I've never cared for the Friday the 13th series, and I only liked a couple of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. But when Hollywood's Powers That Be finally greenlit Freddy vs. Jason, I couldn't wait to see the proposed matchup of two such titans of terror. The final cut of this epic monster movie showdown is often cliche and overly narrative, but it is also a solid, entertaining bloodbath that will appease most fans of the genre. Robert Englund, the only actor who is absolutely essential to this movie, reprises his role of Freddy Krueger with signature style, while newcomer Ken Kirzinger seamlessly replaces Friday veteran Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees.
The story opens with Freddy, the demonic fiend who stalks victims in their nightmares, stuck in an impotent limbo. With the children of Elm Street doped up on drugs that inhibit their dreams, and the parents covering up all records of his existence, Freddy has been rendered powerless. So he unleashes the unstoppable Jason upon his old town, leading to a killing spree that generates a wave of fear that, in turn, empowers him to make a monstrous comeback.
But when Jason continues to slice and dice everyone in sight, Freddy realizes he will have to dispose of the hockey-masked hacker before he finds himself left without any victims of his own. And so begins the marquee battle, with Freddy trying to send his uncontrollable puppet back to hell, and Jason refusing to step aside so easily. Caught in the middle of this struggle of evil versus evil is a group of hapless Elm Street teens led by buxom heroine Lori (Monica Keena) and her troubled boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter), who must find a way to put both slashers to rest once and for all.
Before this movie, I would have considered Freddy the better villain. Jason was just a mindless killing machine with a tragic childhood, but Freddy was f***ing wicked and perverse--a homicidal child molester who, after being burnt to death by an enraged mob, would eventually get you when you fell asleep. His story became even more twisted when it was revealed he was the bastard offspring of a nun raped by a hundred maniacs during a weekend of hell in a mental asylum. But like many of the Elm Street movies, Freddy vs. Jason plays up Krueger's wisecracking side, making him more comical than sinister. His frequently clownish antics, his surprisingly low kill rate, and even Jason's short stint as a sympathetic kid make the machete-wielding goalie the audience favorite of this film.
And if Jason's troubling past at the infamous Camp Crystal Lake doesn't win you over, then his vicious trail of carnage will. He piles up carcasses of stupid teenagers like a rabid squirrel stockpiling nuts for the winter, and he continues to score points for amusing creativity. Jason twists heads, cuts up ravers at a local party with reckless abandon, and pulps one fool with a common, everyday mattress. Buckets of blood flow like booze at an open bar, until you can't help but laugh along with the over-the-top gore.
But despite Jason's apparent advantages, Freddy more than holds his own when they face off one-on-one in the film's highlight moments. With their battle royales taking place in both Freddy's dream world and Jason's grim reality of Camp Crystal Lake, each enjoys home court advantage and gets the opportunity to beat the other senseless. The perpetual violence, accented with gratuitous cussing and female nudity, helps this horror outing stay true to its predecessors.
Freddy vs. Jason has two noticeable shortcomings. First, it's not at all scary, offering nothing in the way of disturbing sh*t that will keep you awake at night. Hell, it can't even pull off the occasional cheesy shocker. Second, the supporting characters are the same generic morons found in every other horror flick. The most interesting thing about leading good girl Lori is that she has a nice rack. Then it's all downhill from there: her boyfriend is a boring statue, her best friends are a slut and a standard trash talkin' sista, the deputy is yet another doofus-ass Dewey, and the guy who explains "the rules of the game" is a twitchy whiteboy amped up on too much sugar. And what's up with the stoner dude? Is this guy the biggest Jason Mewes wannabe or what? I'm surprised the filmmakers didn't go the distance and team him up with a tubby bastard in an overcoat.
With the bad guys being the stars of the show, I suppose it makes sense for the victims to be generic fodder. But just once, it would be nice to see Freddy or Jason prey upon something more than your garden variety, two-bit dumbass. As inventive as Freddy vs. Jason is in pairing up its two titular icons, I suppose there's just some cliche pitfalls this franchise will never escape.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)