Frailty is “a fault resulting from moral weakness” and “a liability to yield to temptation” according to Webster’s dictionary. Frailty in some ways has a weakness for badly and perversely parodying ’60s TV shows and Christian family values. The fault rests with filmmaking novices, screenwriter Brent Hanley and director and star Bill Paxton (A Simple Plan).
Frailty’s story may be fresh but its juggernaut of a plot takes a while to get fired up. This story is mostly told in flashbacks to horrors witnessed by young Fenton Meiks (Matthew O’Leary) in 1979, and framed and divided by the adult Meiks’ (Matthew McConnaughey) belated confessions to FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). Meiks claims to know who the “God’s Hands” killer was. He tells Doyle an unbelievably lengthy and grim fairy tale of his mechanic dad (Paxton), his brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) and himself.
An angel comes to Dad one fateful night in the guise of one of his winged sports trophies to prepare him for the awful duties God will bestow upon him. Later, a destroying angel, his sword flaming, descends from the undercarriage of a Cougar and Dad is entrusted with the slaying of demons who walk the earth in the guise of men. He will be given three “magic weapons.” He finds them gleaming in a shaft of moonlight lying on a stump in a dilapidated shed: an axe (with the name “Otis” inexplicably branded on its handle) which he pulls from the stump like a rural Excalibur, a pair of work gloves and a shiny steel pipe. The white pages furnishes him with the names and addresses of the demons.
Frailty contains a host of problems. It carefully avoids giving Dad any signs of psychosis or schizophrenia (though its final scenes explain why). The performances by Paxton and the child actors suffer under the weight of Hanley’s wooden dialogue (“Destroy him,” Dad commands Meiks — it could be line read by an evil alien from “Star Trek”). They parody what seems to be the boys’ favorite TV show, “Davey and Goliath,” a series of Christian family-values parables played out by wooden puppets that never fail to end in spelled-out morals.
But what is the moral of Frailty? Searching through the homicidal righteousness and its deadly (but goreless) aftermath, perhaps it’s that father — on Earth as it is in heaven — knows best.
The one star here is McConnaughey who manages an eerie believability. But Frailty still fails. There’s little true drama, though the film offers a few shocks and a sucker-punching, stomach-wrenching final twist that literally left a bad taste in my mouth. The title may be the only perfect thing in this changeling of a horror flick that ends up shifting its bad religion from the psychological to the supernatural.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].