THE DESCENT: Spelunking sports babes and albino cannibals face off.
THE DESCENT | Lionsgate| This gore fest could have your stomach on edge even before the team of spelunking sports babes winds up face to face with albino cannibals two miles underground. Neil Marshall (who mined similar terrain in Dog Soldiers) works masterfully on a small budget to invoke claustrophobia and paranoia as the squad squeezes through narrow pipes and ultimately gets sealed in. Soon after, a fall results in a shinbone grotesquely protruding through the skin, and the women stumble into a dank ossuary of sorts. The ensuing carnage is ample but not gratuitous; every arterial spray and bone crack makes a point. In such circumstances, it might be too much to ask for character development, though Aussie dancer/singer Natalie Mendoza holds her own as the can-do leader, and Shauna Macdonald prevails as the weak link who finds her inner Ripley. | 99m
FACTOTUM | Weinstein/Genius Products | On first look, Matt Dillon would seem too clean-cut to play booze-fueled Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, in Bent Hamer’s adaptation of the author’s job-hopping ramble. But given time, Dillon makes the role his own, being more Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces than Mickey Rourke in Barfly. What’s to know about Chinaski? He’s a disgruntled alcoholic with a drive to write and a penchant for debauchery. As a result he can’t hold a job — or a woman (Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei taking brave chances). It’s a depraved odyssey, but Hamer (who also wrote the script) echoes Bukowski’s gift for finding caustic humor in wayward banality. His depiction of how Chinaski uses tongue-in-cheek badinage about being a serial killer as a form of foreplay is spot-on Bukowski. The entire production hangs on Dillon, but he’s up to the task, serving up Hank’s heart with bottom-of-the-barrel bravado. | 94m
JACKASS: NUMBER TWO | Paramount | Is there such a thing as Equus HIV? For the sake of Chris Pontius, a member of Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass troupe, let’s hope not. He’s the willing recipient of a “milk moustache,” the end product of a segment identified as “How to Milk a Horse,” just one of what the MPAA rating board describes as “extremely crude and dangerous stunts” (some of them obscene, most of them funny) in Jeff Tremaine’s sequel to his 2002 hit, itself spawned from the short-lived MTV series. Knoxville and his band of yahoos (Pontius, Bam Margera, Stephen “Steve-O” Glover, Preston Lacy, Ryan Dunn, Ehren McGhehey, Dave England, and Jason “Wee-Man” Acuña) should think twice before making Jackass: Number Three, lest they themselves become “short-lived.” Here, Steve-O nearly has his Steve Irwin moment after offering himself up as bait (complete with a hook through his cheek) and narrowly escaping the jaws of a Mako shark. Jackass indeed. | 95m
THE BLACK DAHLIA | Universal | Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the James Ellroy novel maintains a pulpy clarity to start with, but once the body turns up, the movie turns into, well, a De Palma movie, with its narrative absurdities, its stylistic excesses, its hammy acting. As LAPD officer Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert, a young cop resourceful and disillusioned beyond his years, Josh Hartnett comes off as squeaky and callow, his first-person narration no match for Ellroy’s brawny prose. a crane shot starts with the two protagonists, LAPD officer (Josh Hartnett) and Sergeant Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), at a stakeout. As his partner, the volatile veteran Lee Blanchard, Aaron Eckhart seems glib and inconsequential. As the damaged and enigmatic Kay, Scarlett Johansson pursues her vocation as the screen’s most overrated and annoying actress. The Dahlia herself (Mia Kirschner) is present only in ghostly black-and-white “screen tests,” with De Palma’s voice off screen creepily calling out directions and prying into her inadequacies, dreams, and delusions. What comes off as hard-boiled (despite its extravagance) in Ellroy is only half-baked here. And no De Palma film would be complete without a Rube Goldberg–like “tour-de-force” sequence, or most depressing, a climax disclosing his abject misogyny. | 120m