Don't ask why Ninja III: The Domination
begins with a ninja assault on a municipal golf course. Just be
grateful it does. You also may wonder why its sex scene employs a can of
V8: Don't question it. Just lie back and enjoy it.
Tobe Hooper got a raw deal. The director of horror hits The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist didn't deserve to be sent to movie jail for 1985's Lifeforce.
It's a well-crafted, well-intentioned work that was mismarketed and
misunderstood, losing a bundle of money and soon sending Hooper into the
lands of episodic television and direct-to-video features.
There's a theory about remakes that perhaps Hollywood should stop
remaking good movies and instead remake the bad ones, so that they may
be improved. The problem with that theory is one runs the risk of the
remake being bad, too. Case in point: The Philadelphia Experiment.
The real-life Bernie Tiede was the toast of Carthage, Texas. An
assistant funeral director with a gift for consoling grieving widows,
the portly Bernie was gentle, solicitous and unflaggingly polite. He
spruced up many a funeral service with his spot-on tenor, to say nothing
of his penchant for lavishing gifts on everyone he came across.
Bernie was also a murderer, as it turned out, convicted in 1997 of killing an 81-year-old widow and stuffing her body in a meat freezer. But in the eyes of townsfolk, that didn’t make him any less lovable.
In Bernie, now playing, our antihero is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), but it’s not the feisty, mugging Black you’re used to seeing. Affecting a fey Texas accent and dainty mannerisms that stop just short of caricature, he deftly plays against type, but with enough bottled-up edginess to hint at darker recesses under the Southern congeniality.
Director Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles) has made Bernie a low-key docudrama and sly black comedy, especially in his generous use of recollections by actual Carthage residents who knew both Bernie and Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, Valentine’s Day), the mean — and very rich widow — he dispatched with a .22 rifle.
His consoling of Marjorie after her husband’s death had turned into a May-December courtship, despite the town’s widely held suspicions that he was gay. The two became inseparable, at least until she disappeared.
Buoyed by Black’s superb performance and a funny turn by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer) as the district attorney flummoxed by the killer’s popularity, Bernie is a compelling hybrid of true crime and dark comedy.