The notion of David Arquette starring in a horror movie about a “possessed” rock band promises so much trashy fun, a certain amount of disappointment seems almost inevitable. Yet “High Voltage” confounds expectations by being very little fun at all. Short on thrills and energy despite its title, this slick yet sluggish feature often seems barely interested in the horror elements that are, after all, what will primarily lure viewers in.
Instead, the genre hook comes off as more of a Trojan Horse with which to smuggle in a showcase for “Hollow Body” (originally the film’s title, too), the onscreen vehicle for writer-director Alex Keledjian’s songwriting and costar Allie Gonino’s singing. It’s an awkward, compromising combination that ultimately provides little satisfaction on any level — unless you’re content to watch Gonino model a series of increasingly over-the-top, midriff-baring “sexy rock chick” fashions.
Narrator Jimmy Kleen (David Arquette) is a jaded 1980s one-hit wonder whose career — like his numerous marriages — has been moribund for some time, while creditors close in on the impressive Hollywood Hills home he bought at his peak of success. He spies possible financial and artistic salvation in the form of Rachel (Gonino), a pretty but shy young woman with a “golden voice,” and equally modest songwriter Scott (Ryan Donowho), who has toiled in the L.A. music scene for years without getting a break.
Jimmy pulls a favor from his even more cynical old colleague Rick (Luke Wilson), a multimedia exec, to get the newly formed and christened band Hollow Body (whose drummer and bassist barely rate so much as character names here) a debut gig. But Rachel, the insecure product of an obnoxiously pushy “stage mom” (Perrey Reeves), suffers an attack of crippling stage fright. Capping a bad night, she and her mother are struck dead by lightning as they drive away. Somehow Rachel wakes up three hours later on the mortuary slab, suddenly not just alive but crackling with confidence, diva behavior, and appetites that encompass more than even the standard rock-star quantities of booze and drugs. Oh, and she also electrocutes to death anyone she seduces.
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Keledjian’s sketchy script doesn’t address the general question of “why” beyond an implicit shrug acknowledging that stuff like this (post-fatal-accident, wallflowers become insatiable killer vamps) simply happens in movies like this. And yet, “High Voltage” never seems very interested in being that sort of movie. The deaths are perfunctory, and the terms of born-again Rachel’s affliction make scant sense even in pulp fantasy terms. Instead, the film spends an ungodly amount of earnest, tedious time on Scott’s deteriorating relationship with the wife (Elizabeth Rice) and baby he’s ignoring while climbing the showbiz ladder. There’s also a lot of music, which is fine as far as it goes — Keledjian’s songs and Gonino’s vocals are indeed quite capable in a contemporary mainstream rock idiom — but never really meshes with the half-baked fantasy storyline.
Meanwhile, as someone notes here, “Every time [Hollow Body] plays, somebody dies,” yet miraculously neither police nor anyone else seems to grow suspicious about the trail of charred corpses. That sloppy writing logic is surpassed, however, by the film’s big concert climax, which takes place entirely off-screen — Arquette simply tells us via voiceover what happened.
That giant gap tends to underline what we’ve already come to suspect by then: that this is one of those movies thrown together at least in part because its primary location (“Jimmy’s” Hollywood manse) was available. We spend way too much time there, and eventually the reluctance to set scenes elsewhere becomes conspicuous.
Despite that evidence of budgetary limitations, “High Voltage” is in other ways relatively polished. DP Cameron Duncan’s lensing is notably glossy and garishly colorful, but the guilty-pleasure fun of a “Species”-like “she mates, she kills” hook never quite connects here, undone by clunky dialogue, indifferent action, and too little humor.
Gonino (who was once in a teen pop group that toured with Justin Bieber) has a few campy moments as Rachel appears to experience orgasmic currents of electrical energy. But neither she or the movie seem comfortable embracing the outre ridiculousness this concept cries for. Even more disappointingly, Arquette—a born comedic goofball—is stuck playing it straight as cool, crass veteran scenester Jimmy. Those hoping he might get a chance to revisit the fraidy-cat delights of “Eight Legged Freaks” and the “Scream” series are in for a letdown, one of many this under-charged thriller doles out.