Maggie / The D Train
Gloom & Doom
by Glenn Lovell
As we await the second wave of summer blockbusters led by “Mad Max: Fury Road,” we have to make do with filler attractions that drag-step their way into the marketplace. This week’s crop includes “Maggie,” starring a very different Arnold Schwarzenegger as a father caring for his dying daughter, and “The D Train,” a what-were-they-thinking Jack Black vehicle that jumps the track even before it leaves the station.
“Maggie” is easily the better of the two. Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, a laconic but loving father who’s determined to see his teen-age daughter through the final stages of a disease that, in six to eight weeks, will turn her into a flesh-munching zombie. The action unfolds on a remote farm somewhere in the Midwest. TV reports provide gloomy context: a necro-ambulist virus somehow linked to the crops has taken hold in the not-too-distant future and the outlook for those bitten by the infected is not good. In the final stages, as their skin begins to shrivel and rot, they’re quarantined and subjected to a slow, excruciating death.
Holding the local authorities at bay, Wade gives his daughter (sensitively played by Abigail Breslin) what every terminal patient wants: a dignified death at home. He shares memories with his daughter, cradles her … calms her when things look bleakest. Though there are a handful of grisly encounters, overall, it’s a touching leave-taking.
Following in the footsteps of the great Saul Bass (“Phase IV”), Henry Hobson here makes the transition from titles designer to feature director. Granted, his debut feature couldn’t be any drearier or more claustrophobic. Still, it gets our vote as a drama that resolutely sidesteps “Living Dead” conventions that dictate that the recently bitten must turn within minutes into frothing, flailing things. More, instead of walking through this low-budget indie, Schwarzenegger rises to the occasion and delivers what may be his best dramatic turn. He’s so good as the protective father we’re left to wonder why he doesn’t tackle more such offbeat roles.
Like “Maggie,” “The D Train” was financed abroad, primarily by England’s legendary Ealing Studio, known for such classic class-conscious satires as “The Man in the White Suit” and “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” There’s little chance that anyone will confuse this Jack Black misfire with laugh-out-loud merriment, certainly not with Black’s demonically funny turns in “High Fidelity” and “School of Rock.” “The D Train,” directed and co-written by Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, is strained, profane, off-putting. Indeed, I can’t remember spending a more unpleasant 100 minutes in the dark. And I’m not talking “King of Comedy” unpleasant. That De Niro-Scorsese collaboration knew what it was about, namely exploring the thin line between madness and celebrity worship.
This film takes a familiar premise ‒ schlub-y alumni organizer jets to Los Angeles to entice his hero, the Class of ’95 stud muffin, to the class reunion ‒ and twists it into something truly squirm inducing. As Black’s small-town sycophantic hangs with James Marsden’s handsome phony, we keep praying that the filmmakers won’t lose their way and push the boundaries of bad taste. And when, right on schedule, they do, Black goes from being annoying but essentially harmless to being irretrievably mean and embittered, like a character in one of Tennessee Williams’ more depressing plays.
MAGGIE ✮✮1/2 With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin. Directed by Henry Hobson; scripted by John Scott 3. 95 mins. PG-13 (for gruesome makeup effects, violence)
THE D TRAIN. ✮ With Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor. Directed, written by Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul. 97 min. Rated R (for nudity, extremely graphic sex talk)