I stopped taking notes when the woman disintegrated into a ball of writhing snakes.
Up until that point, "John Dies at the End" seemed like the kind of movie that might actually benefit from some furious scribbling on my part. Several minutes into the film -- a mash-up of dark comedy, grindhouse gore, film-noir narration and a headache-inducing sci fi premise about a drug that opens a portal to a parallel universe inhabited by evil creatures bent on our destruction -- I had no idea what was going on.
Here's one of the last things I remember writing, before throwing down my pen and letting the rest of the movie wash over me, like so many waves of warm slime and severed body parts: "Ghostbusters???"
Including the question marks, that's actually a fair, one-word assessment of the film. It really does concern a team of jokey, paranormal crime fighters, minus the ectoplasm and the mainstream yuks of that 1984 classic. " 'Men in Black' on acid" might have been equally descriptive.
Framed as series of flashbacks being related to a skeptical reporter (Paul Giamatti), "John Dies at the End" is the story of what happens when 20-something slackers Dave (Chase Williamson) and his friend John (Rob Mayes) discover a drug called "soy sauce" which forever alters their senses and perception of reality.
What happens is not so easily explained. But it involves time travel and zombie-like pod people whose bodies have been taken over by a parasitic white fuzz from another dimension. Throw that in a blender, along with the kind of hipster humor familiar to fans of "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," and you've got a cocktail with a stoner-y, midnight-movie vibe. It makes for a formidable aperitif, working up an appetite in its audience that eschews ironic detachment for the wholesale cannibalization of its own cheesy pop-cultural goodness.
Sight gags include a dog at the wheel of a car. The repartee boasts such gems as this (spoken in response to the discovery of an alternate universe of masked, topless women): "Apparently, it's 'Eyes Wide Shut' World." Its genre-movie cameos include an appearance by a frighteningly skinny Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in "Hellboy").
Adapted by writer-director Don Coscarelli from Jason Pargin's 2007 comic horror novel, "John Dies at the End" is certainly not for everyone. Yet even those who are able to appreciate its satire of/homage to genre movies may tire of its broad approach, which is less a skewering than a shotgun blast to the head.
One and a half stars. R. Contains, obscenity, violence, gore, and sexual and drug content. 99 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars okay, one star poor, no stars waste of time.