Joey Smack and William Hellfire were arrested for carrying weapons on school grounds and were both in jail temporarily after police had obtained a copy of 'Duck! The Carbine High Massacre' off the internet. See more »
The massacre at Columbine High School--and the grief of its aftermath drawn out in the mass media--brought the 1990s to a screaming halt in a manner similar to the way Charles Manson's 'family' ended the 1960s on a similarly somber note. In the years that have followed, the incident has been the crux of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" documentary and Gus van Sant's awful, exploitative art-house take, "Elephant." In Moore's film, more issues than answers are raised, with the ambiguity of motive and reason providing the fuel for discussion and thought; van Sant's film, on the other hand, is 80 shallow minutes that take forever to say absolutely nothing.
"Duck! The Carbine High Massacre" exists in an odd limbo between the above-mentioned films. Not as thought-provoking as Moore's humanitarian view, and not as dull as van Sant's debacle, its biggest claim to fame is being out the gate first (though filmed in 1999, it didn't receive an official video release until last year), though that ultimately isn't saying much. And the rationale for its existence, though the directors claim otherwise, is just as empty as the news media jumping on the handkerchief-wringing bandwagon of sadness carried in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre.
The shot-on-video production (which has the feel of a home movie, thus making its flaws all the more apparent) follows the lives of two put-upon high school kids (played by William Hellfire and Joey Smack) who listen to heavy metal, make bombs, read "Mein Kampf," and are subjected to torture and humiliation by the Alpha Elite, until one day they decide to shoot up the school in a blood-soaked frenzy. The characters are broad stereotypes without names, from a Bible-thumping Puritan, the cheerleader and her jock boyfriend, the gearhead, and the similarly tormented Goth kids--the cast isn't experienced enough and the writing isn't sharp enough to bring off the cutting satire successfully, so the film just winds up wallowing in its over-the-top excess, pandering for our attention.
That's not to say it isn't without its merits--though some of the humor is awkward (when a husband beats up his wife after hearing some heavy metal music, for instance), the youthful characters hit the right notes in spite of their heavy-handed approach. Needless to say, Hellfire and Smack carry this 20-minutes-too-long picture, and exhibit a deeply felt rapport whenever on screen; though their characters are ultimately as clichéd as the bullying jocks, we are sympathetic towards their plight without necessarily agreeing with it.
On the other hand, "Duck!" trots out nerve-obliterating clichés (how many times did we need to see that wounded kid running out of the building, on TV?), unfunny one-liners, and very poor acting by the surrounding adults. It gets to the point where any commentary on school violence is jettisoned for a "Natural Born Killers"-style festival of excess, to the point where the film becomes a chore to watch.
Ultimately, "Duck!" is an unbalanced misfire that takes the good with the bad, but doesn't elicit the strong reaction it is so desperately trying to provoke. What's left is the promise of seeing something of fairer quality from the Hellfire/Smack duo one day, so...better luck next time, guys.
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