In September of 2001, The Washington Wizards (Yes, this is a sports-ball reference. Apologies.) of the NBA were given an amazing opportunity. Michael Jordan was coming out of retirement and joining their team. He was getting up there in age, so of course he couldn’t do what he once could, but 60% of Michael Jordan was better than anyone else in the league. Not only that but you knew that he was going to give you everything he had, every night. Sounds amazing, right? So, how did the Wizards franchise capitalize on this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? They surrounded MJ with the worst group of rag-tag teammates ever assembled, led by Ronald “Popeye” Jones and Kwame “Charmin-Soft” Brown.
Inoperable reminds me a lot of those Wizards teams from 2001-2003. Producing company Zorya Films had a script with an interesting central concept, an awesome location that could be filmed at for cheap and Danielle Harris on board to star. What could possibly go wrong?
Spoiler Alert: A lot.
First, let’s talk about what works in the film. Inoperable, as I mentioned above, has a very interesting central premise. The film follows Amy (Harris) as she wakes up in a seemingly abandoned hospital after being involved in a car accident. Televisions throughout the hallways alert us to an approaching ‘Category 5’ hurricane about to make landfall. After leaving her room, she wanders the halls trying to either find a way out or someone that can let her in on what the hell is going on.
As she roams the hospital, she keeps running into the same orderlies, nurses and patients that all seem to coming after her with bad intentions. On top of all that, Amy keeps getting smacked with headaches, a bloody nose, and a bad case of waking up back in her car to start the cycle all over again. Amy remembers a little more each time she wakes up, so she avoids pulling out her I.V. and puts on shoes to avoid broken glass by the third cycle. On one of these rounds through the hospital, she runs into Police Officer Ryan (Jeff Denton) and Bachelorette Party-Participant Jen (Katie Keene) in the waiting room. They, too, are stuck in these time-loops and together, the three of them must find a way to avoid the murderous doctors and find a way out before the hurricane passes overhead. Time loops have been done before, but it is still an interesting and ambitious story.
Another thing Inoperable has going for it is the location. Danielle Harris confirmed to us during our interview that it was filmed in an abandoned hospital in Florida, and the filmmakers had to dress it up to make it look nicer than it actually was. It had just the right amount of hanging ceiling tile and grimy grout to convince the viewer than there was something not quite right within those walls. Director Christopher Lawrence Chapman used these hallways and offices very well during some of the “chase” scenes involving the nurses and Amy.
Chapman’s close-quarter camerawork is another place where Inoperable shines. There is one scene in particular that follows Amy as she navigates her way through the labyrinthine hallways and offices of the hospital, looking for a way out. The shot is so well staged and executed that you are given a glimpse of another patient in the doorway, only to disappear when the frame comes back to center. It is an effective scare and one that is done entirely in-frame with good, old-fashioned camera skills.
The gore and visual effects were scarce in the film, but what we did get to see was very well done. As Amy runs the halls, she comes across rooms where the doctors are torturing patients in exceedingly gruesome ways. We get exposed brains, cheese-grater skin treatments, cut throats and a particularly unsettling disembowelment thrown our way and each of them look incredible for a movie with a limited budget.
That, unfortunately, exhausts the list of positives that I found with the film. Yes, Inoperable has an interesting premise, but absolutely nothing becomes of it. Chapman, who also co-wrote the film with Jeff Miller, could not turn this story to anything close to resembling a complete thought. There were twists and turns throughout the film, but that’s simply because nothing made sense. It’s like if you were judging the Westminster Dog Show and someone walked in with a rotten whale carcass. Technically, that would be considered a twist, but it does nothing to serve the story. It’s just a random occurrence with no build up and no payoff.
Take, for instance, the time loops that Amy and company are stuck in. Instead of just letting them be what they are, the screenwriters tried to explain to us why they are occurring. Apparently, the hurricane traveled over a military research center, causing “paradoxical time anomalies” to become unleashed and trapping the characters in these ever-quickening cycles. Each cycle also brings Amy back to her car as it is sitting in traffic before her accident. Each time, she brandishes her trusty 2006 flip-phone and tries to call 911 before being cycled a second time (teleported?) into her hospital room. She tries this call every single time. She learns to remove her I.V. before running into the hallway, but nothing sticks when it comes to the pointlessness of making that call. Some things are held over from one cycle to the next, but our characters don’t learn anything of value or worth from jump to jump. Instead of unraveling any of the mystery surrounding them, they simply go through the motions each time like a skipping record.
Like the 2001 Washington Wizards, Inoperable did not capitalize on having a world-class talent on the roster. They surrounded Danielle Harris with actors that just couldn’t deliver. Most of the lines were bad (“It’s the T-Rex of Hurricanes”), yes, but they were read in such a wooden and robotic manner that there was no urgency or emotion on screen. You can get away with that in a film like this if you allow your star to chew up the scenery and bring life to their role. Chapman did not do this with Harris. It’s as if she was told to “Run through these halls and look scared”. She did this very well, but we needed so much more. There was only one scene in the entire film where she was even allowed to act. That scene, a conversation between Amy and Jen in an air duct, was beautiful and lent the film some emotional weight. Once that scene ended, however, we never got to see Danielle flex again. If you have an All-Star on your team, don’t sit them on the bench. Let them do what they do and improve the performance of those around them.
The ending of the film twisted things around in a way that, again, could have been fantastic but ultimately made no sense and fell completely flat. The viewers are left with a sense that there was so much wasted potential in this film, which makes the criticisms much harsher. Inoperable could have had fun with its star and premise, but it chose to take itself far too seriously. If it would have abandoned the twists and turns that never paid off and allowed Danielle to have fun with the material, it could have been a low-budget Happy Death Day. Instead, we got a nonsensical film that shot for the moon but ended up in the dirt.
1 / 4 eberts