‘Freaky’: This switcharoo horror movie lives up to its name…for a while

“Freaky” – “Ah, freak out!  Le freak, c’est Chic.  Freak out!” – Chic, “Le Freak” (1978)

Vince Vaughn stars in director Christopher Landon’s “Freaky”, and a first glance, perhaps the “Swingers” (1996), “Old School” (2003),  “Wedding Crashers” (2005) actor is caught up in a comic, twisted role play with Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Heather Graham.

Well, he is involved with a role play, but in an unexpectedly way.  Vaughn channels his inner Barbara Harris and his surprising turn as Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” (1998) to portray a serial killer who changes places with a high school girl (Kathryn Newton) in an unexplored slice within the switcheroo cinematic genre.

In a world with “Freaky Friday” (1976, 2003), “Vice Versa” (1988), “All of Me” (1984) – and please don’t forget “Big” (1988) and “13 Going on 30” (2004) too – a deranged sicko switching bodies with a self-esteem-challenged teenage girl is a textbook case of out-of-the-box thinking.  Hear! Hear!

Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy also pay homage to the legendary and painful “Friday the 13th” series, because our murder-happy killer – who is known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn) – wears a Jason Voorhees-like mask too.  It’s a cross between the famous-infamous goalie façade and an ancient, yellow-tinged masquerade found in the Smithsonian, and our villain leaves abundant piles of corpses in his wake.  Let your imagination run wild, as this immoral sociopath opts for a wine bottle and tennis racket as his choices of weapons.

Hey, whatever is close by, right?

Well, Vaughn is 6’ 5”, and he presents an utterly hulking, menacing presence as a deadpan executioner.  He’s convincing as the Blissfield Butcher, but so is our adorable, thoughtful teen, Millie (Newton), who also plays this murderous desperado for the majority of the 101-minute runtime.  Early in the first act, The Butcher runs down Millie after a high school football game.  He strikes with a mysterious, ancient dagger, and they swop consciousnesses the next day.

Vaughn is downright hilarious as a semi-insecure girly girl – both physically and emotionally – as his arms awkwardly sway, and he regularly gasps at the nearest sign of stress.  Meanwhile, Newton shines – through a deranged prism – as the Blissfield Butcher.  She’s a methodical, sinister sociopath with a never-ending bloodlust, and since she has wide-open access to Blissfield Valley High School, it’s open season and easy pickings.  Just picture a blonde, 17-year-old girl with an AK-47 pointing downward at a barrel full of fish.

Landon, Kennedy, Vaughn, and Newton have a ball with the visual contrasts between a 270-pound Gen Xer and a 110-pound teen (note: Newton is 23 years-old in real-life) rollicking in a deadly game of cat and mouse.  In this case, however, the mouse wields lengthy butcher knives and a few other choice weapons.  Sure, the body count reaches exponential territory, but this surreal comedic dance embraces satire and laughs.  The film sacrifices (pardon the pun) genuine scares – save the “Scream” (1996)-like opening scene.

This all works for the first 45 minutes or so, until Millie – trapped in the Blissfield Butcher’s body – and her best buds Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) race against the clock – which is only 9 hours – to return her back to her young self again.

After that, shuttling Millie from utter distress to eventual tranquility takes several uninspired steps.  Our protagonists take a tedious, mechanical car chase and make makeshift detours at a department store, a police station, and Josh’s house that advance a couple of plot points but feel terribly forced.  It’s unfortunate, because this picture carries so much ingenuity with its basic premise and Vaughn and Newton deliver terrific performances, but the second half is a letdown as it stumbles to the finish line.  In fact, as kooky and crazy as this body-swapping premise is, Vaughn and Newton do successfully suspend our disbelief here.

This critic buckled up my seatbelt and enjoyed the ride for a while but then woke up into reality with a strange concoction of dull mechanics and two bizarre pleads for Millie’s affection while wrapped up in the Blissfield Butcher’s form.  Gross!  You might freak out a bit too and shake your head in disappointment.

⭐⭐  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits:  Universal Pictures

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