The Tripper fails in as much as it disappoints, taking a deliciously potent political premise, a serial killer dressed up as Ronald Reagan butchering hippies on holiday, and then practically ignoring its politics in favor of producing a dreadfully “fun”—that is painfully mediocre—slasher movie.

With such a rich, if farcically overt, political text (you could hardly call it subtext) to mine, it’s a shame that the movie is so carelessly thought out that it spends most of its time focussed on producing just another dismally lame horror flick. Aren’t there enough of those shelf-fillers hitting the DVD racks every week? The man in the Reagan costume, with a vocal impression to match and a gang of dogs named Poindexter, Meese and Nancy, doesn’t even appear until 50 minutes into the film. In the meantime, Arquette introduces a cast of cartoonish characters and overcompensates for his directorial insecurity, this being his debut, by brandishing an exhaustingly flashy style, as when a red filter is added to the on-screen image every time someone is killed to emphasize the point that bloody murder is bloody.

When it isn’t mired down in petty subplots and its own garishness, The Tripper (notice how closely it sounds like “The Gipper”), set in the present day, depicts an America at war with foreign nations, the environment and itself—a culture wholly deprived of compassion, one of violence inspired by its savage erstwhile leader, Mr. Reagan, whom the film accuses of establishing a legacy of polarization and destruction that extends into the present day; that is, don’t blame Bush, at least not entirely, for the state of the country today, because it all reaches back to Ron Reagan. Tree huggers put redwoods before people, everybody’s high on drugs and the right is even killing their own, as when “Reagan” has an axe poised above his next victim and the victim whimpers, with incredulity, “but I’m a Republican!” America is one big confused and hostile mess.

The Tripper doesn’t shy away from being explicitly political at times: the end credits are accompanied not only by some pumpin’ reggae but also by a polemical jeremiad by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., about Reagan’s record as the country’s worst environmental president, and the killer is revealed to be one of the mental patients that Reagan released, by slashing the budget, while governor of California. Basically, The Tripper points its finger at Ronald Reagan for ruining the planet: “one asshole goes crazy,” the sheriff explains at the end, appropriating the trickle-down effect language of Reaganomics, “and the whole world goes to shit.” If only the film had the credibility of thematic focus and narrative discipline to back up its politics, rather than wander aimlessly like an easily distracted stoner (the film opened on April 20, 2007), it could’ve sat proudly on the shelf next to Joe Dante’s Homecoming.

Grade: C-

Release Date: October 23, 2007
Rated: R
Running Time: 97 minutes
Number of Discs: 1
Cast: Jaime King, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Lukas Haas
Studio: 20th Century Fox

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