Starring Joe Estevez, Jose Rosete, Eleni C. Krimitsos, Todd Bridges
Directed by The Quiroz Bros
Until I saw their names in the opening credits I had no idea that San Franpsycho was the newest movie from Jose & Eduardo Quiroz, the same filmmaking brothers the brought us The Damned, a film I suffered through a few weeks back and consider a frontrunner for the worst DTV movie I’ve seen thus far this year. The good news is that San Franpsycho is a vast improvement over The Damned. The bad news is that it’s still not a particularly good movie.
The back of the screener billed it as a “gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller.” The back of the screener also billed star Joe Estevez as the younger brother of Emilio Estevez – an amazing feat considering he’s twelve years older and Emilio calls him “Uncle Joe”. Despite claims of the film being a serious nail biter, much of the entertainment value is derived from stuff that’s impossible to take seriously. For starters, the movie is called San Franpsycho . I told a friend of mine I’d gotten a screener for a film called San Franpsycho and he instantly groaned at the bad pun that is the film’s title. When your title is this corny you’ve already forfeited your right to be taken seriously.
San Franpsycho opens with the film’s never-named killer suffocating a woman set against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. He then sings a few bars of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. We next see the killer sitting right in front of the television screen watching a news report about his most recent murder with a goofy grin on his face that makes him look like a stoner mesmerized by a cartoon. This TV report features a sports ticker that boasts such goofball headlines as “Pete Rose finally inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame”, “North Koreans clone gila monster”, and “Cell phone user murdered by movie audience”. And, again, the movie is called San Franpsycho . Can you blame me for initially thinking this film was going to be more intentionally campy than it actually turned out to be?
The seemingly intentional camp of the opening minutes subsides and the film settles into being what it seems to have been intended: a homemade attempt to make a cat & mouse thriller based around a methodical serial killer and the police investigating. There’s a serial killer on the loose in San Francisco that keeps sending rambling notes often filled with pseudo-religious diatribes to a female TV reporter named Rita who has been reporting on his murder spree. Veteran SFPD investigator Detective Culp (Joe Estevez, a B-movie vet who actually gets to show some acting chops for a change and does a nice job doing so), along with his smart-alecky partner and, later on, a priest friend, investigate and try to decipher whether or not the contents of the killer’s notes are legit or a ploy for an eventual insanity defense if and when he’s caught.
San Franpsycho plays out like a sincere attempt to make a serial killer thriller along the likes of Seven or Copycat made with the tiniest of budgets – Culp goes on live television to call out the psycho in front of a draped backdrop that looks to be one steering wheel away from being the plane cockpit from Plan 9 From Outer Space – and a screenplay that is far too simple-minded to ever generate any actual suspense.
The film is not outright terrible. Heck, there are times when it’s oddly watchable and there are times when it’s quite entertaining for all the wrong reasons. It’s truly a B-movie. But it’s also perfunctory B-movie. How the killer operates, the police investigation, the reporter in peril, even the kills: it’s all just going through the motions in a fairly predictable manner.
The script often requires characters to have conversations where they overstate the obvious or volunteer non-crucial information in an unnatural manner. Sometimes the screenplay has characters saying things that are just plain dumb. After having read aloud one of the killer’s notes where he quoted a biblical passage calling homosexuality a sin (a note left behind after murdering a gay man) supposedly savvy reporter Rita moronically responds, “Sounds like he has a thing against homosexuals.” Well, duh.
Another example: Rita’s ex-military boyfriend who doesn’t believe the police stationed outside her home can do a better job protecting her from the killer than he can begins yelling “I’m a marine! I killed Taliban with my bare hands! I can take out every one of those cops by myself!” Alrighty then.
My favorite dialogue exchange occurred when the killer showed up at the priest’s house. First of all, if there’s a homicidal maniac standing in your living room I don’t think yelling for him to get out or you’ll call the cops is going to work. The priest then boldly declares, in his best pro wrestler voice, “I’m a servant of God! You go to hell!”
There are times when the suspect acting and spotty writing combine to produce some true howlers. There’s one scene where poor Joe Estevez is interviewing the distraught gay lover of that previously mentioned victim and has to say to the guy, “I realize you’re distraught…” Distraught? This guy comes across as being about as broken up as a homeless bum being questioned after finding an anonymous dead body in a back alley at the beginning of episode of “Law & Order”.
The script tries to paint this killer as calculating and crazy but actor Jose Rosete plays him as over-the-top crazy, sometimes laughably so. His facials are often a riot. A couple times I halfway expected him to start slapping his face and going all Three Stooges on us. You got a guy that looks like he should be a contestant on a season of the Ultimate Fighter playing an allegedly methodical serial killer that screams uncontrollably at the television, frantically scribbles notes taunting the law, angrily calling cops and victims “pigs”, and constantly being portrayed as one step ahead of everyone else. I never bought into him for a second. If the screenplay had just treated him like a mad dog killer or been less straightforward like the film’s silly title suggests then I’d have bought into this particular murderer.
There’s also the matter of the highly implausible finale. Having things wrap up the way it did and trying to cover for its implausibility by tossing out an important, never-before-mentioned fact as a throwaway line just doesn’t cut it.
Oh, and let’s not forget “Diff’rent Strokes'” Todd “Willis” Bridges, who gets third billing and has his name splashed across the box as if he’s one of the stars even though his is a cameo in an ultimately insignificant role. Sadly, he doesn’t die. He does vanish from the proceedings though.
After sitting through their The Damned, I was about ready to file the Quiroz Bros. alongside the Polonia Bros. San Franpsycho didn’t leave me begging for mercy and like The Damned did, but the acting, which ranges from acceptable to laughable to non-existent, the unpolished script, and some really amateurish directing decisions stifle any attempt to make a film that is anything but rudimentary and devoid of suspense. And at 106-minutes, it’s at least 20-minutes too long. I’m still going to cut the Quiroz Bros. some slack for at least trying this time out. Compared to The Damned, San Franpsycho is positively Hitchcockian.
2 out of 5
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