There was about a minute back in 1996 when we thought Jamie Kennedy was going to be a reliably entertaining screen presence. Hey, don’t blame us for that shit. It was the mid-‘90s and the entertainment universe was in the process of going completely insane. Kennedy somehow wound up as one of the best parts of the best revisionist slasher flick ever made, the Wes Craven masterpiece Scream. Maybe I’m biased, because in that movie, he’s basically just playing me. If you didn’t know me in 1996, see Scream. Now you do. To all those who did know me back then, I am so very sorry for being such a tool.
In the time since then, Kennedy has been doing everything he can to convince us that Scream was a total fluke. He manages to embody this unappealing cross between an overbearing frat bro and a sniveling nerd, while his standup comedy varies from the mildly hacky to the brutally unfunny. His “First Night 2013” was a legendary trainwreck before it was even finished airing. He has cultivated a mean-spirited persona, and while there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, to sell it, you kind of have to be funny. It doesn’t help that he helmed a documentary, the thesis of which was “why are all these people being so mean to me?”
Kennedy was the star of this week’s Lifetime Theater, but in true career-implosion fashion, I had absolutely no idea he was in it until the cast list rattled off the screen. He isn’t the only recognizable name, either: Paul Sorvino and Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin play father and daughter. So, if I told you Marlee Matlin and Jamie Kennedy were in a movie together, the chances of his character mocking Matlin’s for her voice are close to 100%, right? He does, several times, and it’s awful. Then again, Kennedy’s actually supposed to be awful in movie. I couldn’t help wondering if those were adlibs on set. And then I started wondering if Matlin could tell she was being mocked by reading lips or if someone had to tell her later. That would have been an awkward day.
The movie concerns one of the most popular problems of the post housing bubble pop: foreclosures. What, you couldn’t tell from the title? C’mon guys, get it together here. It purports to be based on a true story, but I’ll be honest. I didn’t check up on that, so we don’t know if it’s based on a true story in that everything happened but only the names were changed, or if foreclosures are a thing that happens in real life and something like this could have happened, if we all just dream a little harder.
The thing is, this did happen. In movie theaters. Foreclosed is a throwback to the early-mid ‘90s preoccupation with films about ostensibly normal people who go berserk and take revenge upon a suburban family for possibly imagined slights. It feels a bit like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, if instead of Rebecca de Mornay, you have Jamie Kennedy, and to everyone now picturing him in a soaking-wet nightgown, I’m sorry. So Kennedy is starring in a movie that was last popular right around his heyday as a welcome screen presence. I’m not even sure if that’s irony.
Jamie Kennedy plays the kind of creepy electronics genius loser that was in every other one of these movies. He has just enough know-how to wire an entire house with state-of-the-art security, hidden cameras, and listening devices, but not enough to hold down a job. That’s even a plot point: he had an electronics store that went belly-up. With the recent RadioShack news, this definitely qualifies as truth in television. Anyway, because of this, he is no longer able to make payments on the brand new McMansion his mother was living in. They also try to pretend that this thing, which was clearly a patch of hilly desert outside Los Angeles about 45 minutes before they started filming, has been in the family for at least a generation.
He gets foreclosed on, and Marlee Matlin’s family swoops in and buys it for a song. Not a literal song, so don’t expect Matlin to belt out “Cotton-Eyed Joe” or anything like that. Kennedy’s character — Forrest Hayes — isn’t taking that lying down, so he embarks on the kind of pranks, harassment, and outright murder that people do in movies like this, before he goes totally unhinged and builds a bomb in the third act. I always feel bad for the bystanders in movies like this, as the family can’t be harmed until the end (and they usually all make it out fine), but to prove the threat, the crazy person takes out a couple peripheral characters. In this case, it’s his lawyer (who realizes Hayes is a liar in the middle of a press conference), and the nosy/sweet next door neighbor. Hayes’s weapon of choice is one of those handheld stun guns, which he uses by grappling with the person, then shocking them. Bad news, dude. You just knocked yourself out as well.
Hayes first tries to get the family to turn on each other. It’s surprisingly easy, despite how close they are in the early going. The dad is a recovering alcoholic, so Hayes plants signs the old man is off the wagon. He cleans out their bank account with a bunch of bogus gambling charges. Hayes also poses as an online friend to the daughter, and he uses this hilarious deep voice that makes him sound like a parody of a child molester — and with the wispy mustache and the birth control glasses, it’s an easy leap to make. There’s a line that implies the daughter is reading 50 Shades of Grey, too, so maybe he’s preying on that. That movie might be a little different if they switched up Jamies — Dornan for Kennedy. Bet Christian Grey’s creepy-ass behavior might be seen in a slightly different light.
Anyway, he does all of this inside an honest to god Batcave. The Jamiecave. It’s not revealed until the third act that this McMansion has an entire Gitmo below the surface, built as a bomb shelter by Hayes’s old man, so for the bulk of it, it’s just Hayes in the Jamiecave, watching the family. The movie really drops the ball by not giving him a Jamiemobile, Jamiebelt, and Creepo, the Boy Wonder.
The family pulls together just in time, after dad’s been arrested and both women have been trussed up, to stop Hayes’s scheme. Well, kind of. He ends up blowing both himself and the house up with a makeshift bomb in the kitchen. In all honesty, it’s exactly how you figure the real Jamie Kennedy will eventually go out.
Kennedy isn’t really even bad here. He doesn’t give us the gift of a Rob Lowe-esque performance, but does inhabit the strange skin of this man. He keeps his eyes averted, he stutters and shifts on his feet, uncomfortable in his own skin. His late-movie freakouts aren’t bad either. All in all, he makes a decent Lifetime bad guy. The best part, though, is when a noticeably out of shape Paul Sorvino has a fistfight with Kennedy in the kitchen. Sorvino is in his mid seventies, yet he ruthlessly pummels the doughy Kennedy until the stun gun comes out.
What did we learn? When buying a new house make sure Jamie Kennedy isn’t living in the vast underground complex beneath it.