Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Christopher Stapleton, Kate Danson, Robert Sisko, Sean Thomas
Directed by Rick Bitzelberger
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
I hesitate to call Kemper a true crime thriller since there’s very little about it that’s actually true. The real Ed Kemper was a young man when he committed his murders. The Ed Kemper of this film is a middle-aged guy who spends the first half-hour looking like Bobby Riggs in his pajamas. The real Ed Kemper committed his crimes in the early 1970s. The use of cellular phones and laptop computers makes it abundantly clear this film is set in modern times. I could go on. Kemper is more like a piece of serial killer fan fiction, a speculative “what if” tale plugging a real-life serial killer from the past into an entirely fictitious tale set in the present, as if it started out as a relatively generic serial killer thriller that the producers insisted be rewritten to base the killer on an actual psychopath in order to help market the movie with little regard for the facts of his case. Kemper is “Inspired by Actual Events” in much the same way Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure could proclaim itself as “Historically Accurate”.
I went in suspecting this would be yet another sleazy exploitation flick designed to make a quick buck off of the pain and suffering wrought by a true-life mass murderer, romanticizing the psychopath and reveling in his carnage for kicks. Though it does have some scenes of brutality, Kemper aims to be more of a suspenseful crime drama: part police procedural, part cat & mouse thriller. It was not exactly what I expected in that aspect and for that I will give the filmmakers credit.
What I cannot give them credit for is having made a good movie. Kemper isn’t god awful. It’s mostly just a tediously uneventful film. There’s not a single moment of tension no matter how much the film score tries to ratchet things up, and I assure you the person who scored the film was trying harder than the director. The director has a background shooting Cinemax After Dark programming and it shows with all the static shots, poorly framed scenes of characters just standing or wandering about; a couple scenes even felt more like the rehearsal takes than the final cut. The actors, try as they might, are left to flounder amid weak material and slapdash direction.
Two serial killers with differing styles appear to be at work in a California town. Working both cases is police detective Tom Harris. Tom Harris: no doubt an in-joke as Thomas Harris is the name of the author of Silence of the Lambs who has said he based the character of “Buffalo Bill” on Ed Kemper.
Detective Harris is friends with an intelligent oddball named Ed Kemper who he converses with about the facts of the killings unaware that Kemper is one of the very serial killers he’s after. Kemper murders his abusive mother and reveals his true nature to Detective Harris around the end of the first act. From then on it’s a cat and mouse mind game between Harris and Kemper with a few innocent people murdered in between their countless phone conversations. At minimum half the movie consists of the two playing phone tag. The climax then consists of two face-to-face conversations. Suffice to say this is a very talky movie and very little of what they talk about is engaging.
Harris also spends considerable amount of time talking to his comforting wife who appeared to have been glued to the living room sofa. You just know they’re building her up so that Kemper can put her in mortal danger and Harris has to come to the rescue. That never happens. The movie culminates not with a showdown but with a face-to-face conversation between Tom and Ed.
This movie can be summed up with a single word: dull. Kemper as portrayed here is a fairly dull psychopath. Tom Harris is quite the dull policeman. Their conversations and attempts to get under each other’s skin are also dull. Even the slayings prove dull.
1 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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