2011 was the year of the apocalyptic drama. Many of the films I reviewed during that time seemed an unconscious response to this feeling of hope and elation that rose up during the 2008 Presidential elections, only to fizzle and ultimately crumble under the visage of yet another leader willing to prop up old policies another day. 2013 has now turned the end into a running joke. Rapture-Palooza is supposed to fit in with the comedies, but with the sense of despair running through the film it probably would have been better served in 2011.
It's a painful experience, made only worse by the screenplay' primary credit to Chris Matheson. If you're not familiar with the name it's because one of his films became a defining film of '90s nostalgia and the other is my favorite comedy of all-time. Seeing him stretch a handful of jokes out to excruciating lengths to pad a film that has, at best, twenty minutes of material is bad enough. But considering his pedigree, and that he has demonstrated an ability to get comedy from knowledge of world and film history, it is a major disappointment in the way he bends over to stretch out material that isn't funny, and could barely fill out a five-minute sketch.
Rapture-Palooza starts with a flash-forward to the end of the film. This isn't done to make any jokes, mind you, but to begin with a shot and voice-over that strikes that uneasy balance between Sunset Boulevard and The Hangover that we never needed. Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend, Ben (John Francis Daley), stand over a pair of fancily clad corpses. After unnecessarily jumping forward in time, the film doubles back to explain that the Rapture whisked everyone away to Heaven leaving everyone else to suffer as dictated in the Book of Revelation.
The padding is clear in the transition and execution of these two scenes. In between there's an unfunny bit with a Reverend who talks about the gays and how they can't get into Heaven and, as if director Paul Middleditch needed to proudly explain that it's also an indie film, an unnecessary animated sequence where Lindsey's thoughts are drawn on notebook paper. Both signal desperate attempts to try to make any part of the film interesting while yet another early scene hints that the film hasn't even come close to reaching the bottom. When everyone is Raptured their clothes are left to flutter to the ground, an image that could have been very funny. Instead it's stretched out over the entire title sequence as piles of clothing come tumbling toward the ground, leaving Lindsey and Ben to stare at each other as no one reacts to this very weird thing that just happened.
There's actually a distinct lack of reacting to the weird events of Rapture-Palooza, which really hurts when there are many parts that could have been funny. Smack talking ravens follow Lindsey and Ben around while they react by being mildly annoyed. Locusts with badly animated lips screaming, "Suffer," while Lindsey's father (Calum Worthy) screams like anyone would with a bee, let alone a direct sign of God's wrath made manifest in the kitchen. The norm is thrown out for the Apocalypse, and sticking to it doesn't make for comedy either.
Lindsey's father is also one of many who overact horrifically in one-note performances. It is worst when Lindsey's mother comes back as the only person ejected from Heaven. Ana Gasteyer looks for all the world like I imagined Meryl Streep would have if she came back from Defending Your Life to the worst possible family. The potential is great, and then she starts shrieking at her family. A few scenes later, she's still belittling all of them. All the possibility is blown again in a one-note joke that isn't funny to start.
I don't love Anna Kendrick but I do like her quite a bit and her performance reminded me of Brandon Fraser's performance in Furry Vengeance. It's notable because I've rarely been reminded so many times that an actor would rather die than continue on. Kendrick doesn't delve that far, but she is clearly drowning in scenes without a conclusion. Her confused glances to the sides of the screen, even when she's talking to one person, grow in desperation as each scene with her and the Anti-Christ, who wants to make her his bride, goes on and on.
Thanks be to Craig Robinson, who is the only person in the film to seem alive. This is a considerable accomplishment considering he's handed the worst material in the film. His dialogue is packed with such great double entendre like, "I want to show you something. Not my penis, not that, not yet," and "I wanna touch your booty all night long." Yet, when he's dancing in front of a mirror, shaking every bit of himself and proclaiming his sexiness, I almost giggled.
As much as I wish this weren't the case, no amount of Robinson's sexiness could salvage this film. It squanders what little potential it has by stretching what few jokes it has to an unsustainable length. If this was the end, I really would have liked to go out laughing.
Directed by Paul Middleditch.
Screenplay written by Chris Matheson.
Starring Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, and John Francis Daley.