Combustible Celluloid
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With: Devon Sawa, Ryan Lee, Ivana Baquero, Bruce Campbell, Michael Jai White, Stephen Peck, Mark Steger, Louie Kurtzman, Adrian M. Mompoint, Andria Blackman, Marilyn Busch
Written by: Andy Greskoviak
Directed by: Casey Tebo
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 11/19/2021

Black Friday (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The elements are here for a memorable, re-watchable holiday horror-comedy, but despite the practical FX and genre fave Bruce Campbell, it feels a little too low-energy, and depressing, to be fun.

It's Thanksgiving Day, and Chris (Ryan Lee) prepares to report for work at We Love Toys, for their big Black Friday sale that starts at midnight. Veteran co-worker Ken (Devon Sawa) drives him, and they meet co-workers Archie (Michael Jai White), Marnie (Ivana Baquero), and Ruth (Ellen Colton), as well as snippy assistant manager Brian (Stephen Peck) and smarmy manager Jonathan (Bruce Campbell).

Things start badly (no paid breaks, gummed-up registers, icky spills on Aisle 7), but grow steadily worse when a gooey blob of alien ectoplasm begins turning customers into rampaging zombies. Trapped in the stockroom, the burned-out co-workers and pompous bosses must put aside their woes and work together to stay alive.

The cast of Black Friday are all fine. Clad in a sweater, overalls, and Santa hat, Devon Sawa makes a brawny, Han Solo-type tough guy, Michael Jai White is a capable hero, wielding a nailgun like a soldier, Ivana Baquero (all grown up since Pan's Labyrinth) is a plucky voice of reason, Ryan Lee is a comical germaphobe, and Stephen Peck takes his tiny amount of power extremely seriously. On the other hand, Campbell, who is usually an effortless scene-stealer, can't seem to find the throughline that would make Jonathan funny; his jokes land only sporadically.

While it's great to see practical zombie effects, the filmmakers don't really do much with the monsters that we haven't seen before. They snarl and jump out at you and bite, but not much else; it's only at about the two-thirds mark that an idea comes together, but then the idea just kind of sits there.

At the core of Black Friday is a deep, icy anger over capitalism and shopping, with the employees bemoaning their dead-end, soul-sucking jobs — and with Campbell praising the whole evil scheme of the Black Friday "sales" — and the customers coming across as both literal and figurative monsters. (Even the season's hottest toy, "Dour Dennis," is a sad creature.) However, the movie is not only a little too pointed with its theme, it also fails to offer any alternate ideas, let alone any hope, or heart.

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