Overview: Somebody takes one of the cave trolls from Lord of the Rings, stuffs him into a bunch of flannel and hands him a giant axe, and then sets him loose on a group of assorted degenerates on a maximum-security prison field trip to singalong/labor camp in the Minnesota woods.
Directed By: Gary Jones, 2013
The Case For: If you've ever wanted to see a bunch of fat guys with gross patchy beards smacking their lips in front of a green screen, well, here you go. If not, just go ahead and add that to the Case Against.
The Case Against: Kills more brain cells than a 40oz of Steel Reserve (drinking one, not throwing it at someone's head, which is way less dangerous). Dan Haggerty levels seriously exaggerated/dangerously low.
Paul Bunyan. We all know the stories of the lovable gentle giant and his rascally blue dog Gabe, who - as legend has it - rambled around the 1950s American southwest in their trusty poutine wagon digging up mushrooms and swapping handjobs for gas money. Sure, maybe some of the little details vary depending on who's telling it, but the basic idea is always pretty much the same. Big gianty sort of a guy, wears a lot of flannel, hates the fuck out of trees, has a statue in Minnesota, yadda yadda. Really deep, thought-provoking stuff here.
As far as legends go, the story of Paul Bunyan is pretty light on specifics about the man himself, but if there's one constant it's that he's generally a pretty okay sort of guy. He might be an enormous, clumsy oaf who bumbled around the country, making lakes with his boots and the Grand Canyon with his ass or whatever, but he's usually well-meaning enough. The creators of Paul Bunyan: Axe Giant, The Wrath Of thought they would just go totally off the reservation and deconstruct*/post-modernize the whole mythos and make him a big chess-playing psycho troll who likes to lop people's heads off with gnarly gruesome CGI special-moves.
Fine, whatever, we'll extend our already herculean suspension of disbelief and play along. Underneath all those warm, syrupy layers of fuzzy flannel and folksy cornball CanadiAmericana mythos lurks a monster of unimaginable dimension and horror. Accepting that isn't going to make watching Axe Giant any more of a pleasant or worthwhile experience, though. After all, there's no movie concept so bad that it can't be further ruined by terrible execution, which Axe Giant features in big, glowing spades. The action centers around a group of hardened, minimum-security criminals, who are in some kind of bizarre summer camp/prison exchange program in which they all drive up to Camp Goofball to go on nature walks and talk about their feelings in bunk beds or whatever instead of doing hard time. Good thing they live in the nameless, unsung 53rd state (wedged in there between Puerto Rico and America Presents: Fantasy Island) and get to benefit from its experimental prisoner rehabilitation techniques.
As a premise, this would almost be half-believable if not for the stupid shit he insists on reading out loud telling us all of their crimes, which range from the more obvious/sensible things like petty theft and contempt of court but then immediately escalates to include "drug trafficking" and "three counts of assault on a police officer." Oh, and then it turns out that the petty theft guy is actually a criminal hacker ubermensch who stole 12 million bucks from Uncle Sam. The movie makes a big deal about his elite hacking skills, which is a tough sell for a remote cabin 800 miles from the nearest electrical wire, but don't worry, he gets his chance to flex his technical muscle later in the movie when he tries (and fails) to hotwire a car.
The summer singalong antics and recreational death marches at Camp Stupid are rudely interrupted by the arrival of Paul to the B, who surprises everyone by making his first kill a sneak attack, cutting a girl in half while she's busy texting. That's a pretty impressive feat for a 50-foot giant lumbering around with a 600-pound battleaxe, especially since it sounds like a T-Rex slam dancing whenever he walks around. While the nearly-teen, nearly-actors all flee in terror, we're left to ponder an important question: why is Paul Bunyan killing these random people again? Well, how about this:
*We are of course using "deconstruct" here in the same sense of respect and dignity with which one might "deconstruct" a minor roadside attraction - like, say, the world's largest upside-down barn - by savagely beating the owners, burning it to the ground, urinating on the ashes and then salting the earth so nothing will ever grow there again.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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