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Plot: teen is targeted by a deranged serial murderer

Some movies just defy description. Others never deliver on their promises. The most fascinating are those that are so defiantly weird that they become their own category. I Know Who Killed Me is bad. Showgirls (1995) bad. The Room (2003) bad. 12 million dollars, 4 months of production, a former Disney child star in her first grown up role and a host of embarrassed television actors can’t possibly salvage what by all accounts was shaping up to be one hell of a trainwreck. I Know Who Killed Me is an affront to anyone’s sensibilities; cinematic and otherwise.

How is it possible that a movie trying so hard to be slick and sexy can be so unbelievably unerotic at the same time? I Know Who Killed Me wants, at any cost, to be sleazy. It yearns, no, desperately craves, to be trashy – but somehow manages to be more prudish than the average syndicated TV show. The thrills are never thrilling, the sexy scenes are so terminally dull, badly staged and unerotic that peeling your own eyes out becomes a tantalizing prospect, and the screenplay is so nonsensical and convoluted that they might as well have started filming without one. A rookie director, a first-time writer and a name-star well past her due date. Was there any way this could have ended well for anybody? I Know Who Killed Me was a failure of such collosal, epic proportions that it killed Lindsay Lohan’s career.

That I Know Who Killed Me was even greenlit for production is largely thanks to the then-still relative bankability of freckled redhead Lindsay Lohan. Lohan first broke to the big time with her dual role in the 1998 remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961). That streak continued with another remake of a classic Disney staple in the form of the 2003 reimagining of Freaky Friday (1976), a role that earned her the award for Breakthrough Performance at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. Lohan’s star truly rose with Disney’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) and the sleeper hit Mean Girls (2004). From that point forward Lohan’s off-set shenanigans started to catch up with her as she was involved in a series of car accidents in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Her last Disney project Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005), the fifth (and, so far, last) installment of the Herbie franchise, was a production fraught with problems from Lohan’s side. Her on-set diva behavior and hard partying ways had become the stuff of legend and she had to be hospitalized with a kidney infection. Disney on their side spent a good fortune on visual effects artificially reducing Lohan’s famous bosoms because they apparently would distract too much from a talking car. Just My Luck (2006) put a dent in her career, overtaken almost completely by tabloid press and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and not even the Robert Altman comedy A Prairie Home Companion (2006) and the Emilio Estevez drama Bobby (2006) were able to pull LiLo from the path to self-destruction she had embarked on.

In 2007 production on I Know Who Killed Me, Lindsay’s much-publicized first grown up role, was halted as she had to undergo appendix surgery. Around the same time LiLo admitted herself to the Wonderland Center rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles for a month-long treatment. Her legal, personal, and substance abuse problems became so grave that during production she either showed up very late, or failed to show up at all. For the climax director Chris Sivertson was forced to use a body double to complete the project. Sivertson’s only prior credit of note was co-directing the 2004 remake of The Toolbox Murders (1978) and this remains Jeff Hammond’s first (and, likely, only) screenwriting credit. I Know Who Killed Me was nominated for a grand total of nine Razzies, or Golden Raspberry Awards, eight (Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Excuse for a Horror Movie, and Worst Rip-off, among them) of which it ended up winning. It was not screened in advance for critics for a very good reason. I Know Who Killed Me is terrible.

Sivertson knows his classics and desperately wants to mimic the style of Brian DePalma, Dario Argento, and David Lynch and fails spectacularly. I Know Who Killed Me is simply so uniformly and universally terrible on all fronts that you’d wish Jess Franco had directed it. Suffice to say I Know Who Killed Me all but killed Lohan’s once promising career. It heralded LiLo’s spectacular and very public fall from grace and her subsequent spiral into irrelevance. Almost immediately the ill-repute from I Know Who Killed Me spread like wildfire in the bad cinema blogosphere. It wasn’t until 2010 when LiLo hit absolute rock bottom as she alternated between time in jail and in rehab. In 2012 the inevitable spread in Playboy followed. In the decade-plus since I Know Who Killed Me, LiLo’s career, or what little that’s left of it at any rate, has shown no signs of improving. Chris Sivertson, inexplicably, remains active as a screenwriter and director.

In the idyllic upper middle class town of New Salem (Massachusetts? North Dakota? Illinois? New York? Pennsylvania? Does it really matter?) a young woman called Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan) - an aspiring young writer, naturally gifted pianist and grade-A student - has gone missing, causing great consternation to her parents Daniel (Neal McDonough) and Susan (Julia Ormond). Jennifer Toland (Stacy Lynn Gabel), an earlier abductee, was found horribly mutilated, tortured and very much dead. Fleming’s disappearance prompts an investigation by an FBI taskforce led by agents Phil Lazarus (Spencer Garrett) and Julie Bascome (Garcelle Beauvais, as Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon). One night a bloodied, mutilated girl named Dakota Moss (Lindsay Lohan) is found in the middle of nowhere. The agents, Aubrey’s parents and a psychiatrist question and later try to jog Dakota’s memory believing her to be a fabrication on Aubrey’s part as a defense mechanism to deal with her obvious trauma. As Dakota gathers the clues revealing a long-hidden sordid family secret Moss is able to ascertain who is the perpetrator behind the terrible slaying that continues to haunt New Salem, allowing her to at long last meaningfully mumble: "I Know Who Killed Me." No, it wasn't the butler, cos that is the only cliché that I Know Who Killed Me avoids.

To see beloved television actors as Gregory Itzin, Neal McDonough, Michael Adler, Brian McNamara, and Paula Marshall slumming it up waiting for the paycheck to clear, trying to maintain a straight face while sputtering their way through some of the most hackneyed Ed Wood-ian, near Tommy Wiseau-ian dialog imagineable is heartbreaking to say the least. Itzin, McDonough, Adler, McNamara and Marshall one and all are reliable television actors well above and beyond this kind of cinematic crapshoot. The other name star in I Know Who Killed Me is British expat Julia Ormond, who is under the mistaken impression that this is a serious movie. To see her cringe her way through the “mister Gervais” scene in the hospital is actively pain-inducing. Ormond, the poor thing, was in Legends Of the Fall (1994), Sabrina (1995), and First Knight (1995) in just the decade prior. Thankfully she redeemed herself with David Fincher’s multiple Academy Award nominated The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008) with Brad Pitt the following year.

Apparent YouTube sensation of the day Jessica Rose, “lonelygirl15” to the demographic this was no doubt marketed towards, plays a bit part as one of Aubrey’s friends. The rest of the no-name cast are either wooden or sleepwalking their respective roles. The screenplay is an epic display of undiluted incompetence. Jeff Hammond obviously looked at Planet Terror (2007), Captivity (2007) and Saw (2004) (on to its second sequel by 2007) for inspiration as I Know Who Killed Me features a pole-dancing lead character, loses itself in endless (and, frankly, tedious) montages of torture-porn and has a serial murderer antagonist with a predilection towards punishing his victims through elaborate revenge schemes and contraptions. Characters and plotpoints, big and small, disappear or are not followed up upon with alarming frequency and the symbolism is as subtle as a bull in a china shop. Rank desperation, that’s what it is. Chris Sivertson is a competent director, there’s no contesting. Not even he can save this hot mess of a screenplay.

I Know Who Killed Me desperately wishes it was an Italian giallo murder mystery. It has the sadistic killer in gloves targeting nubile women, it's more transgressive in its portrayal of sexuality than is usually the norm for Hollywood, one of Aubrey’s closest relatives and her family harbors a dark secret, and the red-blue lighting obviously takes after the best works of both Mario Bava and Dario Argento. To even things out there’s also a premature burial and the killer gets really creative upon his captive victims. It opens with a strip routine that looks like it was recreated wholesale from Jess Franco’s The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) and Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and then continues with more elegiac static strip routines that seem to take more after Diana Lorys in Nightmares Come at Night (1972) in the sense that they go nowhere and show nothing. Where old Jess had a chronic problem getting women into their clothes, I Know Who Killed Me found itself saddled with a diva who through contractual stipulations refused to get out of hers. It's exactly the sort of problem you'd never have with starlets like Misty Mundae.

La Lohan duly researched her all-important grown up role, taking up pole-dancing lessons in preparation and gloriously shot herself in the foot and into the hearts of sex workers everywhere with such eloquent, sensible and carefully worded declarations as, They're all whores, they're all whores . . . xcept for some obviously!", “strippers dude, I tell you, I really respect the cunts now. . . I'm not gonna lie to ya and letting candid bits of wisdom as rehab was a sobering experience escape her mouth. Even The French Sex Murders (1972) was more sleazy and, relatively speaking, there were far more sleazier gialli that decade. At least it had Barbara Bouchet. Lohan’s amputated extremities are probably the worst in a moderate budget Hollywood production in living memory. Her severed arm in particular is, somehow, less convincing (despite the obvious and expensive green-screen composit shots that it took to produce the effect) than Pier Luigi Conti’s not-really-a-stump in Jess Franco’s Eurociné jungle epic White Cannibal Queen (1980). The line “people get cut. That’s life” is on par with Everybody got AIDS and shit! from Showgirls (1995) and Tommy Wiseau’s “I did not hit her!” non sequitur from The Room (2003).

Who casts Lindsay Lohan and has her not take her clothes off? LiLo plays a stripper who wears far too many layers of clothes and whose routines seem to take ages. Lohan is given a shower scene and we’re not even treated to a lingering ass shot or a glance of sideboob? The average Andy Sidaris movie was spicier, Tinto Brass (who is a master technician) is sleazier through his innate artistry. Not to mention that the late Jess Franco had Romina Power, Susan Hemingway, and Katja Bienert suffering all sorts of unspeakable indignities and humiliations before they were even old enough to drink! Marie Liljedahl was barely 18 when she bared all in Joseph W. Sarno's Inga (1968). Mary and Madeleine Collinson had been flaunting their twins for a good two years before they landed the titular part in Twins Of Evil (1971) and they were barely 19. Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella made entire features during the wicked and wild 1970s wherein Rita Calderoni barely wore any clothes. It’s depressing on how many levels that I Know Who Killed Me fails in the most obvious of ways. It’s certainly an achievement when the works of Jess Franco and the Eurociné repertoire become a viable alternative. I Know Who Killed Me is such an awesome concentration of pure wretchedness that, somehow, some way, the alternate ending is even worse than the theatrical one. I Know Who Killed Me is a Lovecraftian monstrosity of such staggering proportions that if you gaze into it long enough, a glassy, empty-eyed Lindsay Lohan will stare right back at you…

Plot: benevolent stranger is hired to help locate a woman’s estranged father

The trio of Bloodsport (1988), Cyborg (1989) and Kickboxer (1989) were more than enough to establish Belgian strongman Jean-Claude Van Damme, the “muscles from Brussels”, as the new international martial arts / action hopeful. Universal Soldier (1992) cemented Van Damme’s reputation in America, giving way to a cameo in the surprisingly intelligent Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie deconstruction / genre sendup Last Action Hero (1993). Before his widely derided vanity project Street Fighter (1994) failed there was Hard Target (1993), a cynical pastiche of western conventions under guise of a no-holds-barred action movie, set against the backdrop of a decaying New Orleans in the contemporary Deep South. Hard Target is so American that you can smell the swamps, the humidity and the cynicism.

Chosen to direct Hard Target was Hong Kong action and bullet ballet specialist John Woo, who had stunned the world with the highly-kenetic Chow Yun-Fat heroic bloodshed offerings A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989), Bullet In the Head (1990), and Hard Boiled (1992). Studio interference ensured that Woo’s visual trademarks were kept to an absolute minimum as to not affront Western cinematic sensibilities. In other words, the best way of introducing an exciting new action director to the world was by getting rid of the very things that made said director famous in the first place. John Woo’s trek through Hollywood continued with the John Travolta Die Hard (1989) knockoff Broken Arrow (1996), the science-fiction actioner Face/Off (1997) that pitted Travolta against then-indie-darling Nicholas Cage and the much publicized Tom Cruise starring and produced Mission: Impossible II (2000). Woo did in fact conquer Hollywood, be it through intermediaries as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and the Wachowskis – each of whoms prime endeavours were rife with Hong Kong action aesthetics.

John Woo’s English-language debut Hard Target is first and foremost a homage to classic westerns. After an opening montage that has the feel of a 90s update of The Most Dangerous Game (1932) tough-as-nails Marine Force Recon turned merchant sailor Chance Boudreaux (Jean Claude Van Damme) saves 20-something Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) from a swarming gang of thugs in one of the rough, lawless areas of New Orleans - more or less the Detroit of the Bayou in the mid-90s - which is about as vintage western as you’re likely to get. Mousy, wide-eyed, husky-voiced Michigan native Natasha soon hires Boudreaux - a mid-90s mulleted, denim-clad, boot-wearing, redneck equivalent to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name from Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) – in locating her father Douglas (Chuck Pfarrer), a former Marine Recon that has become homeless in the two decades since Vietnam. Nefarious entrepreneur Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his right-hand man Pik Van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo) have chosen the deep South as the latest target for their business venture that offers a very peculiar service: the possibiity for the incredibly wealthy to hunt the undesirable and the poor in the world’s most unhospitable regions. When Boudreaux’ homeless friend Elijah Roper (Willie C. Carpenter, as Willie Carpenter) is preyed upon things take a turn for the personal. With the help of detective Marie Mitchell (Kasi Lemmons) and his hermit, shotgun toting, moonshine brewing, hicks-from-the-sticks Uncle Douvee (Wilford Brimley) Chance at least has a fighting chance against Van Cleef and Fouchon.

There’s nothing to complain about Van Damme’s martial arts skills or the action choreography and Woo doesn’t have to rely on clever editing and trickery to make the fights any more hard-hitting than they already are. Typical of Western action the fights are clunky, slow and without much rhythm. This isn’t Hong Kong after all. Henriksen and Vosloo relish in the villainous glee as leader and henchman, respectively. Kasi Lemmons’ detective Marie Mitchell is too much of a one-note character to be anything beyond her designated archetype – and it’s telling that her and Willie C. Carpenter’s minority characters need to serve as sacrificial lambs before the Caucasian hero gets serious about stopping the threat of Henriksen’s Emil Fouchon. In fact it’s downright bizarre that in the entirety of New Orleans Lemmons’ and Carpenter’s characters are the only African-Americans in sight. Wilford Brimley lends an odd sense of credibility to what otherwise is an exercise in futility. Since this is Hollywood, and Hollywood needs its clichés; there’s the obligatory scene where the heroes outrun the fireball. At least there are the expected funny one-liners with “poor people get bored, too” serving as a coda.

Woo has the homages to classic westerns flying about fast and thick. Jean Claude Van Damme plays a drifter, a western character archetype. Like many drifters that Eastwood portrayed Boudreaux is a silent man of action. During the streetbrawl wherein Chance introduces himself to Natasha, Woo has Van Damme tuck his longcoat back as he and his assailants briefly exchange glances much in the way of a typical western duel. In their search for Natasha’s father they team up with a local detective, which is the closest Hard Target gets to the western convention of teaming up with the sheriff. “Ladies first,” says Van Damme’s Chance to Butler’s character in a scene scribbled almost verbatim from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Arnold Vosloo’s character is an obvious tribute to western regular Lee Van Cleef. There are corrupt businessmen and doctors abound, and law enforcement is conveniently absent due to a strike. The New Orleans of Hard Target is mysteriously deserted and probably has the lowest count of African-Americans, an unfortunate reminder that black people in westerns weren’t allowed in until 1960 and only became regular cast members in the 1970s. There’s plenty of horseback riding and stuff blows up with all the fireworks John Woo is known for for absolutely no logical reason at all. The score is full of electric guitar, banjo and ‘Born On the Bayou’ from Creedence Clear Water Revival has a prominent place in the soundtrack. Of course do Natasha and Chance ride off into the sunset at the conclusion as if all the other western allusions weren’t obvious enough already.

Hard Target is another take on The Most Dangerous Game (1932) that isn’t helped in the slightest by two leads with no apparent acting skill. Van Damme still hasn’t mastered Shakespeare’s language but at least the script offers a reasonably fun explanation for Boudreaux’ thick French accent. Butler - daughter of Joe Butler, the drummer of American rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful, famous for their 1966 hit ‘Summer in the City’ – was primarily a TV actress and, to be entirely frank, it shows. Her constant look of bepuzzlement is priceless as if Butler is wondering how she ever agreed to this screenplay. Henriksen is at his best when he plays villains and Hard Target allows him to show his range. The mid-nineties weren’t kind to Jean-Claude Van Damme with interchangeable actioners as Timecop (1992), Sudden Death (1995) and Maximum Risk (1996). There was never any question about Van Damme as a martial artist which his early titles Cyborg (1989), Kickboxer (1989) and Lionheart (1990) so aptly demonstrated. Universal Soldier (1992) required him to emote minimally but that movie was actually helped by Van Damme’s detached, robotic performance. Hard Target is certainly better than Replicant (2001) but that isn’t much in the way of a compliment. As far as Van Damme action romps go, there are far worse offenders than the routine Hard Target. John Woo did right in dressing this up as a thinly-veiled homage to his favorite westerns.