Its trailers and TV ads send the clear message that “Cold Creek Manor” is a supernatural thriller along the lines of “The Amityville Horror,” but the truth of the matter is considerably more earthbound. The new film from Mike (“Leaving Las Vegas”) Figgis is, in fact, a barely disguised rehash of “Straw Dogs,” Sam Peckinpah’s blood-drenched 1971 saga about a nebbishy guy married to a sexy blonde and forced to go postal on local ruffians who violate the sanctity of his home.
In the Dustin Hoffman role, we now have Dennis Quaid doing his best wormboy impression as a nebbishy producer of documentary films. Sharon Stone’s the sexy blonde. The two leave the Big Apple to find the good life in pastoral upstate New York. They do find a great deal on a once grand estate that’s in foreclosure. Unfortunately they also find the property’s previous owner.
Or, rather, he finds them. There’s just one local ruffian this time. He’s played by a sweaty, unshaven Stephen Dorff, who appears to be doing his best impression of Kiefer Sutherland in surly sociopath mode. No sooner have Quaid, Stone and their kids moved into this place then Dorff strolls in uninvited and makes himself at home.
This might be a good time to talk about the succession of laughably improbable developments which constitute the story’s foundation: the family moves to the country when one of the children is nearly hit by a car. Like people don’t get hit by cars in the country. When the family arrives, the home contains not only Dorff’s furnishings but all of his personal property and private things-along with those of his family-left out as though he’d only gone to the corner store and not to prison. Yet there’s no discussion of this peculiar state of affairs when the Quaids move in. When he walks in on them and announces he’s the former owner, Dorff isn’t met with protests or threats to call the police. He’s invited to dinner. The guy might as well be carrying a sign that reads “Hayseed Psycho” and yet these people don’t just offer him a meal, they offer him a job fixing up the place. How did Quaid become a filmmaker without ever studying Peckinpah?
There are lots more but let’s move on. It’s not entirely fair to say the movie’s a total rip off of “Straw Dogs.” There’s also a stretch where it rips off “Cape Fear” (which is coincidental since Juliette Lewis plays a minor part in Figgis’ film as well as that of Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” remake). The scenes in which a shirtless Dorff plays with Quaid’s head by salivating ominously over his wife and teenage daughter are lifted almost verbatim, though the young actor proves a semi-comical stand in for a shirtless Robert Mitchum.
One scene does stumble fully into the realm of comedy. Hoping to scare the city slickers out of the home he considers rightfully his own, Dorff boobytraps the place with a variety of poisonous snakes. Family members each make the discovery at more or less the same moment and react by running through the house hollering “SNAKES!” This includes the man of the house and the sight of all four streaking back and forth like panicky pinballs has a cartoon quality to it which Figgis attempts to counteract by holding his camera on them and shaking it wildly. I haven’t had as good a laugh at the movies in ages.
Needless to say, the story builds to a climactic face off. Along the way there are shocking revelations about Dorff’s past, a number of murders and the mandatory rainstorm. Figgis has spent too many years crafting thoughtful, innovative films to have much of a knack for storytelling this mechanical and many are the moments when he does indeed seem to have been asleep behind the wheel. It’s particularly regrettable that the movie’s climax is one of them.
Both the director and Stone have comebacks riding on the picture’s reception. Like the majority of people who wind up buying a ticket, they are in for a disappointment.