Breen Nash (C. Thomas Howell) is a struggling producer who uncovers a new concealer with monstrous results in the new Hollywood horror-comedy BEAST MODE. Writer-Director team Chris W. Freeman and Spain Willingham give us The Player light with plenty of blood and practical effects along with cameos from some of the most iconic character actors to hit the silver screen. The movie doesn’t have the bite you would expect, yet somehow retains the heart and reverence for all who are a part of the entertainment ecosystem, including the paparazzi.
We start off with Nash on the verge of attaining financing for his next movie “Beast Moon”. His regular leading man and tinsletown badboy Huckle Saxton (James Duval) is teetering on being branded box office poison after their latest flop “Gods of Pluto.” The Day of the meeting, Nash accidentally incapacitated his leading man thinking him dead and holds the meeting with the body of his star and funders including Pish (James Hong). The check is signed, the leading man’s body dumped in a storage unit, and Nash and his assistant locate a doppleganger of their leading an to keep the party going. Only one problem. (One?) the supposed twin, also played by Duvall has facial scars and is actually a really nice guy. Enter Zelda (Leslie Easterbrook) with a miracle cream that is said to heal scars and bring out inner qualities. They apply the cream to the double’s face and soon cameras are rolling. Still, TMZ knockoff host Finnegan (Teddy Margas) knows there is more to the story.
BEAST MODE has some issues. Freeman and Willingham lean way too hard on the original music by Paul Cristo, Chris W. Freeman, and Tom Schraeder. Scenes that could have easily gone without are laced with a pandering score that tells you how to feel when you kind of already know. Then there are the moments when leading man Duval is clearly pushing way too hard to be a jerk or a good-guy. Lastly the convoluted setup does no favors for a Hollywood horror-comedy that should be light and breezy with gore. None of this needed to be there.
The good? There is plenty. Let’s start with Howell whose beleaguered producer is both annoying and endearing. We want him to win, but dammit there is a lot going on. Next is the uncompromising collection of character actors that populate the cast. Hong, Easterbrook, Ray Wise, Robert Costanzo, and Margas. Finally we have the writing of Drew Fortune, Freeman, and Willingham that has a savage understanding of the entertainment industry.
No, BEAST MODE isn’t as clever as it wants to be, nor is the story as efficient as it should be. Take that for what it is. What I can say is that through the twists and turns of a complicated Hollywood story, we get an entertaining, oddly endearing movie about the monsters that Hollywood creates along with a fair amount of gore. Wise‘s character Trammel Steadfast says at one point, “Celebrity is a mask that fattens the ego, eats the soul until one day you wake up and you can’t take it off.” Not only true, but the elevator pitch for BEAST MODE.