The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS / FOCUS - JAKE COYLE WRITES

“Venom,” star­ring Tom Hardy as a TV in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist whose body is in­vaded by an alien or­gan­ism, is a desta­bil­is­ing mix of in­ten­tional and un­in­ten­tional com­edy that for bet­ter and worse re­turns the su­per­hero movie to its nat­u­ral state: camp. What makes Ruben Fleis­cher’s irst in­stall­ment in the Sony uni­verse of Marvel char­ac­ters such an odd­ity is that it seems per­pet­u­ally un­sure of just how far it wants to teeter into ridicu­lous­ness. It’s an in­co­her­ent mess of tones, act­ing styles and vis­ual ef­fects. And yet it’s kind of a hoot. / THE GULF TO­DAY TIME­OUT / THURS­DAY,

Hav­ing that feel­ing of “What the hell is this thing?” is an un­der­rated qual­ity in movies — good or bad ones — and it’s even more cap­ti­vat­ing when the movie, it­self, seems to have thrown up its hands in ex­as­per­a­tion. Hav­ing of­ten been crit­i­cal of the fre­quently for­mu­laic ilm­mak­ing of Marvel movies, it would be disin­gen­u­ous of me to not ap­pre­ci­ate the more free­wheel­ing and slap­dash jum­ble of “Venom.” It’s not ev­ery movie that tries, how­ever awk­wardly, to marry ghoul­ish body hor­ror with a goof­ball buddy com­edy that hap­pens to take place in the same body. Th­ese are the sorts of things we did in the ‘80s.

Hardy plays Ed­die Brock, a mo­tor­cy­cling San Fran­cisco re­porter who loses his lawyer iancée (Michelle Wil­liams, lend­ing warmth and depth to ev­ery scene) when he steals a tip from her work email. His ex­pose of a pow­er­ful in­dus­tri­al­ist with ma­ni­a­cal as­pi­ra­tions for sav­ing hu­man­ity, Carl­ton Drake (Riz Ahmed, who had more benev­o­lent plans for hu­man­ity’s res­cue in “The Sis­ters Broth­ers”), goes up in lames, and he’s sent pack­ing.

But a whistle­blower in Drake’s lab con­tacts Brock and brings him in to re­veal what’s go­ing on: Drake has ob­tained an ex­trater­res­trial par­a­site — a gummy, writhing black blob — and he’s con­duct­ing hu­man tri­als with it. The po­ten­tial sci­en­tiic beneit of this is a lit­tle iffy, but in prac­tice, it means one per­son af­ter an­other is led into a cham­ber where the or­gan­ism takes over their body and quickly kills it.

Just as in the “Spi­der-Man” comics, from which Venom orig­i­nates, the movie is pred­i­cated on what can go wrong in a lab. (To­pher Grace played Venom in 2007’s “Spi­der-Man 3.”) Brock proves a sur­pris­ingly good host for the alien crea­ture which turns out to be much more sen­tient than your av­er­age blob. From in­side Brock, it can­not only form a slimy black ex­oskele­ton and in a lash spawn spindly ap­pendages. It can also in a deep growl tell Brock “Hun­gry!” ‘’Let’s eat his brains!” or, when in a less vi­o­lent mood, dis­patch re­la­tion­ship ad­vice.

Brock and Venom turn out to be quite com­pat­i­ble and one of the odder Dr. Jekyll and Hyde rou­tines you’re likely to see. Venom plays pup­peteer with Brock, who at irst is mys­ti­ied at what’s hap­pen­ing to him. That Venom is such an icky, car­toon­ish fig­ure — when en­gulf­ing Brock, it has fangs, a long, ser­pen­tine tongue and mask­like white eyes — makes their gen­uinely hu­mor­ous ban­ter all the stranger.

Fleis­cher (“Gang­ster Squad,” ‘’Zom­bieland”) keeps his ilm mov­ing, so the sheer pre­pos­ter­ous­ness of the ride can prompt dou­ble takes. Did Tom Hardy re­ally just plop him­self into a lob­ster tank? Did two back-to-back scenes re­ally just end with some­one say­ing “Have a nice life”? Did that guy just se­ri­ously ex­claim: “He’s achieved sym­bio­sis”?

“Venom” never achieves sym­bio­sis, or any­thing like it. But the ilm’s off-kil­ter schizophre­nia gives it a mad­cap ap­peal. While Fleis­cher seems to have a darker, mood­ier film in mind, Hardy has the good sense to steer “Venom” in a more over-the-top di­rec­tion, even if the movie around him can’t catch up.

In a way, this is a more naked per­for­mance for Hardy, whose trans­for­ma­tions have of­ten been cloaked in more ob­scur­ing masks (“Dunkirk,” ‘’Mad Max,” ‘’The Dark Knight Rises”) or more elab­o­rate ac­cents (“The Drop,” ‘’Law­less”). I’m not sure his twitchy, spas­modic per­for­mance — bugeyed and un­evenly ac­cented — adds up to any­thing in “Venom.” But it’s some­thing to be­hold. Train wrecks like th­ese aren’t sup­posed to be this en­ter­tain­ing.

Michelle Wil­liams, (let), and Tom Hardy

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