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Front Page - Friday, March 20, 2020

Critic's Corner: One plus to closing movie theaters: You won’t see ‘The Hunt’

The afternoon I went to see “The Hunt,” AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas announced they were cutting their seating capacity in half to give viewers plenty of elbow room as they watch movies.

I appreciated the gesture, but I don’t think I was in danger of catching the coronavirus from a fellow viewer while watching the new black comedy action thriller. That’s because there were only six other people there, and two left during the showing.

It takes a lot to get me to walk out of a movie, and “The Hunt” didn’t come close to ejecting me from my seat. It’s an unpleasant film if you have an aversion to graphic violence, but the only thing about it that truly offended me was its half-baked execution.

The premise of “The Hunt” is promising. In the film, wealthy liberals kidnap a group of “alt-right” theorists, deposit them in a field and then hunt them down.

They call their prey “deplorables,” the term Hillary Clinton coined for Trump backers during the 2016 presidential campaign.

I liked the idea of making the liberals the aggressors and the alt-rights the victims, only because it’s a twist on the common perception that liberals favor gun control while conservatives are against it.

Then the titular hunt began, and my interest plummeted.

The gore didn’t bother me, although I could have done without it. Watching a sniper’s bullet turn a young woman’s head into a cloud of red mist is not my idea of entertainment, but it might be yours. I’m not here to judge.

The lame attempts at humor didn’t put me off, either, although I could have done without those, too. I groaned when an elderly couple pretending to run a gas station in the middle of nowhere killed three of the alt-rights and then became lovey-dovey with each other as they cleaned up.

I don’t think anyone else in the theater laughed, either – and we were still seven strong at that point.

Instead, “The Hunt” turned me off with the way it spoon-feeds the audience its themes through dialogue.

“The Hunt” tries to do a noble thing: Portray the ultimate manifestation of the seething hatred some liberals and some conservatives in the U.S. have for each other.

When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, I can’t imagine he foresaw a time when opposing political views would incense people to the point of making death threats on his platform. But here we are.

In the hands of an auteur, this idea could have produced cinematic gold. But in the hands of writer Damon Lindelof, it becomes an artless failure.

Lindelof seems to be an idea man first and a screenwriter second. He’s had some great ideas that turned out well, including the television series “Lost” and one of my favorite TV shows, “The Leftovers.”

But Lindelof’s ideas often fall flat. The screenplay for the “Alien” prequel, “Prometheus,” was an abomination, and the “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” reboot, “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” was an ill-advised film, to say the least.

Now we can add “The Hunt” to the second list. As characters who have no business trying to wax clever about politics talk about what the movie means, I kept thinking about how much better “The Hunt” could have been if the filmmakers had jettisoned half the dialogue and focused more on the action.

They would have had to come up with better action, as the movie’s stunts and camerawork are no better than what generic procedurals on network TV offer, but rewriting the script would have been a good first step.

The one bright spot in “The Hunt” is actress Betty Gilpin, who delivers an odd but carefully sculpted performance as Crystal, the closest thing in the film to a protagonist. Her revelation of a key component of her background is the one moment when the characters shut up and let the film speak for itself.

I laughed when I realized what it meant. I would have liked more of that.

Since “The Hunt” was released last weekend, theaters around the country have gone dark, so you won’t be able to see it at the movies. I recommend you skip it when it’s available on demand as well. Even in the comfort of home, “The Hunt” isn’t worth your time or money.