Directed by: Richard Bates Jr. Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney. Runtime: 1h 27 min. Released: August 23, 2019.
It feels like in every neighborhood there’s a curmudgeonly old fart sitting in a rocking chair on his porch ranting about something. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” had the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, shouting down at the Who’s. “Gran Torino” had Clint Eastwood, telling everyone to get off his lawn. “Tone-Deaf” has Harvey (Robert Patrick) who constantly breaks the fourth wall to monologue about how terrible millennials are. Sorry, Mr. T-1000, we don’t mean to be terrible.
Olive (Amanda Crew), a millennial has just broken up with her boyfriend and has just lost her job – she just got fired on a Thursday, before free lunch Friday (!) – so rents a house for a weekend getaway away from the city. The renter is crazy baby-boomer widow Harvey. It sets up an intergenerational clash because Harvey may be a curmudgeonly old asshole and widow, but he’s also a long john wearin’, millennial swearin’ psychopath. He seems like he’s been nutty for awhile but his reason for now wanting to be a psychopath, you ask?
He looks at the screen and says that he’s done everything “but I haven’t killed a person. That’s one itch I haven’t got around to scratching.” I’ve never been on a roller coaster but you don’t see me lining up to go on one. But I also don’t want to, so to each their own, I guess. His motives to kill aren’t strong. The only reasons given are his hate for millennials and the fact that dementia is settling in, but the dementia part is dangerous to use as a motive.
The only thing “Tone-Deaf” has to offer is its generational commentary, as it elevates it above a plain horror film. Even that isn’t very good, though. It’s mostly just hateful monologues from Robert Patrick. He’s introduced poorly to us by asking the screen, “Want to be a conduit of change? Go drink a gallon of bleach… As long as you millennials leave the hard work to my generation, the least you can do is sacrifice yourselves.” His rants and a brief political observation service as the commentary but it’s mean-spirited and not clever. But am I, as a millennial, proving the film’s point for thinking it’s mean-spirited when it’s just tongue-in-cheek commentary?
I’m not sure, I just know I didn’t like this. His rants just feel try-hardy and like he’s listing pet peeves of the writer/director Richard Bates Jr., though “sunglasses are for the outside” is an amusing observation. At one point, Olive the millennial gives us a fourth-wall breaking rant about baby boomers. The film doesn’t work when it’s just shoving its ideas down our throats.
It doesn’t work when it’s being subtle, either, but it feels smarter. The best aspect is a major quirk of Olive’s character and the reasoning for the title. She loves playing the piano but the catch is, she’s terrible. Just tone-deaf (like most of the film). However, she’s a millennial so no one’s ever told her that she’s bad because they don’t want to ruin any of her dreams.
It’s the only interesting thing about her character, or any character, as she’s just a basic, bratty millennial who wants to get away for a weekend. Crew plays it fine, and I’ve liked her since “Sex Drive” but she can’t do much with the dialogue, that’s either just bad or awkward.
They try to add depth to her – but her dad (Ray Wise) killing himself isn’t interesting, nor is Olive’s acid trip talking to him. Sub-plot scenes featuring her mother, Crystal (Kim Delaney), living at a commune and hanging out with a fling (Johnny Pemberton) is more useless than anything.
This doesn’t work as a horror comedy, either. Some of the horror’s more visual and surreal than I’d expect for the simple horror premise and there are some seriously strange scenes, mostly in Harvey’s imagination. The kills aren’t memorable for a slasher film, and a lot of the scares are lazy. There is one scene that builds decent tension, though. There are more laughs than scares, but they’re merely chuckles and the film usually tries way too hard to be funny or the setups are bad. The finale setup is fine and feels like it could be good but then Harvey just goes back to millennial shaming.
Patrick’s performance doesn’t work because the character’s so bad, but he embodies manic and hateful here. But there’s a reason why no one likes that curmudgeonly old guy in the neighborhood. He’s just an asshole and so is Harvey. But unlike the Grinch or Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,” there’s no redemption story here.