Burning Palms

Director: Christopher B. Landon

Notable Cast: Zoe Saldana, Jamie Chung, Lake Bell, Rosamund Pike, Paz Vega, Shannen Doherty, Nick Stahl, Dylan McDermott, Anson Mount, Peter Macdissi

Rating: R

Review:  Burning Palms is the directorial debut from Paranormal Activity 2/Disturbia writer Christopher B. Landon, featuring a collective group of popular actors playing out five short stories told with an old school “Twilight Zone” kind of vibe, minus the sci-fi.  Landon wanted to show the darker side of the stereotypically sunny California, harping on the hidden and bizarre.  Where I like the idea of having short films that don’t draw out an idea and get right to the point, it’s also a gamble because as a director you handcuff yourself in terms of character and plot development.  You’ve got about 20 minutes per segment to set up the situation, introduce the conflict, and wrap it all up.  Short, sweet, to the point; but you need to be effective also.  Landon does a fine job building up and delivering his stories, but it was more the ideas I had a problem with. Burning Palms strives to be dark and witty, but not every story is as well crafted as the others.  Out of the five stories, only two of them were worth the watch to me.  40% isn’t going to give you a passing grade in class, an neither will it here.

So what are the stories about?  Boom:

Number one is titled “The Green-Eyed Monster,” and tells us the story of Debra (Pike), Dennis (McDermott), Dennis’ daughter Chloe (Emily Meade), and the jealousy that develops between them.  Dennis is extremely close with his daughter, and since his first wife passed away, Debra wants nothing then to be accepted by Dennis’ pride and joy.  But when Debra becomes jealous of just how close Dennis and Chloe are, it begins to get the best of her.

Number two has the title “The Little Piggy.”  Pretty simple story here: Ginny (Chung) sticks her finger up boyfriend Chad’s (Robert Hoffman) bum during sex at his request, but after the act she continues to smell the nasty fecal stench shamed on her finger no matter how hard she tries to remove it.

Number three is donned “Buyer’s Remorse” and follows gay couple Tom (Mount) and Geri (Macdissi) and their attempt to raise their new adopted child, of course not being as simple as it sounds.

Number 4 is called “Kangaroo Court,” and focuses on a group of bored kids being looked after by babysitter Mary Jane (Bell) who turn their living room into a mock court when one of the housekeepers (Paz Vega) discovers an important artifact of hers is missing.

Finally, number 5 is “Man Eater.”  The story opens right to the point with Sarah (Saldana) being raped.  She finds the wallet of her attacker (Stahl) under her couch, and sets out to return the wallet with intentions of her own.

Mary Jane…get it?  Because she’s high?  And they call pot Mary Jane?  Hmm…subtle comedy there…

As you can tell, some of the stories were much better creations than the others.  If I had to run down from best to worst, it would go down a little like this: Kangaroo Court, Buyer’s Remorse, The Green-Eyed Monster, Man Eater, and The Little Piggy.  But lets start with the worst and work our way up.  The Little Piggy did not keep my attention at all, delivering no entertainment and not having much fun with the sexual comedy at all.   It was trying to be edgy and clever, with a hint of crassness, but was just a load of garbage.  The Little Piggy was boring to watch and lacked any substance to the story to validate its ridiculous story.  Skip ahead to The Man Eater, which was nothing but a shock value story that was too short and too bland.  Sure, rape is a touchy subject, but its portrayal in Burning Palms didn’t actually insight any anger or emotions except for a confusing empty feeling as the story abruptly ends.  Keep trucking and we have the extremely predictable but mildly entertaining story about jealousy peppered with incestuous undertones, The Green-Eyed Monster.  This is the first story chronologically in the movie that really sets the tone for the other stories to follow, and the ending took me by surprise to start off.  I wasn’t sure of the tone of Burning Palms, and I like how The Green-Eyed Monster sets that tone for the stories to come.  Buyer’s Remorse was the funniest of the five in my opinion, finally working some comedy into the dark nature of the stories.  Based on the trailer I was expected more of an emphasis on some really sick and twisted comedy, but it’s almost non-existent outside of Buyer’s Remorse.  On the negative side of Buyer’s Remorse though is the forced over-the-top homosexual comedy that didn’t stick half the time.  It was just a barrage of terms and visuals that become repetitive after a while.  Lastly is my favorite of the bunch, Kangaroo Court.  This did the best job of using dark comedy and an out of the ordinary situation together.  Lake Bell plays a funny bit part as the stoner house sitter and the kids do an fine job as the spoiled brats, but Kangaroo Court is the only one of the stories to follow The Green-Eyed Monster that effectively will shock you like the first.  Down the list that’s how the stories stack up, but as a collection they just don’t hold up against each other.

Burning Palms is one of those things that I’m sure sounded great on paper, but just didn’t translate to the screen.  Breaking the mold and doing the whole short story game could have worked, but you need good stories in order to accomplish this feat.  The tag line of “Five Stories That Will Mess You Up For Life” is a little ambitious, as I was expecting Burning Palms to dive much deeper than it actually does.  But when it does try to dance the line between too much and over the edge, Burning Palms fails to deliver the material in an entertaining way.  The stories seem forced out and rushed along just for some shock value credentials at times, and it lessens the experience of the movie as a whole.  The tame viewer will probably be taken aback by the stories in Burning Palms, but for viewers like me you’ll be left with an empty feeling and a want for something more.

Final Rating: 5 rushed short stories out of 10

Oh yeah, Shannen Doherty pops up a few times, been a while since she’s been talked about…


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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