This weekend I saw "Whipped" and I thought it would be interesting to compare it to the 1948 classic "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Their plots, about three men who turn against each other, are very similar. In fact, the only big difference between them is that "Treasure" is a masterpiece and "Whipped" is the most hateful, fucking awful movie I've seen this year. Nobody will be talking about it in 52 years except to say "That, ladies and gentlemen, was the beginning of the end."
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" follows three hard-luck Americans working oil rigs in Mexico. They stumble into a small pot of money and decide to parlay it into an adventure. They don't want obscene wealth, just their fair share. They work their way into the brutal Sierra Madre mountains, establish a camp and start digging for gold. And they strike it rich, holy shit do they strike it rich. But it's never enough, and Humphrey Bogart wants more. They stay and dig, and must protect themselves from banditos and a claim jumper. But the real danger for these three men is each other as they become greedy, suspicious and paranoid. When they've finally drained the mountain of gold, the three men must survive the descent, the banditos and each other to turn their gold into untold wealth.
In "Whipped," the gold is replaced by an annoying woman (Amanda Peet) that three men fight over. The three bum-luck Americans are replaced by three unbelievably evil frat stereotypes, and "Treasure's" exciting and tense climax is replaced by, well, no climax at all. The story just peters out while the three men eat breakfast. The three assholes work as a team on ladies, but the treasure represented by Amanda Peet creates jealousy and suspicion among them, and they are soon fighting amongst themselves. Like the gold does in "Treasure," the assholes' desire for Amanda Peet destroys them and what they could have had.
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is an amazingly simple and brilliantly executed cautionary tale. Anyone who's ever been a little short on their rent money can identify with Bogart and Tim Holt, the struggling laborers. Once Bogart tastes money though, he isn't happy with enough to pay the rent. He wants more than his share, and everyone else's too. Sort of like that four-eyed fucker Bill Gates.
"Whipped" has no moral, or even a point. In fact, it works very hard to have the exact opposite effect, to make people bigger jerks. The Goddamn mess goes on and on and then it ends, without ever getting around to saying anything except "Aren't these people a bunch of assholes? Don't you wish you hadn't spent the last hour and a half watching them?" If I wanted to watch shallow and empty exchanges, I'd hang around the bar at Ruby Tuesday's. As it is, I prefer the Arvada Tavern, where the characters are more complex than you can imagine, and also much bigger fuckups.
"Treasure" is told through the eyes of Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs, a man whose greed gets the better of him. He is not an evil man, but he is slowly and elegantly corrupted by his own suspicions. Bogart doesn't trust the others because he doesn't trust himself. He can't imagine that the others would be any more moral than he is. It's an incredible portrayal, and Bogart has the balls to make himself ugly and disappear into the character.
"Whipped" features a cast of newcomers so strident and rigid that they never for a minute stop looking like actors in a community college class. Nothing happens naturally and none of the piss disguised as dialog pours easily from their mouths. Director/writer/fucking-asshole Peter Cohen doesn't give one character an arc or evolution. Throughout, the three men blurt out shit like confused homosexuals trying too hard to prove they're straight. They insist they love women, and yet they spend most of their time mentally jerking each other off with violent and vicious stories about hurting women.
I swear to God, these guys are shallow stereotypes without any redeeming qualities. In fact, the stereotypes are so simple that Cohen must think the whole world is populated by men from the college fraternities that will accept anyone. These guys are the cinematic equivalent of virgins in backwards baseball caps who still laugh when someone says "hair pie."
There's John (Jonathan Abrahams - who will never get another job in the movies), the artist with a goatee, black turtleneck and an acoustic guitar. We never once see him doing anything artistic because that would require Cohen to be able to understand art. There's Zeke (Zorie Barber - giving us one of recent history's worst and most histrionic performances), the "screenwriter" who only knows the word "fuck," and even then only knows how to scream it. He sits in coffee shops reading screenwriting books. Then there's Brad (Brian Van Holt, who fucks Amanda Peet in real life) as a broker. But Cohen knows less about stockbrokers than I do, so he just puts him in dark bars where he wears coats and ties.
What most differentiates the blue-collar men of "Treasure" and the white-collar fuckwads in "Whipped" is the dialog. The conversations in "Treasure" are not amazing or razor-sharp, but they come naturally from the characters and they reveal their nature. "Whipped" is full of dialog that is only meant to shock. It has little to do with the characters, and more to do with Cohen wanting a mouth to spew his hateful diatribe. I heard some laughs in the first ten minutes as people reacted, "Can they say that?" as characters talk about rimjobs and blowjobs. However, nothing is revealed except that these guys are socially retarded, muted murderers. Mostly it's because Cohen seems to have cribbed his script from the men's stall in the Ralston Amoco. No shit, it's all nasty comments that objectify women as holes for men to stick their dicks in. If Cohen's intention was to lampoon these men, he failed miserably because he's way too in love with them and the words he has them spout.
The gold in "Treasure" doesn't really glimmer. It's gold ore and looks like sand. Still, it has more star power and has more to do than Amanda Peet in "Whipped." Plus, it's a hell of a lot more desirable. "Whipped" tells us these three men fall for Peet, but I never saw why. She isn't given any more depth than the men. The twist at the end is unconvincing, not even to us but also the characters on screen. See, Peet is fucking these guys over because they've done it to other women. In whose moral world is being an asshole worth cheering for? They're fucking pricks, and we're supposed to be happy because she is too? With his moral sense, Peter Cohen should be selling used cars, not making movies.
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is the work of geniuses at the top of their games. The master John Huston wrote (from B. Traven's novel) and directed with a deft hand, keeping the straighforward plot tight and suspenseful. Bogart gives my favorite performance of his, and I love Bogart. Holt underplays his hand as the decent man with a family at home, and Walter Huston does what he can with the slightly hammy role of the wise old coot. The scenery is desolate and rugged, the men struggle in a way an audience can appreciate.
"Whipped" is the work of Peter Cohen's family. One look at the credits shows a shitload of Cohens. Cohen is as inept a director as he is a writer. Every scene is the same: annoying assholes blabbering. They don't move, they don't change scenery, they just sit there, in a diner, in a kitchen, in the bedroom. Nothing but hateful, strident shouting of the same dirty jokes, over and over. My God, the guy even has his characters speak directly to the camera, a lame stunt even a good director usually can't get away with.
In a final salute to his own ego, Cohen runs bloopers over the final credits. This barely works after good movies, but after bad ones it feels like a director patting himself on the back. "Aren't we funny? See how much fun we had making this awful movie? Too bad you didn't have any seeing it."
Destination Films released "Whipped." For those who aren't familiar, this is the same company behind "Bats," Eye of the Beholder," and "Drowning Mona." They specialize in finding movies that other studios made and are too embarrassed to release. They buy them and then cram them down our throats. "Whipped" was actually filmed in the summer of 1998, and has been sitting on someone's shelf since then. Only a company as insipid and uninterested in quality as Destination Films would have the gall to release it.
Five fingers for "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." One fucking finger for "Whipped." Ladies, if you ever meet a man who thinks "Whipped" is how men really think, run. Run very fast because he is most likely a rapist. Go rent "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," you'll be glad you did.
©2002 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All fucking rights reserved.
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