Brainscan: T Ryder Smith [Great Performances in SHITTY Movies episode 1]
Perhaps you were an over enthusiastic fan of Terminator 2. Perhaps you had way too many issues of Bop. Perhaps you were just a bored kid in the 90s who spent a lot of time at the dollar theater.
In any case, a lot more of you have seen Brainscan than you care to admit or (more likely) even remember because, despite the amazing performance of one T. Ryder Smith (we’ll get to that), this was a pretty forgettable movie. It was shitty, for sure, but not offensively shitty, not memorably shitty. Which is sad because it didn’t have to be.
I’d even go as far as to say that the premise of this movie was the perfect slasher horror franchise response to the rise of the digital age. But a turd covered in good intentions is still on the road to shit…? Instead of “an interactive trip to hell” as the movie poster promises, we are given an awkward teenager’s battle with angst and alienation.
If you’re trying to sell a horror franchise to the kind of people who buy tickets to see horror franchises, you don’t cut out all the gore and leave us with a dead faced Edward Furlong.
A lot of horror movies have made this mistake. If you saw my review of Penn JIllette’s attempt at horror suspense (you didn’t, it’s OK), you’ll notice that both movies suffer from a great premise against a toothless execution. In other (more misogynistic) words, they got no balls, yo!
I’m actually astounded that Brainscan comes with an R rating. I literally just recommended this movie to my girlfriend for her 10 year old kid. ‘Sup Colby! Enjoy the mild blood, and subtle adult themes, buddy… oh, and I hope you enjoy your Director’s Cut poster signed for you by Mr. Penn Jillette and Adam Rifkin.
See?! I tied it all together… with a kid that my audience has no reference to. Harmony 🙂
OK back on task. One aspect of this film that certainly wasn’t toothless was the fearless performance of T. Ryder Smith, and not because he was chewing the scenery or anything. 😉 He wasn’t. Which was surprising because I was almost certain that in the #CurrentYear I would go back to this performance and, like so many Gary Oldman performances, just realize that I had been tricked by a talented overactor.
But to be clear, most everyone surrounding Edward Furlong does a decent job. Discount Derek Jacoby’s not bad; discount Pauly Shore –yeah, that was a thing in the 90s–he’s downright loveable. Where the fuck is that guy?! I want him to be my best friend! And discount Christopher Lee does a hell of a job–ohp, actually, I stand corrected; Frank Langella has actually been nominated for an Oscar. Face, dead Christopher Lee! Oh, and Amy Hargreaves does as much as she can while playing the ‘object next door.’
This film is yet another reminder of the Kuleshov effect and why, at first glance, you might not notice the almost non existent performance of Edward Furlong who director John Flynn had this to say about: “Eddie Furlong was a 15-year-old kid who couldn’t act. You had to “slap him awake” every morning.”
In contrast, T. Ryder Smith does something that even competent film and television actors are afraid of doing: committing to active choices. In fact, this trend of avoiding choices seems to be getting worse and worse every decade. Is it that somehow the Actor’s Studio naturalism of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe gave rise to a fear of making *fake* choices, and then, soon, a fear of making any choices at all?
Well, having spent some considerable time on stage, in front of the camera, and in the editing bay myself, I can’t find it in my heart to blame any actor getting in front of the camera, for not wanting to make a choice.
Quick Acting Lesson:
FILM ∧ IGNORANT ⇒ NOTHING
STAGE ∧ IGNORANT ⇒ SOMETHING
Here’s a rule of thumb or ‘in case of emergency’ tool for the actor who might just feel a bit overwhelmed or underqualified: If you are on stage, and don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, do something, anything, please! Just pick a choice and commit to it. If, however, you’re on film, and don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, don’t do anything. Just give us absolutely nothing, and we will make it work!
Again, this is just in case of emergencies. Ideally, you’ll have some clue as to what’s going on, and, in either medium, should work to make genuine choices.
Oddly, this movie gives us both extremes with the wildly dynamic T. Ryder Smith, who was mostly a stage actor, and the nearly comatose Edward Furlong. It’s a sad ending for an actor who showed so much promise under the direction of James Cameron to end up as one of the founding fathers of the ’tilted head douchebag actor.’
But what’s really sad is the career of small and forgettable parts that Smith has had. Why has he not been a major recurring character actor the last 20 years?! He will only make projects better. Even if the dialogue sucks. I mean, I had to watch Brainscan 3 times before I realized what shitty lines they gave him because he fucking owned and breathed new life into them.
That is why so many people become actors, and yet so many grow up to be cowards who continually play it safe, and it’s not their fault. I mean, they don’t often cast themselves, and even the casting directors are generally told who to cast because all the people who have real jobs are too busy to handle the casting process themselves. And even then, I can totally empathize with a director/producer who would rather just have a neutral mask professional who might not be a great actor, but will get the job done, and won’t get in the way of their vision. I get it. And outside of a lot more time and money to dedicate to the casting and rehearsal process, there’s no good solutions to this lifeless epidemic that Hollywood is drowning in.
I will leave on a strange note this episode. This is one of the only shitty movies in our series that I’m going to recommend because, strangely, and quite depressingly, this move has actually aged better in the years that we’ve all been sucking on our cocaine covered nostalgia balls. Especially that sexy synth soundtrack, which I assume was only a necessity because of budget constraints. So thank you, Stranger Things for making even more garbage from my youth seem enjoyable. [CLIP: Opening synth music of Brainscan]
Also, even though the creepy loser that Edward Furlong plays is laughably supposed to be our protagonist, from a ‘current year’ horror perspective, an upper middle class lonely white guy who has trouble with girls is probably the scariest situation on earth. So, if you’re looking for an ironically scary B-horror movie made by and for the 90s, then this 1994 Edward Furlong ‘vehicle’ is a decent choice.
Quick post video note:
I’m not the first person to point out the brilliant work of T. Ryder Smith. A few years ago Jim Sterling gave him some much deserved praise in his video defending Brainscan as a whole. Of course, it was an ironic ‘tongue in cheek’ defense of a movie that can certainly be enjoyed on some level if you know what you’re getting into. So check that out. And, if you’re really interested, T. Ryder Smith himself has an in depth article about his experience and the shoot as a whole on his website with a lot of fun pictures and anecdotes.
Thank you for watching/reading. It’s been a little while. I was shortly out of commission thanks to a shuttle van owned by a television company that my lawyer says I shouldn’t mention just yet, so wait for that story. 😉
But while I was recovering, I decided to write and produce a year’s worth of content. I’m not exaggerating; we will be releasing at least one video a week for the next year.
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 A movie review can only be as popular as the film itself, and Penn’s movie still has more people who donated to help make it (on Donald Trump’s failed Kickstarter) than actual viewers
 Casting directors are like garbage men. It requires almost no prerequisites or talent, but if you don’t hire one, your project is trash.