A Grim Becoming (2014) Review

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Life is tough for Raphael.  He’s on the verge of losing an expensive architectural deal for his firm, a jealous co-worker aims to take his place, his nephew unexpectedly passed away, and he runs down a homeless man with his car.  As he approaches the man to assess the damage, a grim reaper appears and snatches the man’s soul away.  Thinking things couldn’t get any worse, Death himself shows up at the wake of Raphael’s nephew to explain the consequences of having witnessed a reaper in action: Raphael is now cursed to become a reaper himself.  Of course, Raphael isn’t keen on the idea what with a failing career to save, but Death has other designs and Raphael’s body just isn’t cooperating as the curse takes hold.

On paper, the plot reads well.  A comedic tale of an unwilling reaper railing against their boss to avoid their new duties sounds promising.  This simple set up allows for so much potential in humor that could successfully go so many ways.  The end result, however, is a wacky slapstick comedy that feels like the physical embodiment of a cartoon. While that in itself isn’t a negative, the endless parade of left field gags that feel often out of place end up giving the story a feeling of directionless. The end goal becomes less clear as random takes center stage.

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For example, there’s a running side story throughout the entire film that features an older couple checking into a hotel to get frisky.  In this instance, the male counterpart is clearly a younger actor done up in terrible makeup to look reminiscent of Johnny Knoxville’s Bad Grandpa.  Their first appearance in the film was puzzling and seemed more akin to an inside joke.  Their continued appearances throughout contributed nothing to the main story, only further confusion as to what purpose the old couple serves.  There’s another scene in which Raphael’s sister, her much older husband, and a jar of peanut butter get a little too freaky in the kitchen.  It may have invoked a temporary aversion to peanut butter.  All of the characters are defined by a single trait or quirk, and none of them have any depth.  The quirks only enhance the wackiness, while the lack of depth leaves the viewer unattached.

The zany music compliments the cartoonish tone well, and often sounds as though it were lifted straight from Saturday morning.  The music cues perfectly with much of the slapstick humor. However, the music frequently drowns out the dialogue, making it difficult to understand the characters quite often.

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Another highlight is Raphael’s transformations into full reaper mode.  In particular, the scene in which Raphael struggles to run upstairs while his limbs are morphing into the skeletal limbs of the reaper is most entertaining.   Director Adam R. Steigert uses clever camera trickery and editing that gives these scenes more believability while still retaining a cheeky sense of humor.  It’s in these few scenes with Raphael battling his inner reaper that the humor actually works.

With a run time of 117 minutes, the film drags on and needed some serious trimming.  Very rarely can a comedic story sustain itself for that long, especially in a comedy that relies heavily on the physical aspect.  Perhaps this is further hindered by long stretches of exposition by Michael Sciabarrasi’s Death.  While his cigar smoking, hammy portrayal initially entertains, he spends most of his screen time explaining the rules of life as a grim reaper.  Though he delivers necessary information, like the rules on life as a reaper, it screeches the film’s pacing to a halt.  As previously mentioned, much of his exposition was muted by the soundtrack anyway.

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Raphael’s journey isn’t a fulfilling one to watch.  He flounders through one goofy scene after another, from weird reaper rules straight out of Highlander, annoying side characters, to arbitrary stoned angels in tie-dye.  By the end of his journey, the viewer is just as lost and exhausted as he is.  A story that needed to be trimmed, silly gags that opted for cheap laughs and dialogue that often went unheard mired a great concept.  Clever ideas matched with clever camera usage prevented some of the humor from falling flat.  Bolstered by the music choices, A Grim Becoming felt like a manic cartoon.   Extra scenes play throughout the end credits, packed with gore.

Rating: 4 out of 10

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