Behold your future. With the coronavirus crippling TV production, this fall’s broadcast-TV rollout is shaping up to be the worst since sometime in the early 1950s: Reality shows; stuff that was shot a couple of years ago but deemed not good enough to make the final cut; and programs that aren’t really new at all but copped from obscure cable channels the networks hope you never even heard of, much less watch.
So Hulu’s slobby high-school comedy The Binge and IFC Midnight’s immersion in survivalist tedium Centigrade are not just TV movies. They are your destiny. They are the viewing experiences your children will bitterly recriminate you with as they withhold your nursing-home pudding half a century from now. They are the brutal visions that will flash before your flaming eyes in the final moments before the Sweet Meteor of Death.
Well, okay, it’s possible I’m exaggerating in the case of the The Binge, which isn’t that bad, but certainly isn’t that good, either. It is the sort of movie in which, for better and often very much for worse, a mother will guilt-trip an errant teenage by screaming, in front of his friends, what she sacrificed to give him birth: “I spent 18 years in a Bangkok prison hanging upside down from my labia!”
It’s a send-up, of sorts, of the mindlessly gory Purge family of splatter films and TV shows, in which an otherwise law-and-order government one night a year encourages every American to rape and murder his head off without penalty. In The Binge, by contrast, all drugs and alcohol have been outlawed except for one night when everybody gets shit-in-your-hat loaded.
Into this tautly sociological landscape we follow three dorky teenaged boys in quest of their first high and their first chicks, not necessarily in that order. Griffin (Skyler Gisondo, Santa Clarita Diet) is determined to ask his long-time secret crush Lena (Grace Van Dien, Greenhouse Academy) to the prom. And his pals Hags (Dexter Darden, Making Moves) and Andrew (Eduardo Franco, American Vandal) are along as his wholly dysfunctional wingmen.
What follows is an orgy of eyebrow amputations, penis-puncturing darts, runaway limos, cow homicides, world-class puking, and adventures in texting auto-correct. (You’d be surprised how much mischief can result in altering “I’m just getting you presents because I’m a Virgo” to “I’m going to get you pregnant because I’m a virgin.” Well, maybe not.) There’s even a non sequitur song-and-dance number that starts off with the immortal lyrics, Why are we singing? What the fuck is happening? No coherent answer is forthcoming.
Some of this is funny, but a lot of it is more like dangling upside down by your labia in a Bangkok prison. Director Jeremy Garelick and screenwriter Jordan VanDina have clearly watched the American Pie movies a few thousand times too many and, before they hurt themselves, probably need to be counterprogrammed with a few viewings (at 127 excruciating minutes each, it won’t take many) of Centigrade.
If The Binge practically gives itself a stroke trying to be funny, there’s no chance of that with Centigrade. The closest thing I had to a laugh came at the beginning, with the claim that it’s “based on true events.” Yes, in the same way a Joe Biden campaign speech is.
In Centigrade‘s first scene, based-on-true-characters Naomi (Genesi Rodriguez, What To Expect When You’re Expecting), a failing novelist, and Matt (Vincent Piazza, Boardwalk Empire‘s Lucky Luciano), a failing doofus, wake up after deciding to whimsically take a roadside nap during an ice storm high in the mountains of Norway. Uh-oh! The car is buried under who-knows-how-many feet of snow.
Oh, did I mention that the doors are frozen shut? Or that their cell phone is dead? Or that Naomi is eight months pregnant? Or that what they lack in intelligence they really lack in personality? Naomi’s first words upon discovering they’re entombed: “I knew we should have kept on driving.” Matt, moments later, after lighting a candle: “This is good. It means we have air!” (The previous clue, that they’re breathing, having escaped his notice.)
The air holding out, unfortunately, there’s about another 125 minutes of bitching and backbiting, which mercifully comes to an end when they hear scraping noises on the roof. Brainsucking zombies escaped from a cave full of old Nazi mad scientists!
Just kidding. Centigrade has much more—much, much more—to say on the subject of being trapped in a car between jackasses, including the answer to the age-old question of how a lady pees in there. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you, except to say there’s no mention of doing the even more imponderable No. 2. Come on, ya gotta save something for the sequel.