*Friday the 13th (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Pop-quiz: What iconic item appears exactly zero times in the original 1980 Friday the 13th? If you guessed "a hockey mask," give yourself an "A" toward your degree in slasherology.
Jason Voorhees, the killing machine who would turn goalie protective gear into a homicidal fashion statement, appeared for only a few seconds in the first film. His crazy mother actually dispatched the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake. Many sequels later, it's understandable that a remake would follow the Liberty Valance rule: When legend becomes fact, print the legend.
In fact, director Marcus Nispel is much more attuned to that guideline than he was in his 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where Tobe Hooper's original Massacre became legendary for its down-and-dirty terror, Nispel showed early on that he would take a different approach when he tracked his camera back through the hole in the skull of a girl who had just blown her own brains out. Massacre didn't work when you announced loudly that it was a movie. Somehow, inbred hicks aren't creepy when filmed in slick, filtered light.
Here, Nispel doesn't have to worry about violating the spirit of a classic, because the original Friday was crap pure low-budget American cheese with creative gore. But he does prove that he knows why the franchise endures: At its core, it's less about terror than it is about comedy.
This version with a screenplay by Freddy vs. Jason team Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is not truly a remake, but a mash-up of elements from the first three films. A prologue quickly dispenses with the Mama Voorhees backstory and finds Jason (Derek Mears) picking off a modern-day quintet of young campers. The remainder of the story follows a second group of potential victims six weeks later as they head to the hills for a wild weekend, interrupted first by Clay (Jared Padalecki) searching for his sister who went missing with the first bunch and later by Hollywood's perfect thinner of the 20-something herd.
With both this film and a My Bloody Valentine remake appearing within weeks of one another, some kind of weird nostalgia is reigning. Maybe it's that these films embody a simpler dynamic, from the bogeyman quality of the masked murderer to the implicit moralism in the trope that the first killed have been either screwing around or getting stoned (and therefore, we're to presume, are pretty much asking for it). And, of course, the cast members serve the basic functions of being attractive, topless and dead generally in that order despite being competent actors.
But even more fundamental is the idea that these films exist as excuses to laugh as much as excuses to scream. Shannon and Swift provide a lively script including a hilarious, out-of-nowhere nod to Blue Velvet and particularly goofy bits for the camp's resident cutup (Aaron Yoo).
Then there's the laugh-at-death release of the murder sequences a jump in the seat, followed by a nervous chuckle. The look-at-me cinematic theatricality that spoiled Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre works perfectly here, because this genre needs its scares to be over-the-top and obviously phony. If it starts to feel long even at 90 minutes, this reboot understands why it's fine to "print the legend" for this franchise. On a fundamental level, it's more fun than it is mental.