Published April 1, 1999
Idle Hands, directed by Rodman Flender (can there really be someone with such a name?), is another in the recent spate of teen movies. With what can only be considered predictable unsuccess, it tries to marry the old-fashioned, rather campy moralism of the old-time teen slasher movie with the hip, happenin’, po-mo wit of Scream. There are, it is true, a few good jokes, the best perhaps coming when Slacker One says to Slacker Two, “There’s a murderer on the loose! Don’t you watch the news?”
To this Slacker Two, who spends his life in front of the television, replies: “I hate that show.”
But most of the humor is of the gross-out variety, especially that which depends on the return from the dead of a couple of teenage zombies. But the zombies are not worth the dramatic and moral incoherence that results from the attempted addition of a metaphysical dimension. I laughed when two slacker murder victims (Seth Green and Elden Henson) returned from the dead to describe the bright light and the angelic voices calling to them to “uncool music, like Enya,” and then said, “But we figured f*** it; besides it was really far.” But where do you go from there? Zombies going to a high school Hallowe’en dance and hoping to get lucky turns out to be anti-climactic—among other things.
The moral aspect to the film comes from the fact that the hero, Anton “Scooter” Tobias (Devon Sawa), is supposed to be “the laziest f*****” in town. Or perhaps in the world. His “dream,” he tells his two best friends, is “to lie around and watch TV while hot chicks bring me food and s***.” Also to smoke dope, which the three of them do a lot. But as in those old-fashioned teen movies, a bit of classic moralism, in this case the fact that “the devil finds work for idle hands,” is brought literally to life. Anton’s right hand begins to take on a life of its own and, as the devil’s work is conceived of in rather unsubtle terms, starts killing people—first his parents, then his friends, then anyone it can get itself on except the hot chick down the street (Jessica Alba) whose impossible willingness to have sex with Anton after five minutes’ conversation induces him to tie it to the bed rail.
Whether it is the sex, or the drugs or just the irresistible temptation of making more gross-out jokes as Anton decides to cut off the offending extremity only to see it come to life on its own, the promised morality of the picture is swiftly short-circuited. There turns out to have been no point to making the mayhem attributable to Anton’s idleness. It might as well have been caused by a wicked witch putting a spell on him. Certainly the introduction of a good witch called Debbie (Vivica A. Fox) who is the only one who can subdue the hand is the picture’s most spectacularly gratuitous touch. There is one moment at which Anton begins to regret his idle life and to speak, idly, of reform. But he is cut short by one of the zombies who says, “No Kevin Costner speeches.” One sees what he means. In the context, anything so uncool would be even more pointless than the rest of this pointless movie.