The Hillz (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Watching some of the smaller releases every week can be a great pleasure, because every once in a while a great film gets made outside the standard channels, and it can be an incredible high to be the first to reveal it to the world. The great independent movies can have a freshness, a daring, an intelligence that sets them apart from the run of the mill output from the Dream Factory.

This is not one of those movies.

If you want to see one of those, you might try The Station Agent or ivansxtc.

This is the evil, dark side of the independent force, the side that says that anybody with a DV camera can make a movie, and that anyone might be able to make a few bucks by cashing in on some kind of hot trend. In this case, the filmmaker tried to get kind of a Tarantino thing going, by juxtaposing extreme, graphic violence with gallows humor. Unfortunately, there are not many people capable of making good Tarantino movies. Even Tarantino himself is not always completely successful under the best of conditions, but imagine if Tarantino's conditions worsened substantially. First, let's force him to fire Uma Thurman and hire Paris Hilton. Then, we'll cap his spending at $100,000 - for everything - film, crew, actors, music, locations, snack cakes - everything. Finally, we won't allow Tarantino to write the script or direct it himself - he'll have to hire a complete neophyte to fill in as his writer and director. Saran Barnun has no other credits at IMDb, but is credited as the director, writer, actor, producer, casting director, and music supervisor of this film.

Now you have the idea what the movie is like.

Here's the deal:

A group of high school seniors chill out during the summer after graduation. They are basically spoiled rich kids whose parents live in mansions, but they have a craving for more thrills and more respect in life, so they basically become the drug lords for their ritzy suburb. It doing this, they adopt the attitude of urban street gangs, talk a lot of shit, and shoot anyone who even dares to look crosswise at them. The Hills becomes Da Hillz, and they become gangstas. They face rather different challenges from the typical urban gang. For example, one local cheerleader promises unlimited sexual utopia to the psychotic leader of the gangstas, in return for which he merely has to kill her rival for the head cheerleading spot.

One of the guys is a top athlete and longs to escape from his loser friends through pro sports, but somehow he always ends up being drawn back into their circle, because they have a lot of power. For example, Sports Boy really wants to date a pretty Stepford babe (Paris Hilton!!), but she is totally in love with her snobby frat-boy fiancÚ who acts like a cross between Eddie Haskell and Marmalard in Animal House. He plays the role of sophisticated future Senator when he's around Paris, but talks all kids of nasty trash about her behind her back. Sports Boy needs to get Paris from her fiancÚ's evil clutches, so he must turn once again to his ex-friends, the losers turned gangstas, who manage to handle the problem smoothly and subtly by murdering the frat boy right in his frat house, along with several unfortunate frat brothers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The next day, when Sports Boy sees Paris, she says "somebody killed Todd last night, who could have done such a thing?" He unexpectedly admits he did it because he has loved her since the sixth grade, and she even more unexpectedly says, "That's the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. I love you, too, Steve." I guess her period of grieving was brief, but deep.

When one of the suburban gangstas is murdered in the course of their criminal adventures, Paris shows up for the funeral in ... Oh, hell, why describe it? Here's a picture. The object you see in the foreground is the deceased!

I must say at least Paris had the good taste to show up with her nipples falling out of a black dress. When you get right down to it, how much more respect do the dead really need? After all, they won't notice.

What about the parents of the victim, you ask? Won't they be shocked to see Paris using their son's wake to troll for studs? Funny thing about that. All these kids live in mansions and drive expensive cars, but we never see any of the parents who pay for those things. They are sort of like the Peanuts gang, except older and better armed.

All of this is obviously wrought with the author's tongue deep in his cheek, but the film is played out with the same gravitas as would accompany a gritty street drama about black drug gangs in Harlem.

I just read back what I have written, and the film doesn't sound that bad. In fact, it sounds sorta funny in a too complicated, High Concept way. Unfortunately, it sounds better on paper than it works in reality. The way it plays out with the cameras rolling, the exaggerated situations really don't work to produce any humor in the moment. The entire film just seems like a crazy crack-induced rage, and the tone is so consistently and brutally ugly that you won't really even be aware of the underlying humor unless you force yourself to stop and think about what is happening, or if you have to explain it to someone as I am doing here.

You probably should not expect any lavish production values, either. I saw the boom mike at least once and, as mentioned above, the budget for the entire movie is said to have been $100,000. As for the acting, well, how good do you think the overall acting would be if the female lead is Paris Hilton and the total payroll for the entire cast is maybe - what? $30,000? Do you have a general mental picture? Well, the reality is not as good as you've imagined. As you all know, Paris really wants to be a star of some kind, and keeps trying to establish some other talent besides the one she has already established -  which is the ability to look beautiful, yet skanky, in expensive clothing. She's already been booed for her musical efforts, but I have to say that her singing couldn't be much worse than her acting. That "somebody killed Todd last night" scene might have turned out really funny with a competent actress. Oh, well, let's just say that Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet need not fear a decreased workload as a result of Paris's entry into the acting field.

You can safely walk past this one when you spot it on the video shelves.

Oh, and there is no nudity either.

 

DVD INFO

  • Full length commentary
  • The transfer is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.
  • There is a .pdf file of the original script
  • original R-rated trailer

 

NUDITY REPORT

None. Paris Hilton's nipple is briefly visible in her funeral gown, and she appears in bikinis.

 

The Critics Vote ...

  • No reviews online. Be patient. It must be on Roger Ebert's to-do list.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a D. What would you expect from a film in which the female lead is Paris Hilton?

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