There is no reason, ever, to cast Liv Tyler as a scientist. Less convincing than even Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough or Tara Reid as a genius anthropologist in Alone in the Dark, Liv Tyler is better suited to play a beleaguered girlfriend, trapped in a house while being besieged by masked murderers. Fortunately, with just a few weeks between them, this theory can be tested out perfectly, with her new films The Incredible Hulk and The Strangers.
While you would think it would be funnier and therefore more amusing to watch Tyler out of her depth in The Incredible Hulk, the movie, an attempt to erase the memory of the “box office failure” of Ang Lee’s comparatively brilliant Hulk from 2003, is the very definition of a flawless product, completely free from pesky human hands from minute one to its closing credits, where it attempts to set up another Marvel Studios franchise. The notorious backstory of star and co-writer Ed Norton meddling in the editing room seems to have had no effect on the final film, as all we get is minimal characterization, middling effects, and endless shots of military henchman firing large weapons at poorly rendered and matted green globs of a Jolly Green Giant (in one scene filled with rain, the Hulk looks like some faintly molded clay). While Lee’s film may not have worked in the action department, it at least attempted emotions and had the great benefit of a fantastically loony performance by Nick Nolte. This version, directed by Louis Leterrier (who made the fantastically stupid and ridiculously amusing Transporter 2, but was not allowed any of that freedom here), is so middling and forgettable, that it barely distinguishes itself from Marvel’s far superior Iron Man, which opened just a few months ago. The Incredible Hulk even takes the structure and some of the caricatures, from Iron Man, in Jeff Bridges’ place, this time William Hurt, burdened by a ridiculous hairpiece (which continuously shifts on him, the only evidence that people were actually involved in the making of this film is the clear evidence of reshoots, Norton seems to have big problems with his hair color changing from shot to shot as well), plays the insidious and violent father figure. And like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk ends with a CGI vs. CGI wrestling battle (instead of robots, we get giant monsters), that goes on forever, causing only loud yawns. The movie deals with so little in the way of human behavior that when it finally gets to something palatable, how would someone who has to keep his heart rate down deal with getting sexually excited, it is a truly shocking surprise. My mind drifted so much while watching the movie that I started thinking about everything but the story. Did Norton just walk from Mexico to Virginia in a pair of sandals? If the Hulk bangs his hands together like applause, can that really put out fires? Was Tim Roth cast as the villain because he has a British accent? Is Hollywood ever going to make a pro-science film? If the Hulk were real, could you buy Hulk insurance, which would cover property damage and liability? Could the Hulk insure his own pants so he wouldn’t constantly have to replace them?
The pants issue is almost handled by Liv Tyler, who looks and sounds like she does in any movie, pouty-lipped, pig-nosed, baby doll voice, lost puppy dog look in her eyes, the cameraman struggling to find an appropriate angle for her since every shot seems to make her look ungainly and awkward, and realizing she only looks really good from a distance. Or screaming.
Lucky for The Strangers, a subtext-free slasher film, Tyler does a ton of screaming (and unconvincing smoking), and doesn’t have to worry about doing anything else, because no character has been written for her. Tyler and Scott Speedman are stuck at his parent’s house, alone, when they get a 4am visit from a creepy teenager. Much loud door knocking, wind chiming, and window rattling ensue. The faceless, omniscient villains always seem to know exactly where the camera is and there’s that typical horror movie problem where they spend most of their time posing creepily in hopes that the characters are looking out the window at that very moment. You’d think they get bored and realize all of the messing with their victims only gives them more of a chance to escape. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just catch them by surprise and kill them? Is life really one big jump scare? In The Strangers it is, and to be fair, if you fall for that sort of stuff, this is well handled and directed, just realize that that’s all you’re going to get and you’ll be happy.