Dean Koontz's Mr. Murder (1998) (part 1 of 11)
NOTE: This review was originally posted in two installments corresponding to the two parts of this TV miniseries.
Well, here I go again with another film whose subject is human cloning. Is it the impending release of Episode II? Is it recent advances in technology? Or is there something in the water? Regardless, Dean Koontz’s Mr. Murder (1998) will prove to be a doozie on the order of the previous cloning movie I reviewed, Parts: The Clonus Horror. This film, however, will require two full reviews to completely dissect. I’d like to say that it’s simply because of how staggeringly awful it is, but that’s only partially true. The real reason is that it started life as a TV miniseries, airing on two separate nights. Well, it seems both parts of this miniseries have found their way onto DVD (There exists a shorter VHS version of this movie, but I’m way too much of a masochist to have given it more than a passing glance), and I will be exploring both parts in depth.
As you can probably guess by the title, this movie is an adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel Mr. Murder. I haven’t read the book, but given some of the other works from the Koontz oeuvre that have ended up in my collection, I can’t help but think a large part of this film’s failure rests squarely on the shoulders of the source material. I’m sure Mr. Koontz has many fans, but you can’t say he’s ever sought to do much more than pound out the kind of potboiler “horror-lite” fiction you can buy in airport bookstores. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that Hollywood has come in and ruined a terrific book just as they have innumerable times in the past, but the likelihood of that dwindled in my mind when I saw the opening credits and found Dean Koontz listed as one of the executive producers.
But now, it’s time for yet another installment of Video Box Idiocy. As you’ll notice from the image above, the DVD cover features Stephen Baldwin, James Coburn, and a big knife. All three of these will be featured to some extent in the movie. But when we look to the lower left, what do we see?
Why, it’s a busty woman holding a gun. Certainly, when it comes to B-movies, I have nothing against busty women, guns, or busty women holding guns. There’s just one little problem, however. This woman appears nowhere in the movie. You know, it’s one thing to package up crap in a shiny new wrapper, and quite another to outright lie. The filmmakers have chosen the latter here, and don’t think I won’t remember this when I decide how much time they all get to spend in the Agony Booth.
The film opens on a gymnasium swimming pool. There’s only one person in the pool, doing the breast stroke while his trainer stands close by, timing him on a stopwatch. Gathered around are several other spectators who appear riveted by the action in the pool.
From out of a foggy hallway (inside a gymnasium?) emerges our main bad guy, Drew Oslett, played by the one and only Thomas Haden Church. (You know you’re in for some quality entertainment when the guy who played “Lowell” on the sitcom Wings is supposed to be the heavy.) Close behind Drew is his all-purpose lackey, who apparently is under the assumption that berets have become fashionable again for heterosexual men.
Drew expositories about how brilliant the guy in the pool is supposed to be. We learn he had a “4.0 since the ninth grade” and he got a “1580 on his SATs.” Drew gives his lackey the order to proceed. “Remember,” he says, “Just to the brink.”
We see Genius Swimmer Guy climb out of the pool and head down an empty hallway. He comes across Drew’s lackey, who tells him, “You never got far enough to see the darkness in people. All you knew was love. That’s lucky.” Instead of saying, “What in the holy hell are you yammering on about?” Genius Swimmer Guy just silently walks away, most likely because the actor would have cost more had they actually given him a line.
Genius Swimmer Guy walks into the locker room. Meanwhile, Lackey has located a trapdoor that takes him up into, well, somewhere. I’m guessing the attic. All we can really tell is that from Lackey’s vantage point, he can see down into the locker room. We quickly learn he’s not up there because he’s a gay voyeur (which would have explained the beret, at least) but because he’s got some evil business to do. We know it’s evil business because he pulls out a pair of jumper cables and strikes them together, creating a spark.
As Lackey connects both of the jumper cables to a random metal pipe, Genius Swimmer Guy jumps into the shower, turns on the water, and is instantly electrocuted. I guess this is what Drew meant by “Just to the brink.” Elsewhere, the swimmer’s trainer looks around, mystified, as all the lights in the building flicker. This is immediately followed by shots of an ambulance rushing to the hospital.
We cut to the inside of a little girl’s bedroom. She looks outside and sees her cat stuck in a tree. The girl goes to mommy and daddy’s room, but Mommy is asleep and Daddy is sitting at his computer working. We know this is what daddy does for a living, because the little girl helpfully informs her pet stuffed lizard (I think it’s a lizard), “Shhh… Don’t disturb Daddy, he’s working!” Aw, isn’t this cute?
She walks back out into the hallway and pulls a stool up next to the window. We get another shot of Daddy obliviously working as all this goes on (We’ll see more oblivious behavior from Daddy as the film progresses). The little girl then pulls a nearby electrical cord that’s hanging down. I guess she thinks this is the magical cord that opens all windows. Instead, it turns out to be the electrical cord for the family iron, which is high up on top of a bookshelf. [?] Yes, that’s just the place to store your heavy appliances, especially when you have a small child.
We cut to Daddy hearing a scream from out in hallway. At this point, there was also a scream from me, because it turns out that Daddy is Stephen Baldwin. Stephen plays Martin “Marty” Stillwater here, who, depending on your interpretation of the story, may or may not be our titular character.
We cut to Marty’s car pulling up to the emergency room at the hospital. (The credits tell us that all of this is taking place in October 1989, in case you care). As they race inside, they pass by a medical technician who, just by pure chance, is heading to the room where they’re attending to Genius Swimmer Guy. Yes, that’s right, both Genius Swimmer Guy and Marty ended up at the same hospital. What are the odds, huh?
The technician pushes her way past Genius Swimmer’s distraught family so that she can get a blood sample. Given that he was just electrocuted, how exactly is a blood sample supposed to help?
Next, we cut to a different technician taking blood from Marty. “It would be great if you and your daughter had the same blood type,” he expositories. “I mean, that would like really be on your side.” Like, totally, dude. Marty asks when his daughter is going into surgery, but the technician says he doesn’t know. “Doctors don’t say. Doctors never say, at least not to me they don’t.” These aren’t exactly reassuring words to hear from someone working at your local hospital.
We cut to a small room just off the hallway where the two technicians enter. We have the one that took blood from Marty (who happens to be male), and the one who took blood from Genius Swimmer Guy (who happens to be female). From the looks of things, the two of them have a little thing going on. Either that, or sexual harassment regulations are a lot more lax at hospitals.
The male technician (whose name is Charlie) kisses the female technician on the neck. “Oooh,” he says in a dumb Dracula impersonation, “I vant to drink your blood!”, making Vander Zorkov look like Bela Lugosi. The female technician yells at him to calm down, because the blood sample she took is important. “Some bitch of a specialist made a big deal about it,” she says. In an utterly jaw-dropping moment, Charlie responds to this by juggling the two blood samples [!!!] in some misguided attempt to impress her. Perhaps this type of behavior is one of the reasons “doctors never say” to Charlie when patients will be taken into surgery.
Not surprisingly, both samples land on the floor, and quite conveniently, neither sample has been labeled yet. A doctor appears (presumably that “bitch of a specialist” the girl was talking about), asking for the “Gregg sample”, which she immediately clarifies as coming from “the swimmer”. Would these technicians really know if the guy is a swimmer or not?
The two technicians shoot each other terrified glances. In the real world, any employee working in the medical field with more than two brain cells would just admit the screw up, and take new samples from both. I mean, there’s a good chance someone could be seriously injured or killed because of this kind of mix-up, right? In the world of this movie, however, the female technician simply picks one of the blood samples at random [!!!], and hands it to the specialist. Gee, I can’t wait to find out if she picked the right sample or not, can you?
In an “artsy” move, just as the specialist walks out of the emergency room, Marty’s wife walks in through the same door. I guess this is supposed to represent the influence of “fate” or “destiny” on this story, or maybe it just represents the director’s unwillingness to set up for a new angle.
Marty’s wife hears sobbing nearby, which turns out to be the swimmer’s family. As you might have guessed, the swimmer has died. “Just to the brink”, right? Marty’s wife goes to another room, and is relieved to find her daughter alert and healthy and talking to Marty. The girl is pouting, however, because her cat is still stuck in that tree. Marty tries to console his daughter by talking down to her in the most obnoxious way possible. “Don’t worry, honey,” he says. “We’re gonna get the kitten out of the tree, we’re gonna get all the kittens out of all the trees all over the whole wide world!” Even if I were Marty’s daughter’s age, I’d feel patronized.
We cut to a helipad. Drew and his lackey are stepping out of a helicopter just as that “bitch of a specialist” walks up and hands him the blood sample. Before Drew can leave, a limo pulls up. “That’s my dad,” Drew informs her (and the audience).
Drew’s dad pops out of the limo, and we see he’s being played by none other than Academy Award™ winner James Coburn, completely wasted in the role of Drew Oslett, Sr. He asks for the sample, which the specialist hands over immediately. Drew, Jr. protests that the sample has to be “processed” in the next six hours. Um, why?
Drew, Sr. is skeptical. He wants to know how Junior just happened to locate a world-class athlete and scholar who was about to die. “You got damn lucky,” he says gravely. Drew, Jr. wants to know what he’s getting at. Well, duh.
Instead of stating the obvious, Daddy Oslett elucidates the secret project that will lie at the heart of this movie’s plot. It’s a “minefield of a project”, according to him, that he gave to Junior because he thought having some responsibility would do him good. Apparently, Drew, Jr. is something of a screw up, who’s been kicked out of school a few times. Yep, just the kind of person I’d trust with a “minefield of a project”.
Drew, Jr. assures him he’s got a handle on things and takes the sample back. In response, Drew, Sr. gets back in his limo and drives off. As I examine the DVD case for this movie, it appears that James Coburn has top billing on this picture, right behind Stephen Baldwin. So I’m assuming he’s going to have quite an impact on the plot. For this reason, I’ve decided to keep a running count as I write my review.
Number of times James Coburn’s character has influenced the plot so far: zero.
(We’ll be keeping a close eye on this tally as the movie goes on.)