Friday, October 23, 2009

Saw VI

'Saw VI': latest in torture porn franchise is one we wish we hadn't seen

A serial killer's deadly interlocking games continue. With Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor. (1:31) R: Graphic horror. At area theaters.

Just in time for the health care debate — oops, make that Halloween — comes "Saw VI," which may or not help the public option push through, but certainly gives that phrase some new, graphic, bloody meaning.

Just as the James Bond films had their pre-title sequences, so this new "Saw" begins with a quick "test" from the killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who died a few films back in the series, but is seen frequently in this year's entry via flashbacks and visions. Two employees guilty of predatory lending are forced to pay for their crime of helping folks who can't repay loan go into debt. Let's just say it's gonna cost someone an arm and a leg.

Eventually the scowling Det. Hoffmann (Costas Mandylor), formerly a pursuer of Jigsaw and then an accomplice, emerges as one of the people helping to keep the dead man's demented dream alive: To force the real ghouls of society to either pay for their sins, come face to face with their impact on the world or learn to appreciate their own life. (These movies have to be a favorite of Dexter Morgan from Showtime's "Dexter.")

All of those are eventually presented to the coldhearted vice president of a health insurance company (Mark Rolston) who had once turned John "Jigsaw" Kramer down when a cancer-treatment procedure could have prevented his death. Now, as Hoffman — under scrutiny himself by the police — and Kramer's widow, Jill (Betsy Russell), put the wheels into place for a vicious new "game," the VP that callously canceled patients' insurance due to "pre-existing conditions" has to live, and maybe die, with blood on his hands (and everywhere else).

If you're a fan of these films, you know that you go for the complex hoops Jigsaw puts his victims through, the oblique moral code and the way Tobin Bell pours menace and melancholy into the most common villain's dialogue. If you're not a fan, you'll wonder why this horror series is so successful (though not as much as when the series was fresh; box office attendance has dropped regularly since 2006's "Saw III"). After all, with the ludicrous Rube Goldberg-style contraptions, clumsily interlocking storylines, murky industrial-grade cinematography and mostly Z-list actors (Russell played Angel in 1985's "Avenging Angel"! Cameo-ing costar Shawnee Smith was a voice in a "Grand Theft Auto" videogame! Costas Mandylor is, well, Costas Mandylor!), these movies lack a whole lot of panache.

But they do often pack a punch, especially in the gore department, and in that area, this "American Idol" of torture porn doesn't disappoint. Is it enjoyable? No. But Michael Moore may want to steal some of Jigsaw's techniques the next time he takes on the health care industry.

by Joe Neumaier