At one point during stuntman-turned-director Johnny Martin's abysmal 2004 action-horror epic "Skeleton Man," co-star Michael Rooker -- who, I'm sure, would punch you directly in your grill if you even whisper the name of this movie in his presence -- takes an expected trip down the side of a hill, a protracted sequence which clearly stands as the film's brightest moment. It's a testament to how genuinely God-awful the picture truly is, and leaves you wondering why, exactly, someone of Rooker's caliber would subject himself to such substandard B-grade schlock as this. Hey, I guess a paycheck is a paycheck.
And while I love cheesy, nonsensical motion pictures featuring tribal killers as much as the next guy, I do have to draw the limit somewhere. Otherwise, I would spend my entire life watching cheap, empty-headed SyFy movies in my underwear, guzzling can after can of flat, off-brand energy drinks and stuffing potato chips of varying shapes and flavors into my pathetic little mouth. Trust me -- it's not a pretty sight. "Skeleton Man" makes me question how I spend my free time, especially when the sun's shining, the birds are chirping, and my legs won't quite twitching. Involuntary bodily movement, I've found, is a true indicator of wretched cinema.
Poor Michael Rooker and professional nitwit Casper Van Dien star as a pair of elite, highly-trained military types sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a squadron of soldiers within the bowels of a nameless forest somewhere in the United States. As they venture deeper into these admittedly scenic surroundings, our heroes encounter a strange Native American chap (read: plot device) who warns them about Cotton Mouth Joe, a savage warrior who slaughtered his own tribe a long, long time ago. Before anyone can take a hit off the peace pipe, these war-hardened super troopers are assault by a horse-riding boogeyman who appears to purchase his wardrobe exclusively from Halloween Express. Unintentional entertainment promptly ensues.
The "soldiers fighting creatures in the woods" scenario has been done several hundred times before, and "Skeleton Man" is quite content to simply follow the formula to the letter. Truth be told, there really isn't much of a story to begin with; the film operates on the thinnest of threadbare plots, a fact which may explain the long bouts of mind-rotting boredom I experienced as I attempted to consume this picture in one uninterrupted sitting. In fact, the only scene worth sticking around for is the one which involves Michael Rooker, a fallen branch, and his trip down a very steep hill. Even the final reel showdown inside a chemical plant is a yawner.
As much as it pains me to say it, the film's only redeeming quality -- aside from Casper Van Dien's wooden performance and Rooker's aforementioned tumble, of course -- is its willingness to assault your tender, undeveloped senses with a variety of graphically violence set pieces. The audience will involuntarily bear witness to a bevy of impalements, an assortment decapitations, and plenty of cornball stunt work courtesy of veteran fall guy Johnny Martin. Truthfully, if mindless entertainment is all you're really interested in, there are much better examples of this concept floating around out there for you to investigate. I know it's tough to resist Van Dien, but you've gotta be strong for the kids.
There's a very small part of me that wonders if "Skeleton Man" is some sort of farce, a sly cinematic joke that nobody seems to understand. It really wouldn't surprise me if that were the case, as I'd hate to think that anyone with half a brain cell would think "Skeleton Man" sounded like a good idea on paper. I refuse to believe that somebody making a livable wage read the script and boldly proclaimed, "This story would make a fine motion picture, by God!" If it's meant to be silly, then all apologies. Please disregard this review while using my name in vain. Until then, all this film can really offer is Michael Rooker falling down. And that's pretty sad.