematic events of 2018, if not only for what footage it’s lost.

The rapping Rottweiler voiced by Ludacris is an undercover cop from a confusing universe where animals can talk, but humans don’t understand them. Their flapping CGI mouths form full sentences and they hold real jobs in offices and everything, but humans just hear barks & meows and so on. At one point a dog even complains, “Why can’t people understand what dogs say?” I don’t know; you tell us. It’s your confusing universe. Anyway, the toughest cop on the force is assigned to go undercover as a show dog (Hey, that’s the name of the show) in a heist plot to rescue a stolen, abused baby panda from underground dealers of rare & exotic animals. Keeping with the tropes of every buddy cop movie ever, he’s teamed up with another hard-ass hothead (Will Arnett in full TMNT mode), a human partner who must learn to collaborate with the canine cop & trust his instincts. The reluctant partners build a heist team meant to prepare the undercover pup for passing as a primped & groomed show dog, most notably including Natasha Lyonne as a pet stylist (with an incredible sense of style of her own; she looks fantastic here) & Stanley Tucci as a former Best in Show champion chihuahua with a snotty French sensibility. The team pull through to save the day, never discovered as frauds, and return the stolen baby panda back to its family (in captivity, weirdly). They even learn a few life lessons (and scar a few thousand children who caught the film early enough in its run) along the way.

The thread that has been removed from Show Dogs is one about grooming, but not the kind you might expect given the film’s setting. One of the cop-dog’s biggest hurdles in remaining undercover as a show dog is the Judge’s Inspection segment of the competition, in which dog show panelists must physically handle the dogs’ genitals. A street-tough police dog, Ludacris’s canine lead Max struggles to endure this indignity without instinctively turning around to bite the person invading his privacy. He’s coached out of this instinct by Arnett & Tucci, who train him to “go to his happy place,” mentally dissociating while his “private parts” are being handled without his consent. The climactic triumph of the film is a sequence in which he mentally transports to a psychedelic Eden where Arnett & Lyonne tell him he’s a good boy and reenact the climax of Dirty Dancing with him against a background of kaleidoscopic fireworks . . . all while his genitals are being inspected by a stranger. Can you see why this might be a dangerous life lesson to teach impressionable children? It wasn’t lost on the concerned parents of the mommy blogosphere. One (rightfully) alarmist piece written by Terina Maldonado of East Mesa Macaroni Kid gained enough traction to have Global Road Entertainment pull the footage from the film. The “happy place” tactic is explained in that piece to be a very real method that real-life child molesters use to “groom” their young victims into unquestioning compliance, a factoid I can’t believe I typed without vomiting. Maldonado’s account of Show Dogs is extremely (and understandably) fixated on this aspect of the film’s plot, making me assume it was going to be a consistent throughline throughout the film. Instead, it is (or was) contained to a single training montage & a climactic exchange with the dog show judge. At first, the limited amount of “private parts inspection” footage made me question just how potentially impactful the film’s grooming message really was. When the judge’s inspection is met with a dead-silent horror atmosphere where the soundtrack is overwhelmed by the dog’s pounding heartbeat, however, there’s nothing you can qualify the exchange as but a rape scene. In a kids’ movie. About talking animals. Evil, but also incredible that it ever screened at all.

The dark truth about Show Dogs is that even with the genital molestation/”happy place” narrative thread removed, the film is still deeply flawed on a moral level. At its heart, this is a film about toxic masculinity (You thought it was about adorable talking animals? Fool!), but it’s also a perpetuator of toxic masculinity. Max is “a street dog with a temper” that has to learn life lessons like “Maybe it’s not the worst idea to get some help,” which is a much more adorable sentiment to convey to kids than the one that’s been censored into oblivion. What’s uncomfortable about his gradual change of heart is the way this “alpha” dog (speaking of canine terms that have evil cultural contexts elsewhere) is characterized in opposition to the implied frivolity & vanity of the show dog world, something more femme than his masc sensibilities can handle without embarrassment. It’s weird enough that other dogs allude to the size of Max’s dick, that a lady-pigeon (voiced by Kate Micucci) fawns over his gruff masculinity in lines like “He can flip this bird any day,” and that he’s taught humility in a scene where Arnette & Lyonne wax his anus (again, without consent). What’s really fucked is where he & Arnett finally bond when the owner chooses to not force him to breed against his will with an over-the-top flamboyant pup voiced by RuPaul. Now, in-film, RuPaul’s character is gendered as a female dog, but the gag plays as bizarrely homophobic anyway, as his over-the-top vocal performance (which includes a number of Drag Race catchphrases) disgusts Max in a way that reads distinctly as gay panic humor. Like with all of Show Dog’s sins against good taste & morality, its homophobia & toxic masculinity are bizarrely complex to the point of absurdity.

There are plenty of standard, cheap camp thrills to be found in Show Dogs’s minor joys as a 2010s, theatrically released talking-dog movie, a leftover relic from another time. I could try to sell this movie to you as an absurdist joy for watching Ludacris’s talking cop-dog perform impossible acrobatic maneuvers through cheap CGI or deliver hacky one-liners like “This is ludicrous!” or “I’m about to take a bite out of crime.” The truth is, though, that minor pleasures like Shaq voicing a Zen sheepdog named Doggy Lama or CGI dogs dabbing are just background noise for the film’s main draw: its propensity for real-world evil. Even with its “private parts inspection” narrative rightly removed, Show Dogs still has a genuinely menacing, toxic undertone that’s impressive in both its audacity & its cluelessness. Although its absurdist joys are minor, it’s a movie that must be seen to be believed (especially its original, intact “grooming” cut), as it’s tough to fathom how this many people, from the executives at Global Road down to the on-set catering crew, allowed it to happen. It’s more of a man-made disaster than a feature film in that way and all we can do as audiences is rubberneck at the wreckage. Don’t allow children to gaze at this atrocity, however; what they see could be scarring.

-Brandon Ledet

The Little Hours (2017)

To date, I’ve been a huge fan of all three of Jeff Baena’s features as a director. I was even an unwitting devotee going as far back as his first writer’s credit on the required taste absurdist comedy I Huckabees. Besides consistently collaborating with Aubrey Plaza, however, there’s no solid pattern to his output as an auteur. The zom-com Life After Beth & the bachelor party from Hell black comedy Joshy have a vaguely similar dedication to bleak humor in the midst of a romantic fallout, but don’t resemble each other in the slightest in terms of genre, plot, or tone. With his latest film, The Little Hours,  Baena even leaves his usual bleakness behind for an entirely different kind of dark comedy altogether. Profiling the sex & violence pranksterism of nuns running wild in a Middle Ages convent, The Little Hours finds Baena at his leanest, funniest, and most visually beautiful. Not only is his latest film an unbelievably tight 90 minutes of blasphemous, hedonistic hilarity; it’s also a gorgeous indulgence in the grimy, sunlit beauty of 1970s Satanic horror & nunsploitation cinema. I swear Baena improves with every picture.

Aubrey Plaza, Allison Brie, and Kate Micucci star as a trio of “tough & violent” nuns bored out of their minds in a 14th Century convent. As a period piece, the movie makes several subtly played points about how young women without proper dowries were dumped into these religious institutions when their families became irritated with their presence at home & how class determined their place in the convents once admitted. Mostly, though, the film is a nonstop bacchanal reminiscent of the second half of Ken Russell’s The Devils or a sex comedy version of The Witch. Their lives are mostly an endless routine of dutiful prayer/domestic chores being interrupted by devious experiments with getting drunk, making out, flirting with black magic, and beating a poor farmer with his own lousy turnips. Their juvenile acts of depravity & vandalism become more focused with the introduction of a deaf, mute hottie played by Dave Franco, but the movie is mostly an episodic catalog of wild, vulgar nuns’ misbehavior. This slight, but eccentric dynamic works exceptionally well thanks to the immense comedic talent of the three leads, who rarely get as much freedom to cause havoc as they do here.

Based on one isolated section of the 14th Century text The Decameron, The Little Hours more or less lives up to the diminutive modifier of its title. Brevity is healthy for a comedy, though, and although the film is obviously informed by improv experimentation, it’s sharply edited down to its most bare essentials in a way more modern comedies could stand to be. At a lean 90 minutes and armed with the idyllic Garden of Eden sunshine of a sexed-up European “art film” (softcore porno) of the hippy-dippy Satanic psychedelia era, The Little Hours might just be both the best traditional comedy and the best period piece I’ve seen all year. I especially appreciated the opportunity it affords Micucci, who is usually cast as a reserved nerd, to run absolutely feral among her more seasoned vets of chaos castmates. It’s also wonderful to see Baena let loose from his usual high-concept, emotionally dour black comedies to deliver something much more unashamedly fun & light on its feet. As always, I look forward to whatever unexpected project he’ll deliver next, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard or been as visually in awe of his work as I was with this release.

-Brandon Ledet

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

EPSON MFP image

fourstar

It’s tempting to say that you won’t get much out of stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia’s latest film, the improv comedy scene indie Don’t Think Twice, unless you’re the kind of comedy nerd who finds yourself regularly reading Splitsider, religiously awaiting the next episode of Comedy Bang Bang, and fostering a lifelong love-hate relationship with Saturday Night Live. I do believe that’s selling the film’s merits a bit short, though, especially since it’s more of a drama than an outright comedy. It just happens to be a drama that centers on characters immersed in that comedy world nerdom, a culture Birbiglia & his stacked cast of up & coming greats (Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, etc.) seem to know intimately well. Much like how the recent Jemaine Clement comedy People Places Things structured its story around a formal, art school lesson on comics & the graphic novel as artistic mediums, Don’t Think Twice offers a history lesson & a crash course instruction on the basic tenets of improv comedy theater. Underneath that specificity of setting, though, lies a heartfelt drama about a tight knit group of friends at an insurmountable impasse. Most of the film’s actual laughs come from a truly dark, black soul sense of humor that contrasts itself sharply with its more crowd-friendly improv sketches, which, like a lot of improv, aren’t really all that funny. It’s kind of a you-had-to-be-there artform. Birbiglia knows how to make that real world melancholy clash nicely with the stage show artificiality in a way that’s both emotionally revealing & intellectually engaging. Don’t Think Twice smartly plays into the strengths of small stakes filmmaking instead of the appeal of improvisational comedy, which is an elusive spirit that evades strict documentation.

Don’t Think Twice details the lives of the fictional improv troupe The Commune as they struggle to hold themselves together in the face of two modes of impending doom: imminent financial ruin & the jealousies that arise when one of their own gets called up to “the big leagues.” The same way their comradery shifts into seething anger when one member finds mainstream success, Don’t Think Twice morphs the comedy institution Saturday Night Live into a nasty fictional surrogate named Weekend Live, a weekly ritual The Commune & other comics treat like a sports event (if you’re the kind of sports fan who mostly like to get drunk & heckle). The film does a great job of contrasting the thrill of watching the live sketch comedy show in person vs. the lifeless bitterness of watching it broadcast at home, especially if you’re resentful that someone “made it” on the cast when you feel you deserved their spot. There’s a Party Down vibe at work here where writers & comedians are stuck in the rut of working menial service industry jobs while their peers find their paths to success seemingly with ease. The Commune and its individual members aren’t able to break this bitterness cycle until they realize that there’s more than one definition of success and that a place on Weekend Live, a very limited window of opportunity, is not necessarily the thing that would make each & every one of them happy. Watching these comics deal with personal & professional jealousy is only the beginning of the journey; the rest is nested in seeing them find their own place in a broad spectrum of comedy outlets, whether that means pursuing a new medium or it means staying put in the less-than-lucrative world of improv theater.

There’s an incredible, knowledgeable attention to detail in Don’t Think Twice’s portrayal of improv comedy, both in capturing the feel of Weekend Live’s obvious source of inspiration & in its depiction of backstage ritual, but what the film nails particularly well is the specificity of its comedy scene personalities. Much like the nasty Tim Heidecker vehicle The Comedy, the film depicts the darkness & discomfort of hanging around with comedians who turn everything into “a bit” instead of dealing with their own emotions in a direct, genuine way. The difference is that Don’t Think Twice’s characters are empathetic & human in a way that makes you want to root for their success, even when they’re mocking a friend’s dying father or, worse yet, “yes-and”ing during sex. In this world characters mask their malice & aggression with an unapologetic, after-the-fact cry of “It was a bit!” There’s a lot of deconstruction of craft at work here that captures how working on an impression can look a lot like madness or how improv survives on the strength of groupthink, but comedy is mostly used as  vehicle to mask pain in what’s most essentially a coming-of-middle-age drama about a once-close group of friends seemingly meeting their communal end. Don’t Think Twice is both cruelly truthful about how that dynamic can tear a group apart and hopeful about how it can pull a backs-to-the-wall community together to create exciting art. The film values genuine sincerity over “It was a bit!” sarcasm, but also recognizes why a wounded animal comedian would use that emotional distance as a protective shield. There’s a great empathy at work here for each of the film’s characters, no matter where they are spiritually or emotionally & no matter how much or how little empathy they have for each other at any given moment.

In the Apatow & McKay era of ensemble cast comedies the tendency has been to unravel the scripted work to a sprawling, improv-driven looseness. Don’t Think Twice reverse engineers that alchemy and turns an artform built on spontaneity into a tightly controlled narrative where recurring bits & motifs gain new meaning & significance each time they reappear. Mike Birbiglia accomplishes a lot here that speaks directly to my tastes: he delivers the year’s third unofficial SNL film (after Popstar & Ghosbusters); he provides space for yet another showcase of Gillian Jacobs’s immense wealth of dramatic talent;  he finds new modes of promoting the value of sincerity over arm’s length sarcastic engagement, etc. I don’t think you need to be plugged into any of those niche interests or the improv comedy scene at large to enjoy what Don’t Think Twice has to offer, though. Its charms as a small stakes drama hoisted by gallows humor & a uniquely talented cast should be near universal. And if you end up not liking the film at all, it still should be fun to heckle.

-Brandon Ledet

Scooby-Doo! & WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon (2016)

scooby-doo

three star

campstamp

I’ve gone on record as enjoying the first WWE/Scooby-Doo collaboration WrestleMania Mystery (the Flintstones collaboration Stone Age SmackDown was even better), but was a little skeptical that a sequel could find much more room to play around with the concept of a Scooby-Doo pro wrestling picture than what’s established in the original. The first film brings the gang to WrestleMania where they meet a bunch of famous “WWE Superstars” at the company’s biggest annual event & help solve the mystery of an improbable specter threatening to ruin the spectacle, in this case a bionic ghost bear (seriously). I expected a sequel would simply repeat the same exact scenario with a fresh batch of pro wrestlers & lazily call it a day, but Curse of the Speed Demon accomplished much more than that on the creative end. Recognizing that its larger-than-life cast of musclebound characters don’t necessarily have to live in a wrestling ring in their animated form, Curse of the Speed Demon picks an entirely new context for them to flex muscles & deliver promos in: off-road monster truck racing. The sequel to WWE’s original Scooby-Doo collaboration plays less like an animated pro wrestling picture & much more like a little kid’s imagination as they smash together Hot Wheels toys in a sandbox.

Instead of attending a second WrestleMania, Scooby & the Mystery Gang find themselves at Muscle Moto X, an impossible Vince McMahon startup that combines monster truck mayhem with dirt track speed racing. (Though, I guess if McMahon were to start a dirt track monster truck racing division of his brand, that name might not be far off, considering the long-gone XFL.) The film gets further & further away from realistic versions of what off-road pro wrestling monster truck races might look like (as unrealistically goofy as that starting point is on its own), eventually just says “Fuck it.” and indulges in some Mario Kart-type cartoon race tracks you’d find doodled in an eight year old’s dream journal. Much like the ghost bear of the last Scooby-Doo/WWE picture the proceedings here are mucked up by an otherworldly threat, in this case a literal speed demon known as Inferno, which may or may not be someone involved with the company trying to sabotage the success of Muscle Moto X. Although the wrestlers are not in their usual squared circle habitat, they’re more than willing to bodyslam & tussle with Inferno on the dirt track until the demon’s true identity can be revealed. WWE personas mix with Scooby-Doo’s harmless, trademarked stoner humor and, viola!, you have an enjoyably campy kids’ picture that captures the spirit of pro wrestling without all that pesky pro wrestling getting in the way.

Of course, as a pro wrestling fan, a lot of the fun of indulging in disposable trash like this is in seeing beloved WWE performers doing their thing in animated form. For the most part, the contributions are enjoyable, if not predictable here. Michael Cole & Seamus do their usual thing: inanely providing play-by-play & interspersing action with unprompted shouts of “Fella!” respectively. Paige bounces some of her mall goth sarcasm off the similarly difficult to read Lana & Rusev, which is an interesting dynamic that would likely never occur in a wrestling storyline. In-the-ring high-fliers Kofi Kingston & Los Matadores defy gravity in some really goofy cartoon logic. Vince, HHH, and Stephanie McMahon present a human face for the company & A-Lister The Miz constantly points to the absurdity of the whole ordeal in lines like “Another monster attack? Really?” & “Strangely enough, I’ve been mauled by a monster on a midnight jog before,” referring to events of the first film. It’s the more over the top characters who really steal the show, though. The Undertaker is especially game, gravely reading lines like “Rust in Peace” [to his deeply mourned, irrevocably smashed vehicle] or gleefully driving a souped-up, sandwich-shaped food truck & saving the day with a sausage link lasso. It actually makes sense that Taker would be in the center of this film’s story, given that the auto-performer Grave Digger is pretty much the monster truck version of the wrestler & I suspect that exact dynamic is what the film was initially built around. Taker fills the role well, bouncing off the Mystery Gang’s comedic sensibilities (with the voice of Velma now filled by half of Garfunkel & Oates, Kate Micucci, and Shaggy being the eternally imprisoned in the role Matthew Lilard), but he’s not the most interesting player in the game. That would be the Rhodes family.

I think there’s great camp value potential in WWE’s collaborations with the Hanna-Barbera brand that’s not quite fully realized yet at this third-film-in juncture. Curse of the Speed Demon finds a lot of goofy room to play with its basic “super stars & super cars” concept, like in the Michael Cole-shouted line, “Only The Undertaker could fly a sandwich out of the jaws of oblivion!” However, I think they could push the cartoon absurdity even further, as evidenced by the way the film uses the Rhodes brothers Goldust & Stardust. Because the temporal demands of production necessitate that these collaborations will be behind on current WWE storylines, Curse of the Speed Demon brings Goldust & Stardust back to the delightful heights of their absurd, magical “Cosmic Key” era of promos, which I believe was back in the late summer of 2014. Including other now-outdated storylines like The Authority (or, for that matter, the now departed from the company/galaxy Stardust and, even more sadly, the departed from this mortal coil Dusty Rhodes) is a little awkward, but the magic of The Cosmic Key silliness suggests an even more out-there kind of goofery the company could reach for, with all of the characters’ magic dust &strange hissing. At the end of my review for the first Scooby-Doo/WWE film I suggested that I’d like to see a Stardust Meets the Jetsons picture (something that’s pretty damn unlikely now). I want something like Huckleberry Hound in a New Day unicorn & rainbows cartoon. I want to see the concept pushed to the point where Hanna-Barbera characters meet WWE performers in their own strange worlds nestled in their gimmicks instead of their profession.

Curse of the Speed Demon starts to hint at that go-for-broke cartoon logic potential by giving Goldust & Stardust so much strange screen time (along with their now deceased father, which was about as sincerely touching of an inclusion as you could expect from a Scooby-Doo pro wrestling feature) & by removing the action from the wrestling ring in favor of an outlandish monster truck racing setting. I say push it even further. Much like the works of Mario Bava & Dario Argento (who I’ll admit I’m only referencing for the absurdity of it), the mysteries at the heart of Scooby-Doo are not nearly as important as the style in which they’re told, which is typically a campy take on old-fashioned haunted house horrors. There’s a lot of room for playing within that dynamic while sticking to kayfabe in the in-the-ring gimmicks of folks like Stardust or the Undertaker or The New Day or, hell, even the Wyatt Family (who I loathe to watch due to their monotonous promos, but could totally work in a haunted house cartoon). Curse of the Speed Demon finds the right tone of the cartoon-wrestling hybrid I’m describing in certain moments (The Miz putting the speed demon Inferno in a figure four leg lock or the Undertaker tombstoning him come to mind, as does the film’s basic premise, which feels like something I might’ve come up with while riding my WWF Big Wheels as a kid). It just needs a little more of a push into that detached-from-reality direction for this cartoon WWE Universe to really stand out as a memorable campy delight. As for now, they’re doing some surprisingly amusing work & I’m sure a lot of the wrestling-obsessed kids out there are eating it up, which is good enough to keep my attention for now.

-Brandon Ledet