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Devon Sawa, the star of 'Idle Hands'

'Idle Hands' -- a post-Columbine test of the movie market

April 30, 1999
Web posted at: 3:54 p.m. EDT (1954 GMT)

By Andy Culpepper
Turner Entertainment Report Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES(CNN) -- There's an expression. We've all heard it. Something about idle hands being the Devil's...

Workshop? Playground? Playpen?

Ponder the several choices all you care to. They all mean the same thing: Too much time on your hands can get you into trouble.

And executives of Columbia Pictures -- distributor of the R-rated film "Idle Hands" going into wide release on Friday -- have had some pondering of their own to do.

Watch the theatrical preview for "Idle Hands"
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News services have reported a meeting of studio honchos in the wake of the Columbine High School killings at Littleton, Colorado. The agenda: whether it might be prudent to move the release date of "Idle Hands," for fear of offending the public's still-raw sensibilities.

As the film's story opens, the teen hero's parents are dead. As will be seen, their rather grotesque Halloween-day deaths have been perpetrated, if unwittingly, by their son -- to be precise, by a "possessed" right hand their son can't control.

And the setting includes school. Promotional material feature this line: "Will the gates of Hell open wide at the high school Halloween Dance and drag an innocent soul into eternal damnation?"

Studios undaunted: 'Idle Hands' opens on schedule

Despite a national debate now raging on the subject of Hollywood's depictions of violence, drug use and sexual activity, the studio officials decided against changing the release date. They released a statement in which they say the picture "bears no resemblance to that tragedy (at Littleton) and is a comedy based on a totally different subject."

At the film's publicity junket -- well before the Columbine shootings took place -- director Rodman Flender expressed similar sentiment.

"I hope people laugh and scream and have a good time. I think it's a good date movie," he said. "I hope dates elbow each other and ask, 'How could you?' I hope people have fun."

The film's focus

At the center of the film is Anton, by all accounts the laziest boy in town. It's too late, maybe, to ask his parents. So ask his friends. Ask the police officers who patrol his neighborhood. But be quick about asking them, lest Anton get to them before you do.

Actually, it's not Anton they need to worry about. It's his hand -- his right hand, in particular. It's demon-possessed and capable of the most graphically violent murders.

Did I mention this is a comedy? Columbia's press materials describe it as "spine-tingling slapstick."

Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer get screenwriting credits for this teen-horror laugher -- their first produced screenplay. But it's the director and his background that moviegoers should use for an inkling of what they're in for here.

Flender earned his filmmaking spurs in the employ of Roger Corman -- yes, that Roger Corman, master of the economy-sized horror genre. Among Flender's credits? The 1994 "Leprechaun 2."

No idle hands has Flender. He produced some 23 Corman films before getting his first directing opportunity.

Director's view of his audience

So why is there a market out there for horror films -- not to mention horror comedy films?

"I think every healthy person at one point in their life has been the kid at the table who sticks peas up their nose," says Flender. "I know it's something I used to like to do. I think that's what attracts -- that's the attraction of this film."

The film's stars are a relatively fresh-faced lot. Canadian actor Devon Sawa (think "sweet and Sawa," says he) plays the kid with the evil hand. His cohorts are played by Seth Green of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and by Elden Henson, most recently seen in this year's "She's All That" and 1998's "The Mighty."

The obligatory female love interest for Sawa's Anton is played by relative newcomer Jessica Alba, currently on screen in "Never Been Kissed," last weekend's No. 3 at the box office.

The most familiar face in this teen romp belongs to an actress who graduated from adolescent roles some time back. Vivica A. Fox -- of 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July," 1996's "Independence Day," 1998's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" -- plays something of an exorcist in "Idle Hands."

There's a certain amount of irony there, in that Fox claims not to like horror films. And why is that?

"I was traumatized when I was 9," she says. "And I saw 'The Exorcist' ... the throwing up, the green vomit ... not my type of thing. But for some reason, the kids and people today, it doesn't bother them. And as a matter of fact, the bloodier, the better."

Fox's comments -- indeed, all the interviews for the media junket leading up to the release of "Idle Hands" -- came weeks before the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado. The actress wasn't issuing any sort of indictment. In fact, the tone of her remarks was rather light-hearted.

Q&A with Devon Sawa

Rodman's handsome young star Devon Sawa echoed those comments in his own interview with CNN's Turner Entertainment Report.

Q: From Vancouver?

Sawa: From Vancouver, Canada. Started at age 11 in theater. Went to film school for a year and jumped right into it. I'm on my 12th, finishing my 12th and going on to my 13th.

Q: Did you ever think your co-star would be your own hand?

Sawa: No. Never, never. When I read the script I was so attracted to it. I was so excited. It was such a challenge for an actor to do something like this, and I love to be challenged. ... The way we went, me and my hand just spent a lot of time working together.

Q: There have been times when I felt at odd with parts of my body, you know, like two left feet or something like that. I'm sure you must, getting this character down, you must have slapped yourself silly a couple of times.

Sawa: Yeah, there's a lot of slapping myself silly. I really got in touch with my hand, really. When they say, 'I know that place like the back of my hand,' I really know the back of my hand. was a lot of fun.

Q: Have you seen the film yet?

Sawa: Yes.

Q: With an audience?

Sawa: No.

Q: Oh, you're in for a treat.

Sawa: Is it wild seeing it with an audience?

Q: There. We're sick people, OK? What's that about? Why?

Sawa: I don't know. I saw a little bit of a copy that they recorded, the crowd. They recorded the movie with crowd reactions, and it's funny to hear the crowd just go up in an uproar when I start smoking pot. Like the whole place just goes, 'Yeah.' And it's like, wow! Society is just nuts, you know? Here I am smoking pot, and everybody is just cheering in the audience. I mean, maybe because it was that kind of audience, you know.

Q: Guilty pleasures. It's that feeling of getting our hand caught in the cookie jar. There are some really funny bits that you're looking at and you're thinking -- they're not going to do this. They aren't going there.

Sawa: Yeah. And they do, which is what makes the movie the way it is, because we didn't hesitate to go there. We didn't think, 'What are people going to think?' We were ready, Rodman, me, and the entire cast were completely original, completely wacky -- create this whole world and not care what people are going to think.

Q: Definitely one of those situations, 'Kids, don't try this at home.'

Sawa: Exactly. Yeah, and the message at the end of the movie -- there are a couple of messages in the movie that you just don't take literally. You just kind of brush it off like, 'cause you know, we made this movie to entertain -- and strictly entertain -- and not to send out messages. We don't want kids across the nation killing their parents and their best friends and hoping to come back as zombies.

Q: And that is a good thing to have in mind.

Sawa: Yes. A word of advice to all the kids out there.

Teen TV, reckless or responsible?
April 29, 1999

Official 'Idle Hands' site
Sony Pictures Movies
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