A lingering, awkward editing style doesn’t help hide these blemishes either, as every shot seems to go on about five seconds too long. I understand and respect Fisher’s deviation from the quick-cut collage that passes for storytelling pastiche in many contemporary films, but it would have helped his efforts if he would have written a tighter script. “Tighter” is one of those oblique movie executive buzzwords I hate myself for throwing around, but scenes seem to go on and on and on in a way that fails to add texture to the story itself.
In the case of Wilson and Jackon’s segments together, this sort of lingering is tolerable. I could watch those two eat sandwiches together for an hour without a single cut, and I’d be happy as a clam. But too much of this extended time is spent on ancillary characters and stale subplots that show the seams of the script’s un-subtle dialogue and many clichés. A pair of cops (played by J.D. Evermore and Tracie Thompson) investigating John/Richie’s misadventures come off as especially hackneyed with gratuitous, profanity-riddled dialogue, and highly unprofessional habits – tools clearly meant to embed extra quirk in these seemingly stock characters to pretentious, often cringe-worthy results.
Speaking of cringing, the film’s biggest, and perhaps most interesting, problem may be its incredibly ugly and mean spirited tone. The celluloid world of Meeting Evil is so vitriolic and cynical it makes the viewer wish Jackson would take a sawed-off shotgun to virtually everyone populating the film’s Southern Gothic landscape. Every minor character displays the worst character traits imaginable. Abrasiveness, hubris, greediness, nastiness – you describe the unappealing trait, the film has a character displaying it. That’s fine. I have no problem with films that heighten the cruelness of the world around us. Having cut my teeth on exploitation andfilms, I can get behind the worst cinematic worlds, so long as the filmmakers agree to give me some concessions with it.
Falling Down had Michael Douglas raging against a world of pimps, drug dealers, and neo-Nazis to frighteningly violent results, but tempered the nastiness with Robert Duvall as a good-natured cop intent on finding the best in people. Rob’s films are characterized by grotesque characters so vile that his serial killers often display more humanity than their victims – great! The villains have humanity. That’s a great dichotomy and one that makes his writing so memorable.
Meeting Evil has no such dichotomy. John and Richie’s relationship recalls that of John Ryder and Jim Halsey’s in the original Hitcher – the killer sees a spark of desperation in the hero that he spends the remainder of the film cultivating to horrific results. The Hitcher is successful thanks to its stripped down approach and likeable ancillary characters, who we don’t want to see murdered by the villain. By the same token, Meeting Evil doesn’t succeed because of bloated subplots and unlikeable supporting characters that all deserve what’s coming to them, but rarely ever get it.
When they do, the action too often goes down off-screen or without a strong payoff. I don’t mind the subtle implication of violence, but Meeting Evil lets it far outbalance the onscreen violence, thus softening the threat of Samuel L. Jackson’s Richie. Given the fact that the rest of the film lacks any sort of subtlety (especially the dialogue), it is a hard sell justifying Fisher’s restraint in this department, leaving Jackson once again to do the heavy lifting through sheer acting chops. He sells it, of course, but a little more exposure to the depths of the character’s brutality could have made Richie a classic character in Jackson’s canon.
The Verdict: [rating:2]
Overall, Meeting Evil is a hard film to recommend outright. When Jackson and Wilson are onscreen, the movie is a glorious mess. When they aren’t, the film is an inglorious mess, leaving actors like Bibb, Evermore, and Thomas looking at each other with a glint in their eyes that display doubt about the film being constructed around them. Yes, I am confident in saying that within Fisher’s filmography, Meeting Evil is a step toward A-list legitimacy – I just wish it wasn’t so bogged down by C-movie problems. For hardcore fans of the lead actors, Meeting Evil is a solid way to kill an hour and a half, but for everyone else I can only suggest to wait for it to hit Instant Queue, Redbox, or On Demand.