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DID YOU READ

Disc Covering: “The Stranger,” Steve Austin stuns Camus (or not).

Disc Covering: “The Stranger,” Steve Austin stuns Camus (or not). (photo)

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Two men fueled pro wrestling’s comeback in the mid- and late ’90s. But while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the younger and prettier of the pair, made a smooth transition to the world of movies, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin floundered. He was five years behind Johnson in getting his own starring vehicle, 2007’s “The Condemned,” a particularly appropriate title given what’s happened to Austin’s film career since. Now he’s gone straight-to-DVD with the title role in “The Stranger,” which, frustratingly, has absolutely no relation to the Albert Camus novel.

It’s not even inspired by the Billy Joel song. Instead, it’s a riff on “The Bourne Identity,” yet another tale of a former government operative with flashy fighting skills and no memory of how he got them. The filmmakers better hope their audience have as bad a memory as Austin’s character, otherwise they’re going to realize very quickly just how much of a rehash this film is.

0622010_disccovering4.jpg“The Stranger” (2010)

Directed by Robert Lieberman

Tagline: His Past Was Taken. His Vengeance Is Fueled.

(Question: What does the second half of that tagline mean? Shouldn’t it be “His Fuel is Vengeance?” How can vengeance be fueled? And by what? Is vengeance Austin’s badass nickname for his car or something?)

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Steve Austin plays a former FBI something-something who keeps forgetting his (Bourne) identity while running from the law and the mob.

Biggest Success: The quality of Steve Austin’s performance as the Stranger is a very pleasant surprise. We’ve seen this story before, but Austin treats it like the most original and dynamic narrative ever invented by man. By being so invested, he proves himself an honest-to-goodness actor and not just a one-trick pony badass.

Pro wrestlers have to be able to tell stories with their bodies. Austin’s physicality is wonderfully expressive, from his wounded eyes to his perpetually balled-up fists. Not surprisingly, he has no trouble pulling off the character’s violent side. But beneath his tightly clenched exterior, there’s a wounded quality to the Stranger that Austin really nails by drawing on impressive depths of confusion and regret. Let’s hope this film portends better things for Austin’s film career, starting later this summer with his supporting role in Sylvester Stallone’s machismopalooza “The Expendables.”

Biggest Failure: If Austin’s performance is a major surprise, Adam Beach’s performance is a major disappointment. In “Flags of our Fathers,” Beach proved himself capable of really outstanding work. In “The Stranger,” he proves himself incapable of hiding his contempt for a role that’s clearly beneath his talents.

06222010_disccovering2.jpgSome actors have a gift for The Schlock Movie Poker Face. The greatest of all time belonged to Vincent Price, who would have sooner eaten his own foot than let on that a movie he was in wasn’t exactly an top-notch entertainment. Beach, on the other hand, doesn’t just look disinterested in his role, he looks actively disappointed. It’s like a fighter taking a really obvious dive: the shame of not giving his best is written all over his face. I don’t disagree that Beach deserves better roles than FBI Agent Mason Reese. But so does Austin, and he’s giving this thing everything he’s got. Beach should have done the same.

Best Moment: Lost in a fugue state, the Stranger goes to a telephone booth at a gas station and calls the only number he can think of: his psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Bishop (Erica Cerra). After a few mumbled remarks, he hangs up and leaves, but not before he’s observed by a man filling up his car at one of the pumps. Bishop tracks the Stranger’s call to the station, and follows him there. When she arrives hours later, she’s able to pick up his trail immediately because the same dude who saw the Stranger is still there filling up his car! Does his car have a record-breakingly large gas tank? Or maybe a record-breaklingly low miles-per-gallon rating? Technically, this shameless narrative shortcut may be “The Stranger”‘s worst moment, but it’s also its funniest.

Special Features: Besides a trailer, the only extra on “The Stranger” disc is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. My favorite quote comes from director Ron Lieberman who says, “To me, it was important that it made sense.” Everything except the guy who hangs out all day and night at that gas station.

In his interview, Austin states that the film’s limited budget gave no extra time to plan and memorize fight choreography, so each action scene had to be invented and staged on set, making “The Stranger”‘s competent action beats an even more impressive accomplishment.

06222010_disccovering3.jpgWorthy of a Theatrical Release: Nope. While Austin brings an interesting quality to the character, the character doesn’t bring an especially interesting quality to the movie. Jason Bourne may have been a tabula rasa, but he had a clearly defined goal. “Memento”‘s Leonard Shelby may have been a amnesiac, but he always remembered that his wife was raped and murdered, and he was always trying to avenge her death.

This Stranger guy is simply a wanderer, hopping from one identity to the next with no direction and, most importantly, no purpose. He’s got information that Beach and Cerra want buried in his head somewhere, so technically the film should really focus on their characters, but their concerns are basically window-dressing for 90 minutes of competent action beats and some decent hunted-animal acting from Austin without any sense of forward momentum.

And that’s the bottom line. And to Steve Austin, I’d just like to say: Don’t be afraid to try again. Everyone goes south, every now and then.


For Further Viewing: Watch as Austin invents his Stone Cold character at King of the Ring 1996. Promos like this legendary one transformed his profane arrogant villain character into a profane, arrogant hero character, one of the most popular in wrestling history, all through the sheer force of Austin’s charisma.

[Photos: “The Stranger,” Anchor Bay Films, 2010]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.