Ezra Crane (2008) – By Joshua LeSuer

 There’s a real romance to rubbish, a majesty to moulder. We’re magpies of muck. Nothing haunts us, head and heart, quite like the chambers and corridors of the Titanic, sunk in seaweed and awash in an eternal, gray dream, like some ghostly Atlantis long abandoned to the algae. And what glimpses we have of Audrey Hepburn, that elfling princess of the screen, is through crackle-veined and murky celluloid. And who doesn’t love to poke about the trash troves of a junkyard, caressing the corroded carcasses of old cars and the mottled hulks of overturned bathtubs, like caverns full of dragon gold and pirate treasure?

Nowhere is this love affair with our own leavings more obvious than our fascination with post-Apocalyptic worlds. Everything from James Cameron’s Terminator saga to Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer winner, "The Road," about the misadventures of a man, his boy and their shopping cart in a blasted and bleakly likely netherworld. The book is a terrifying travelogue of a cannibal kingdom where Darwinian doom hangs in the air, like black smog. It hits you hard and leaves you hollow. "Planet of the Apes" is another excellent example. Once you get past the cardboard spaceship, with its primary-colored panels and electronic chittering right out of Star Trek, and the snickering bombast of Heston’s performance, there’s lots to offer, like the score (a primordial soup of feral whoops and creepy chords), one of the most harrowing chase scenes ever, an Ingrid Newkirk nightmare of a world, Roddy McDowall and Maurice Evans, and a brutal heart punch of an ending.

What Madness Productions’ "Ezra Crane" is, alas, not "Planet of the Apes". It’s not even "Battle For the Planet of the Apes" or "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes". It’s not even the cartoon, for God’s sake! "Crane" isn’t fit to lick that movie’s opposable toe-thumbs.

The beginning is good. And we’re talking about the very beginning. The first thirty seconds. Almost as good as the trek through the bombed-out canyons in "Apes," with the titular anti-hero tramping past terrible totems of looming boulders, while spikes of sterilizing sunlight burn everything, like death rays. The cinematography is excellent. Every scene is soaked in shadows, with pockets of glitter and gloom. It reminds you of the first few minutes of "2001". There’s a primal quality to the images, a hard edge, like a bleached skeleton half-sunk in desert sand.

If the movie had maintained that feeling of hushed dread, of an imploded world, it would’ve been very good. But then a tribe of radioactive freaks shows up–with masks more rubbery and obvious than a Roger Corman cheapie–and we get a 10-second adrenaline gush of a shoot-’em-up. Then Ezra opens his mouth, hollering, "How long?" to the irradiated heavens (you know, you really shouldn’t give reviewers openings like that), followed by one of many hysterical displays of dream psychadelia and a scene stop as abrupt as the chop of a guillotine.

Next morning, Ezra meets Feather, a girl whose naivety is matched only by her inability to keep from twirling in dizzy circles, like a hopped-up hippie at Woodstock. They talk. And while the screenwriter seems to have some idea what he’s doing, the dialogue looper sure doesn’t. You know those old Godzilla movies where the dialogue stutters along a half second behind the lip movements? This is way worse. The dialogue was all clearly done in post and both actors sound like they’re in one of those really bad mini-series you see late at night on the BBC, where everyone talks like bored butlers. I’ve seen more variety from Stephen Hawking’s voice simulator! That wretched looping just killed the movie. It was like watching an episode of "Mystery Science Theater" with terribly earnest hecklers. And since the filmmakers clearly wanted to filter in some nature sounds in the background for realism, we get a single, maniacal cricket shrieking like a smoke detector when the battery runs low.

Feather is on a quest. Of some kind. She’s really eager. But also kind of vague. Ezra decides to be her protector, because that’s what stoic men with guns like to do in movies like this. He has secrets. The kind you’d expect a fellow who wipes out three radiation freaks like Clint Eastwood clearing out a saloon to have. These secrets, of course, will surface. There’s something about being in the presence of a young girl that makes a violent gunman feel like he’s at confessional.

Jaxon Stanford, as Ezra Crane, has his monastic glower down, but he’s hardly Mad Max. He’s too trimmed and tidy. With his prim, little scarf and rubbernecker’s khakis, he looks like he should be on a corporate walkabout, not wandering some wasteland. Alysha Menke fares better as Feather, a little girl in love with being lost in a fairy tale of her own making. She’s hyper and heady, hopped up on giggle juice, a giddy nymph who cartwheels through this corroded underworld. Her presence makes this a true Brothers Grimm story, those deliciously wicked morality tales where some uppity ragamuffin manages to escape a world of Dickensian decay, while all who wronged her meet justly gruesome ends.

Why, oh why, couldn’t this have been a silent film? Wordless, it would’ve worked. It would’ve haunted and horrified, like a mute version of Stephen King’s the Dark Tower series. However, in this strange world of mutant terrors, there’s nothing more unnerving than two people talking.