Friday, April 18, 2008

A Frank Review of "Karla"

I'd first become aware of the "Ken and Barbie" serial killers of Canada when Karla Homolka was being released from prison in 2005. Essentially. she and her husband, Paul Bernardo, were involved in the rape and murder of three teenage girls, including Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy Lyn. Homolka also became aware Bernardo was the already infamous "Scarborough Rapist" before their marriage and concealed this fact from police. The account was fairly sickening, but I'd forgotten about the case until I went searching through Netflix's "Watch It Now" options and saw a film dramatization of the events starring former "That 70's Show" star Laura Prepon. Unfortunately, Prepon is among an all-American cast and crew of underachievers bringing FOX-quality television docudrama to bear in portraying a deeply sociopathic couple with less grace than caricature. Canadian filmmakers refused to touch the material, which after seeing "Karla," may or may not be a shame. Prepon plays Homolka as a cardboard standee who's sole motivation seems to be maintaining an idealized view of her disturbing relationship, and she does it with an accent that surfaces only as an embarassment. I've come to view Scarlett Johansson as the female Keanu Reeves, an attractive but empty vessel through which roles pass unaltered from the type on the script. With her bleached hair and blankness, Prepon seemed to be channeling a Johansson performance, which while light years from her sunnily charismatic former sitcom role, in no way captures the Homolko from case notes and even elements of the script. In fact the whole production is numbing, skewing in favor of Homolka's highly suspect account of events while relying on a text only denouement at its rushed conclusion after wasting gobs of screentime on Bernardo's cartoonishly extreme sadism. One assumes the portrayal of Bernardo was intended to recall Ted Bundy, but the actor is in slimeball mode from his first scene onward, without the slightest depth or any indication of motivation. Curiously, Brandon "Superman" Routh pops up as a glorified extra in the last few minutes of the film, and it struck me that even if his natural humanity wouldn't have better served the role of Bernardo (played by Misha Collins,) his own "lightness" might have complimented Prepon's to create a couple that exited the reality of their actions altogether. Also, the framing device for the narrative involves a prison psychologist who's accent is distractingly similar to Anthony Hopkins' from the Hannibal Lecter movies.

Again, I'm not sure if Canada should be ashamed for allowing Yankees to film their hometown horror story. While they could be commended for not racking the muck a year after Homolka's release after twelve years in prison, the nation is given a black eye by the ineptuitude of the actual handlers. As Bernardo is a complete cypher for mania in the film, no mention is ever made of his life before Karla, including his adoptive father being a child molester who assaulted his daughter, or his mother revealing he'd been conceived during an extra-marital affair. Nowhere is it mentioned that Homolka aided Bernardo in a kidnapping and rape after the videotaped rape/accidental death of her sister, and before the murder of Leslie Mahaffy. The film never makes explicit that murder was not part of Bernardo's m.o. prior to the death of Tammy Homolka, and the biased perspective of the narrative downplays the probability that Karla either comitted or instigated the commission of two premeditated murders. The police assume Tammy Homolka's death was accidental, and their linking DNA evidence provided by Bernardo to the Scarborough Rapist years after the fact is never explained, making them look imbecilic and partially responsible for the deaths that followed the gross oversights. The film actually covers for the police's failure to find videotapes of the rapes hidden in Berbnardo's bathroom, which were located by Paul's lawyer under his instructions after the expiration of search warrants. Homolka's helplessness is constantly reenforced in the film, despite her videotaped participation in the rape of her own virginal sister evidenced in trial, nor her dolling herself up before raping Leslie Mahaffy. The movie plays on Homolka's surprise at seeing Mahaffy's dismembered body parts encased in cement, despite evidence she in fact washed pieces of the girl before their emersion to enable the process. After the instance of spousal abuse that finally saw Homolka turning in her husband on said count (but not for other crimes for which she was accountable,) the terrifically miscast Prepon shows up from the hospital with two black eyes straight out of an "Our Gang" short, a far cry from the medical report citing a "hemorrhage in the left eye resulting from strikes to the back of her head which drove the brain forward into her skull." Further, "she suffered a contusion to the forehead, bruises down the side of her neck and along her arms, bruises and swelling to 75% of her legs from the mid-thigh down and a puncture wound from a screwdriver on her right thigh above the knee."

Argh! I could go on, but enough is enough. Ultimately, all I get out of the film besides irritation was Laura Prepon in her underwear, and even that was sullied by the bleach job-- and the whole murder/rape thing. Duh! So far, this is the only Rotten Tomatos reviewed movie I've ever seen with a 0% rating. Not an abstain, just universally negative reviews.

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