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Movie Night – ‘Awakening the Zodiac’ subpar on every level

By Bradley Griffith

Occasionally straight to movie video releases are not completely terrible. Also, occasionally when known actors take roles in these movies they can elevate the movie to better quality that the production deserves rather than just signing up for a paycheck.  “Awakening the Zodiac” is unfortunately neither of those rare films. Everything about the movie is subpar.

Mick Branson (Shane West) is down on his luck.  He has a lawn mowing business, but not with the big commercial mowers you might be picturing in your head.  Instead, he has an old, beat-up push mower that he totes around in the back of his old, beat-up truck.  His wife, Zoe (Leslie Bibb), appears to be an out-of-work hairdresser, only having sporadic appointments to ply her trade.

The couple live in a small, dilapidated trailer in rural Virginia that looks like it could collapse at any moment.  They have no money and no prospects for a better life.  Rather than work a regular job to make a living, Mick is interesting in get-rich schemes.  His favorite such scheme is buying the contents of old abandoned storage units before seeing what’s inside.  Over the course of a year he has made about $1,000 in this venture, yet he still believes a big payday is waiting in one of these forgotten units.

When Mick gets a tip about a storage unit that was until recently owned by an elderly widow Mick thinks his time has come.  He partners up with Harvey (Matt Craven), a local pawn shop owner, to buy the contents of this storage unit for $1,200.  Most of the junk found in this storage unit is worth very little, maybe $300 to $400.  But Harvey does find one item that is interesting.

Harvey finds several reels of film that show actual murders taking place.  The film is old and somewhat degraded, but with a little investigation via the internet Harvey comes to believe that these are films made by the Zodiac Killer.  The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco and other parts of Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Harvey believes that this storage unit belonged to the Zodiac Killer and that they can claim the $100,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the killer.  Harvey, Mick, and Zoe begin an investigation into the killer in the hope that they can stay alive long enough to collect the reward.

“Awakening the Zodiac” can be summed up as follows: an interesting premise that was poorly written and poorly executed.  The mystery of the true Zodiac Killer is captivating and has been the subject of almost endless theories, books, and movies.  He was a real killer who really terrorized Northern California.  He claims to have killed thirty-seven people, though the authorities only officially credit him with five murders.  The identity of the Zodiac Killer has never been discovered.

Given that background story, with endless opportunities to provide a quality movie, the filmmakers instead produced a result that is awful in every conceivable way.  The movie was cheaply produced, and it shows.  The writing was horrific, many things happen in the movie for no discernible reason and make absolutely no sense.  There is no reason given for why the movie takes place in Virginia, across the entire country from the actual Zodiac murders.

The stupidity of the characters is astounding.  Characters in thrillers often make poor decisions, but these characters take actions without any reasoning other than to do stupid things to make the movie less interesting and less believable.  A movie based on real events needs to at least have some small amount of logic behind the story.  Not so here.

Do yourself a favor and avoid “Awakening the Zodiac.”  If the true story of the Zodiac Killer sounds interesting, the movie “Zodiac” directed by David Fincher and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr. is far superior.

Grade: D-

Rated R for violence and language.