It seemed to be case-closed on this horror thriller, as it languished in Paramount's vaults unreleased in the U.S. — until now. As it turns out, it's the worst-case scenario for viewers. Don't bother casing the virtual video store shelves for this one. (Just in case you haven't guessed, this one's going to get a bad review. And yes, the painful puns will now go 'poof!')
I'll never forget how I first heard about Case 39. It was from actor Bradley Cooper in 2007, while smoking a cigarette and wearing a metal apron. (That'd be him, not me — we were on the set of Midnight Meat Train and I was interviewing him about that movie… I can't even tell you what I was smoking and wearing!) He told me Renee Zelwegger was the lead and that a young actress I'd really liked in Terry Gilliam's Tideland, Jodelle Ferland, was also in it. Case 39 sounded pretty good coming from Cooper's lips.
The story follows a mousy yet somehow sexually irresistible social worker named Emily Jenkins (hot name, too!) who's juggling a complicated personal life (her best friend Doug is in love with her) and a tumultuous professional life (she saves one child from abuse, and two more assignments pop up). Somehow, Emily keeps all the ducks in a row until Case 39, that of young Lilith Sullivan (ouch! Her given name just hit me over the head), crosses the woman's desk and crosses the line. Crossing the line not only from professional to personal as Emily decides to adopt Lilith herself, but crossing the line (cue scary music sting) from good to evil.
It's not long before Emily figures out why Lilith's parents kept trying to kill her (there is a most excellent scenario involving the child in an oven — it's whacky enough to rival the baking scene in the 2006 remake of Black Christmas!). Yep, that's right: the cute little girl is Satan in satin bows. As Emily's nearest and dearest start dropping like flies (or hornets, in one case), she decides to pick up where Lilith's parents left off. In a horror-like version of Spy Vs. Spy, the two face off with (sometimes) entertaining results.
Directed by Christian Alvart (Pandorum) with a less than giddy hand, Case 39 is truly terrible. But at least it scores a few "so bad it's good" points. A recurring cameo from Ian McShane adds to the kooky cachet, the jump scares are hilariously pat, and a few surreal mind-f*ck moments straight out of David Lynch's wastebasket are adequately amusing.
Behind the scenes extras are pretty standard, but it's kind of fun to listen to Cooper talk of practically nothing other than his one big scene — it's quite obvious he adheres to the adage of "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." In fact, there's even a whole other featurette devoted to this particular scene (which has some really bad CGI… OK, a lot of bad CGI).
No need to buy this DVD — catch Case 39 late at night on cable and you won't be disappointed.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson