'John Dies at the End' fails the cult test ★ 1/2

"John Dies at the End" dies closer to the beginning, before writer-director Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the book of the same name has reached minute 20.

Some films have just one thing on their cine-minds: to become the next midnight-movie cult item, even now, in this age of perpetual, immediate, any time-access to so much. A noble goal. But facetiousness gets you only so far.

This is a fantasy grab bag in which nearly anything can happen. At one point a freezer full of packaged meats disgorges its contents, which spring to life and assemble themselves into an encased-meat monster. A mustache transforms into a batlike creature. A rip in the space-time continuum (which is always ripping in the movies — talk about cheap fabric) leads to a scene in a coffeehouse.

One guy gets a phone call from the other guy, who's calling from an alternate universe, also in the present. So he's talking to two versions of the same person, simultaneously. Things like that.

The story comes from Cracked.com staffer Jason Pargin, writing under the pseudonym David Wong, who launched "John Dies at the End" as a 2001 online serial. Later it was published as a paperback, and then a revised version appeared in hardcover in 2009. The movie begins with Dave (Chase Williamson) sitting in a booth in a Chinese restaurant, recounting his improbable adventures to an investigative journalist (Paul Giamatti, who also executive-produced and who soars above the general quality level like an eagle).

It's all about soy sauce. The sauce, we learn, is a drug that allows the user to access alternate dimensions. Dave and his pal John (Rob Mayes) get wind of a planned interdimensional invasion overseen by the evil Korrok. In order for us (well, me) to get on board with Coscarelli's movie, we'd (I'd) have to enjoy the banter and the blase heroics of the leads. But the leads struggle to get a rhythm going, and Coscarelli — who brought an earlier generation "Phantasm," some "Phantasm" sequels and (more to my taste, thanks to the Tanya Roberts factor) "The Beastmaster" — hasn't found a way to turn his admiration for the material into a stupid-fun movie.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'John Dies at the End' -- 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating:
R (for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content)
Running time: 1:39
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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