Masquerading as a f-all screed against the government, the movie underscores how psychically damaged America has become in the 21st century. Self-proclaimed writer/director David Arquette attempts an openly political take on the genre—as opposed to good horror movies that keep politics as subtext. Arquette's America is a place of across-the-board sadists and murderers, with hardly a single morally or intellectually reliable soul among them, unlike even modestly interesting recent outings like Hostel. Rage is all that fuels the picture, along with a priapic need to infuse noisy and derivative style tactics at the expense of even a modicum of character or narrative development.
Ineptly written by Arquette and Joe Harris, The Tripper is a carnival of cretins doing and saying one ass-headed thing after another. Modern-day "hippies"—not so much hippies as perpetually wasted simpletons—arrive at a music festival in the California Redwoods, ready to rage. In these woods, of course, lurks an axe murderer—a psychotic in a Ronald Reagan get-up. That's right: He's fixated on the late Republican president, dresses like him and dons a look-alike mask. The psycho-political motivations here are fuzzy—a boyhood run-in, seen in a prologue, between loggers and tree-huggers fails to fill in the blanks.
Among the movie's vanload of morons, Ivan (Lukas Haas) just wants to woo pretty wallflower Samantha (Jaime King), still traumatized by memories of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Floating alongside in Arquette's soup of stereotypes, we get a pair of doofuses; an oversexed flower child; a slimy concert promoter played with desperate camp by Paul Reubens; and a money-hungry mayor—all of whose deaths are foregone no sooner than they are introduced.
Ronnie terrorizes the festival-goers, and the woods are soon awash in blood. What that leaves us with is a Scooby-Doo -esque storyline, in which the square-jawed town sheriff (Thomas Jane) pursues the rampaging killer as he narrows in on the emotionally fragile Samantha, right down to the predictable unmasking.
The greatest problem in telling a story set against a morally bleak landscape, even for satirical reasons as Arquette aims to here, is that the artist must counterbalance it with intellect and a moral perspective that the material itself lacks. Any horror movie (any movie, for that matter) worth its salt contains this—an authorial presence guiding the events toward some coherent theme that makes the atrocities worth enduring.
The Tripper, however, is too drunk on its own excesses, its style-conscious rip-offs of '60s- and '70s-era counterculture flicks (
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
), and too thematically confused, playing both political sides against the middle, for anything like coherent, intelligent storytelling to bleed through.
Cast: Lukas Haas, Balthazar Getty, David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Paul Reubens
Director: David Arquette
Screenwriters: Joe Harris and David Arquette
Producers: David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Evan Astrowsky
Rating: R for strong horror violence and gore, drug content, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: April 20, 2007 ltd