The Midnight Meat Train – 2008

Director Ryuhei Kitamura
Screenplay Jeff Buhler based on the short story by Clive Barker
Starring  Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Vinnie Jones, Tony Curran

Watching The Midnight Meat Train is a weird feeling. Looking back at Bradley Cooper before he found his acting mojo, he still seems like a kid here, even though he was already over 30. He has more than enough intensity to make up for any charismatic shortcomings. Still, it’s almost like watching someone else.

The story is ridiculous. Cooper, as a photographic “artist”named Leon, is set up with a potential sponsor (Shields) who gives him some marching orders on who and what to look for to make his art worth putting ion a gallery.

He then takes it upon himself to head out in to the city at night in search of new subjects. In the process, he makes his way into the subway and stops an assault. The girl he saves then kisses him, gets on a train, and then is quickly overcome by the “Subway Butcher,” named Mahogany (Jones).

His girlfriend Maya (Bibb) sees pictures of the girl and points out that she has been reported missing. Thus starts a spiral that leads Leon, May and their friend Jurgis (Bart) into the path of Mahogany.

It’s a script that writes itself. The only thing you get to look forward to are the incongruities. Why are some people butchered gruesomely, and others left hanging, so to speak?  What are the markings on the chest? How does the train get cleaned up so quickly. How in the hell is the butcher himself looking spick-and-span by the time he ambles home?

We aren’t watching this for logic, then, are we. I don’t think I have ever seen a Clive Barker story that cornered the marked on rational thinking. The point here is to get gruesome, cruel and to splatter everywhere.

None of the actors, outside of Cooper, are anywhere close to Oscar caliber here. In that way it matches everything else about the film. We are not looking for Bill Shakespeare, as my friend the Grouchnapper might say.

So for those who like blood flying to and fro, I suppose there might be something of value here. Ted Raimi has a particularly memorable scene, and they can’t kill some people fast enough. The fight scenes are too disjointed to get much enjoyment from.

There is a legend about this film, for no other reason than that it was shelved shortly before its theatrical release and relegated straight to video. Some say it was an injustice. I think it was likely the most clinical dissection of the film possible. It’s as good as anything Barker ever wrote, and that’s not saying much.

For all the positive press received for the film Kitamura hasn’t exploded onto the scene since this film. His star has held steady in the middle of the road. As neat as it is for a head that’s been beaten off to look back at one’s body and it’s killer in high def, I can only think every blow I have ever received to my head resulted in blurred vision at best.

As for Cooper, he’s probably lucky this one didn’t hit it big. He didn’t have to wait much longer after this for The Hangover, and it’s all been a smooth train ride since then. If this had resonated beyond the horror at home crowd, he may never have found his true calling as an actor.

(** out of *****)

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