At times, the overwrought Australian action-comedy “Nekrotronic” feels like it’s been specially engineered to keep film festival “midnight madness” audiences awake. Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner (from a script by him and his brother Tristan), this movie is a loud, frenetic mashup of an Edgar Wright buddy picture and David Cronenberg cyberpunk, with bits of “Tron,” “The Matrix” and “Ghostbusters” mixed in.
Ben O’Toole plays Howie, a sanitation worker who discovers he’s the key to winning a secret war between demon-fighting vigilantes and an ancient evil force, led by a sophisticated visionary named Finnegan (Monica Bellucci ), who’s been using a “Pokémon Go”-like smartphone game to steal souls. The demons’ latest victim is Howie’s sewage-sucking partner Rangi (Epine Bob Savea), a goofy slacker who sticks around as a wraith after he gets killed.
Some impressive sets and practical effects — coupled with likably low-key performances by O’Toole and Savea — give the Roache-Turners a solid frame for their manic genre-scrambling. Caroline Ford and Tess Haubrich are very good too, as a pair of savvy necromancer sisters.
But this kind of movie may need the sleep-deprived hooting of a festival crowd to keep its party going. “Nekrotronic” is “fun,” but often in an off-putting, aggressive way. The Roache-Turners have prioritized fleeting moments of gross-out humor and special-effects dazzle over a controlled pace, or careful world-building.
That said, the film will no doubt find some fervent fans. Anyone who’s not completely exhausted by “Nekrotronic” after the first half-hour is the movie’s target.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; available Aug. 9 on VOD
“Every Time I Die”
It takes about 40 minutes before the plot really gets rolling in the psychological thriller “Every Time I Die.” The movie has such a unique premise that viewers who make it through the relative drudgery of its first half will — for the most part — be rewarded for their patience.
Drew Fonteiro stars as Sam, a paramedic who suffers from frequent blackouts and a guilty conscience — the latter prompted both by the affair he’s having with a married woman and by a childhood secret he barely remembers. When the husband he’s cuckolding kills him, Sam’s consciousness drifts into the body of his EMT partner, Jay (Marc Mechaca). He continues trying to solve the mystery of his own past while avoiding getting killed … again.
The cast of “Every Time I Die” can be pretty shaky at times; and director Robi Michael (who also co-wrote and co-produced the film with editor Gal Katzir) indulges in too much ponderousness and allusiveness in the early going, teasing out Sam’s backstory in ways more confusing than compelling.
But once Sam dies and becomes someone else, the movie snaps into focus. Michael and Katzir begin playing with the inherent suspense of a murder victim in a new identity, who’s trying to tell his friends who he really is.
The ultimate payoff in “Every Time I Die” is too soft, given all the buildup. But the film works well when it’s purely existential — just telling the story of a person with a hazy memory, trying to survive long enough to understand his own life.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; available Aug. 9 on VOD
After over 30 years in the business, Dolph Lundgren still brings a lot of charisma to even the most routine action pictures. With his weathered face, impressive build and soulful eyes, Lundgren is a walking, talking special effect. It’s easy to see why he’s still making four or five movies a year.
Lundgren can’t do much with the tedious revenge thriller “The Tracker,” though. He plays Aidan, a skilled survivalist who’s grieving the loss of his kidnapped wife and daughter when he gets a tip from an Italian detective that there’s been a new lead on the case. When that cop turns up dead, Aidan picks up the trail of his prey and pursues justice in his own way.
Lundgren can play these kinds of driven, tortured loners in his sleep. But he still needs a story worth telling, in eye-catching locations, with action sequences that pop. “The Tracker” has none of those three. It just has its star, stranded in a picture that would be intolerably dreary without him.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Available Aug. 9 on VOD
“Ode to Joy”
Like recent arthouse hit “The Farewell,” the romantic comedy “Ode to Joy” is based on a true story, previously told on radio’s “This American Life.” “Ode to Joy” stars Martin Freeman as Charlie, who suffers from a condition called cataplexy, which causes him to pass out whenever he feels intense happiness. This complicates his life considerably, once he falls in love with the bubbly Francesca (Morena Baccarin).
Unlike “The Farewell,” though, “Ode to Joy” takes a fascinating and unusual tale and processes it into pap. Freeman and Baccarin bring as much nuance as they can to characters who are too broadly conceptual (he’s “the man afraid of emotions” and she’s “the woman he can’t resist”) with little life outside the demands of the plot. Director Jason Winer and screenwriter Max Werner mostly treat the hero’s medical troubles as fodder for weak farce and cheap sentiment. The movie was inspired by a real person but nearly everything that happens here plays as phony.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: In limited release; available Aug. 9 on VOD
Writer-director Martin Pickering and his co-writer and brother Mark don’t try to do too much with their debut feature, “Wicked Witches.” Made on a micro-budget, the movie follows cheating husband Mark Griffith (Duncan Casey) as he visits an old buddy out in the country and parties with sexy-looking young women, who then lure him into the woods for some nasty blood rituals. Mark first flees, then fights back; and that’s the picture.
“Wicked Witches” is almost like a segment from an old British horror anthology. It’s simple, direct, rich in local color and dripping with irony. But it’s been stretched to about triple its ideal length. And while the Pickering brothers have created some memorably gory images, there aren’t enough of them — or enough ideas overall — to justify the film’s running time. “Wicked Witches” is a decent demo reel, but it’ll be of interest to horror buffs only if the Pickerings someday do something better.
Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Aug. 9 on VOD