What do Donovan Leitch and Brad Pitt have in common? Well, almost nothing really, and definitely not Ione Skye. But there is one thing, and that’s Cutting Class, one of the cinematic highlights of 1989. As it so often does, Wikipedia tries to cover a whole buncha bases by describing it as a “black comedy slasher.” I mean, they’re not wrong, but they might not be right for the reasons they think.
Sure, some of it is funny in the over-the-top nature of some of the kills (although a couple of them manage to remain pretty gruesome). This shouldn’t be surprising given that this is 1989. The subgenre was well on its way to being played out, so what’s funny stems in part from some not entirely self-aware parody. In addition, a fair amount of the humor in a good number of the “gags,” such as they are, is mainly to be found in the fact that the jokes are so bad.
One such example involves a running joke that centers on Paula’s father (Martin Mull, so there’s a yuk tsnunami). Early in the movie he’s shot with an arrow by an unseen assailant. We cut back to him throughout the flick as he wanders around wounded trying to get help. At one point he even beseeches a dog–some kind of Timmy’s-in-trouble Lassie reference.
Speaking of Paula, she’s of course the love interest caught between her boyfriend, Dwight (Brad Pitt’s first, uh, “major” role) and the interests of the troubled yute Brian. Brian was recently released from an institution and may or may not have been involved in his own father’s death.
Jill Schoelen plays Paula as a more or less standard scream queen but also rises to triumphant final girl status, so there’s that. Donovan Leitch (yep, son of) goes pretty well overboard, possibly for laughs which in fact makes him creepier. It’s almost like a forerunner to how Christian Bale played Patrick Bateman. And finally, Brad Pitt, the unlikable, testosterone-addled, stereotypically stupid bad boy jock, Dwight. Or maybe Duh-wight.
In truth, Dwight is somewhat complex as a character, raising some conflicting emotions for me. Oh no, not because of any kind of depth or development. I was torn between really wanting him to die and really wanting a plot twist that made him the killer. Spoilers, he ain’t. I have to believe that somewhere else in the multiverse, that version of Cutting Class exists.
To be fair, there is a jumble of choices for the killer. It’s easy to dismiss Brian as too obvious. It’s easy to suspect Dwight, especially when his ring is found on one of the victims. That doesn’t make me suspect him, but it does make me overthink the plot more than it deserves–one of those “let’s obviously suggest it’s him, making it therefore so obvious that it’s not him that maybe it really is him.” You can imagine what a joy it is to be in my head.
Speaking of which, lemme give a wee tip o’ the hat to the cute wordplay of the title Cutting Class. It’s adorable. Anyway, by the final setpiece, poor Paula is so mixed up that she runs away from dear misunderstood Dwight who’s only trying to protect her. The final cut, as it were, involves a claw hammer…and a circular saw.
Ultimately the problem with Cutting Class is that it ain’t quite bad enough to be bad enough, y’know? This could have been gloriously terrible on purpose, or gloriously terrible for taking itself way too seriously. Instead, it flounders around in the middle without managing to do either.
Regardless, we finally come full circular (heh) with Paula and Dwight nearly running down Paula’s dad who has somehow lived and struggled just about all the way home and says, “You’re not cutting class I hope.” Yeah. Told ya. Tsunami. Wah-waaaah.
BODIES- 6 onscreen 1 off
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