Val Kilmer tortures us all: “The Traveler”

October 2, 2012

Okay, first up on our Halloween Spooktacular is a nasty piece of work called The Traveler. A few things you should know: first, there is no reason this is review is first. Really, I just wanted to stop Netflix from recommending the damn movie to me (a tactic I will not replicate with Wild Hogs, Netflix, so you can just stop now). Second, the title is a huge misnomer. I mean, huge, like Orca-huge. This movie pretty much takes place entirely in a police station over the course of one evening, so nobody’s doing any traveling, unless you count the movie traveling from bad to boring to bafflingly wrong-headed. I’m tempted to think that the working title might have been The Stranger (which makes a certain amount of sense), but then the high-school sophomore who they called in to do touch-ups on the screenplay pointed out that it shared a title with the Albert Camus novel of the same name, and the filmmakers pulled a last-minute retitling when they realized there was no way they could work those creepy clown-people on the book’s cover could be worked in at the last minute. Anyway, let’s get on with this…

The Traveler is set during a bleak, rainy Christmas Eve in a police station in Anytown USA—Anytown USA, apparently being a place where there is plenty of rain, but no snow in late December. Five cops have drawn graveyard duty in a dilapidated station that appears to have been designed and lit by the set-designer from the Saw movies. Seriously, it’s all bricks and puke-green paint. I don’t know what Einstein thought it was a good idea to put people who carry weapons in a workplace as dismal as this, but, uh, nice going there. Maybe for your next project you can paint a Boschian nightmarescape as a mural on the walls of the pediatrics unit at the local hospital.

So, we get introduced the cops, and they are…um…well, there’s the fat guy who works the desk, and a chick, and two uniformed dudes who are interchangeable except one is macking on the chick, and finally Detective Black, who is estranged from his family on Christmas. Probably has something to do with the flashbacks he has to his daughter’s abduction (which he wasn’t there to see–hence the abduction part…just go with it). Well, they’re all settling in for a long night of being clinically depressed when a stranger walks in from the rain and wants to confess to six murders.

Creepy, right? Well…see, the stranger is played by Val Kilmer, and we all know that the years have not been kind to Mr. Kilmer. Here, though, he’s grown his hair out, and wears only black. I suppose he’s supposed to be menacing, but, really, he just looks like Tommy Wiseau. And the only thing scary about Tommy Wiseau are his views towards women, so no dice there. Basically, throughout the movie you’re just waiting for Kilmer to smile that Tommy Wiseau vaguely-brain-damaged smile and giggle like a phlegmatic donkey. To his credit, Kilmer doesn’t, but that doesn’t make him any scarier.

“You’re tearing me apaaaart, Lisa!” C’mon, you knew it was coming.

Kilmer gives his name as “Nobody,” (which is a totally fake name, right?) and says he wants to confess to six murders and five of them haven’t happened yet. At first the cops just toss him in the drunk tank (there’s nobody else in holding, so I guess Anytown USA has a nonexistent crime rate as well), but after a fight with his wife, Black tells the cops he wants to soften the guy up a bit. This makes them a bit uneasy since things went really bad the last time Black did that.

This is point in the movie where you may hear a deafening CLICK! That’s just a plot-point being moved clumsily into place. Get used to it.

Anyway, soon enough, we get to the horrific part. In flashbacks and through dialogue we learn that the last time Black tuned up a suspect it was drifter they liked for abducting and killing Black’s daughter, and holy fuck did they work that guy over. Basically, everybody in the station took turns on him, and we’re not talking about your average NYPD police brutality with phone books and lead-lined gloves. No, these guys did things to the suspect that would make Uday and Qusay Hussein take a step back and say, “Um…no, that’s too much. That’s some sick shit there…”

I was going to make a torture/dominatrix joke here, but…hey, let’s just enjoy this picture.

The movie dicks around for a long time, but finally kicks into gear when the cops start being killed by an invisible assailant in the same manner that they tortured the drifter. Right about here is the next loud CLICK!  Of course, these being characters in a horror film they’re all like, “What’s going on? I don’t get it? No, it couldn’t be the Tommy Wiseau-looking guy, since he’s been in a cell the whole time. I just don’t understand…” And they continue to get killed by a non-existent attacker, which, I gotta point out, is not terribly scary.

Let’s move it along, since we all pretty much know where this heading, right? Kilmer is the ghost of the drifter they worked over come back to have his revenge. Okay. Makes sense. Not terribly original, but whatever. Only, the movie pulls a whammy on us, as we learn that the drifter really did kill Black’s daughter. Whoa! So Black deafens himself so he can’t hear Kilmer’s confession (and consequently be killed), and then is helped by the ghost of his daughter who tells him what Kilmer’s weakness is—his name (it’s something boring, like Roy Abernathy or something). Robbed of his power, Kilmer gets blown away by a shotgun blast from Black…which I guess works on ghosts.

Okay, so let’s get to the really oookey part of this movie: Black doesn’t get his comeuppance. Sure he puts out his eardrums, but this guy recruited his buddies to torture a man into a coma! And, as I pointed out earlier, they whaled on this dude. To include: 1) beating him so badly he was blinded in one eye, 2) suffocated with a plastic bag, 3) hung by a noose, 4) stabbed repeatedly with Black’s pen that says “I love you Daddy,” 4) beaten repeatedly with a shovel, and as the piece de resistance, 5) having his tongue cut off (this would seem somewhat counterproductive to gaining a confession, but hey, what do I know?). Yet, the movie posits, this is all totally excusable, since the guy was guilty anyway.

“You gonna talk now, or do we have to load Season Three?”

Now, I don’t want to say that this perverse morality is because director Michael Oblowitz is South African, but, uh…you know, it’s kinda hard not to go there. I mean, this movie needs a Human Rights Tribunal.

The only saving grace from its unrelenting grimness is the fact that in order for five different cops to have separate violent acts to commit the torture scene has to escalate so wildly it just gets outlandish. If there had been a sixth or seventh cop, they probably would have had to have dangled the guy in a shark tank like Robert Davi did to Felix Leiter in License to Kill.

Okay, so that’s The Traveler. Moral of the story, grotesque torture is totally cool as long as the dude is guilty. Thanks, Netflix. Thank you so much. I look forward to the German bukkake video or snuff film you recommend on the basis of my having watched this.

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