[su_dropcap size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]n this gonzo year, body-swap movies feel like Hollywood’s attempt to give us a tantalizing taste of normality. After all, actors just love playing the Freaky Friday scenario, almost as much as studios love putting forth minimal creative effort. So, this Freaky is just a friendly reminder that things have sure changed, but damned if they also haven’t stayed the same. I will say this version does dab a little cayenne in the gumbo: This time, the ol’ switcheroo occurs between a lumbering Michael Myers clone and a dweeby teen screamer. See what they did there? It’s something you haven’t seen, baked right into a movie you’ve seen a hundred times over. Freaky ain’t the greatest shakes, but it does deliver something old and something new, all in one disposable little package.
The movie begins with one of those cutesy Scream-Kevin Williamson scenes, wherein gooberfic high school kids engage in a meta-clever conversation about some mythic Jason Voorhies dude lurking about the countryside. That means you can set your Swatch™ watch to when this coverall-wearing creep is gonna roll in and start chopping these dorks into his own little Benihana onion volcanoes. Cut to a smidge later, and the local podunk town is abuzz about these murders, but not enough to cancel the famed Homecoming Dance. (It’s my contention that if horror protagonists made smarter decisions, it would eliminate the genre altogether. But that’s just me. Anyway, on with the countdown.)
That leads us to Millie (Kathryn Newton), a shy-but-likable senior at Podunk High. Even though she’s intelligent, engaging, and pretty, Millie often hides in plain sight as the school’s Beaver mascot. She’s so invisible, even Millie’s sauced-up mom (Katie Finneran) and bossy older sister (Dana Drori) forget to pick her up after a football game. She sits there, unbelievably, until the stadium has emptied and the lights have gone down. That makes Millie a ripe target for the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), who pops up and chases her all over the field.
Millie and the Butcher tussle at midfield, until he plunges a voodoo dagger into her shoulder. (Not gonna lie, that might be my favorite sentence I’ve ever written.) This unleashes some kinda crazy magic, prompting the two of them to exchange bodies: Millie is now a dead-eyed psychopath, while the Butcher is a flummoxed teenage girl. The killer gets a refreshing dose of anonymity, while Millie has to adjust to having sideburns and droopy testicles.
If all that sounds dumber than a box of sheetrock screws, spoiler alert: It is. Still, Freaky at least has the good sense to realize that fact. The movie never even threatens to take itself seriously, which turns out to be its biggest strength. Freaky‘s got jokes for days, mainly from Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor, who play Millie’s sass-mouthed BFFs.
Just about every actor wants to play the lead in a body swap flick, and Vaughn and Newton are clearly having a ball. Vaughn, in particular, does a great job as a mousy, good-natured girl trapped in a bulky, dingy dad-bod, Newton effectively turns on her killer instinct, but the Butcher is so underdeveloped as a character, she definitely gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It’s a shame she doesn’t have more to do than glare at the camera and leap into a blind rage.
And I guess that’s my beef with Freaky as a whole. As cinematic junk food, it’s not bad. It just never climbs out of third gear. The Butcher isn’t much more than a stock character, and that drains some of the fun out of the movie’s swap premise. I just couldn’t escape the idea that we’re missing out on a whole other level of jokes and sight gags. Still, Freaky hearkens to a simpler time, when all we had to worry about was Hollywood reheating the same old ideas.
101 min. R.