Coming to DVD Tuesday, Oct. 23rd
David Arquette as Muff
Richmond Arquette as Deputy Cooper
Paz de la Huerta as Jade
Ben Gardiner as Wilson
Balthazar Getty as Jimmy
Lukas Haas as Ivan
Josh Hammond as Tyler
Stephen Heath as Jack
Thomas Jane as Buzz Hall
Jaime King as Samantha
Jason Mewes as Joey
Directed by David Arquette
Those expecting a wicked send-up of conservative values in David Arquette’s directorial debut, “The Tripper” (whose script was written by Arquette along with “Darkness Falls’ Joe Harris) will be disappointed to find that “The Tripper’s satirical arsenal is limited by its filmmaker’s apparent conviction that a slasher villain dressed as Ronald Reagan is such an automatically subversive image that it needs no further development. The result is a satire with only a surface idea of who it wants to mock and in turn, it’s a slasher film with no idea who its roster of victims should be.
The film begins by setting up a backstory for its Reagan-obsessed psychopath. Gus, a young boy in Northern California in 1967, watches Reagan in his then-role as Governor of California delivering political speeches on TV (which, among other topics, involve Reagan’s disdain for environmental concerns “a tree is a tree â how many do you have to look at?”).
Gus’ beleaguered father, who works as a lumberjack, has to contend with Gus’ mentally ill mother as well as with environmental protesters who are keeping him from doing his job. When Gus accompanies his father to a work site and sees his dad being hauled off by the police after an altercation with a self-righteous activist, Gus picks up a chainsaw and puts it in the neck of the nearest tree hugger.
As origins go, this seems awfully thin. Sure, it may be the beginnings of a decent psycho (they’ve all got to start killing someplace, right?) but that this kid would go on to specifically adopt Reagan as his personal avatar of death is sketchy as there’s very little in this introduction to indicate how deeply Reagan “spoke” to Gus. One gets the impression that as writers, Arquette and Harris started with the base intent of building a movie around the image of a Reagan-masked killer, gleaned on to a few potent details from Reagan’s history (like the fact that as Governor of California, he released hundreds of mental patients back into society) then tried mightily to work their way backwards into a story that would service that image but with only awkward results to show for it.
Some of that awkwardness is due to the fact that even though its killer’s look and mannerisms are modeled after the familiar later-day caricature of Reagan in his White House years, The Tripper’s slams against Reagan are almost exclusively aimed at his years as Governor of California. Inevitably, Arquette’s film feels devoid of any political currency.
Regardless, once the young, blood-splattered Gus is taken away by the police, we jump ahead to the present day as a group of carefree twentysomethings in a van are on their way to a music festival set in the same forested region that Gus hailed from. This crew, as played by Jamie King. Lukas Haas, Paz de la Huerta, Stephen Heath, Marsha Thomason and Jason Mewes, represent the usual generic stoner types. And to a one, they are the most obnoxious group of slasher movie protagonists ever. I don’t know â maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m too ‘square,’ as the kids say, but none of these characters are sympathetic in the least. I’m guessing that Arquette wanted us to see them as endearing free spirits but I disliked all of them for their gluttony and selfishness. I also couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that these kids were imported from another era. Not the ’60s, however, but the early ’90s when faux hippie-dom was still in vogue. And for a movie that â to some extent, at least â is assumedly meant to extol idealistic counterculture values, why does Arquette depict the majority of his young protagonists as being consumed with oblivious self-gratification?
Jamie King’s Samantha is set up early on as the lead, and as her character is the most levelheaded (i.e. sober) of the bunch, she’s less deserving of the same immediate hate that her co-stars invite (instead, it’s more of a gradual disliking that takes place towards her). Arquette and Harris also give King a needless backstory involving her asshole ex-boyfriend (played by Balthazar Getty) who exists only as easy target, portraying a douche bag Republican (his license plate reads “REDST8E”) and as a possible â but never quite plausible â red herring for the killings.
Even when the adult Gus (paired with an attack dog named Nancy) starts dispatching hordes of hippies, The Tripper still isn’t worth its weight in jellybeans as a slasher movie as there’s no sense of build-up or suspense. And as Gus’ victims prove to be entirely random, the question becomes this: why bother to create a killer that embodies a conservative icon like Reagan if he’s just going to kill literally anyone in his path? This killer slays rednecks, authority figures, and capitalist pricks with the same wrath as he does stoners and hippies. So exactly what point is Arquette trying to make here? Even Jason can manage some consistency in his kills â no matter which Friday the 13th sequel you watch, you know which characters Jason feels the strongest need to annihilate. Shouldn’t a killer embodying as specific an image as Ronald Reagan have a more defined agenda than a guy in a goalie mask?
Among “Tripper’s cast, Thomas Jane’s solid turn as Officer Buzz Hall and Paul Reubens’ sometimes-amusing portrayal of a weasel concert promoter lend the film some interest and credibility. But like most stoners, “The Tripper” is prone to rambling and incoherence. You would think that their association with the Scream films would’ve given Arquette, along with wife and producer Courtney Cox, a leg up when it comes to making a convention-busting horror movie but “The Tripper” gets in the way of its own good buzz.