"I hope this movie kicks ass, people." Thus spoke Minnesota Film Arts publicity associate Jim Brunzell (son of the like-named wrestler), hyping up the near-capacity crowd that gathered at Oak Street Cinema for Disney's college-market giveaway screening of Mel Gibson's bloodlustily punitive Apocalypto. Asses were indeed kicked here—flayed, even. I'd call the young audience's occasionally WWF-style cheering of ultragory ancient Mayan kickdrops heinously inappropriate except that they're precisely what the movie elicits and what its maker seemingly intends. As Mad Mel told EW: "An 18-year-old college guy, out with his buddies, he's going to get into [it]." Small wonder Oak Street's was one of 65 free campus screenings held nationwide in an attempt to offset what has become known as the "Mel Factor."
Brunzell, on behalf of MFA, publicly thanked not Disney, but Walt Disney, the legendarily suspected anti-Semite, in a line delivered as much for entertainment as anything in the movie. Notwithstanding that shrewdly subtle and hilarious little snap at the mouse that feeds, the occasion for the still-struggling MFA was an eager bid at the bait-and-switch: Come for Mel, come back for the Christ himself, Jim Caviezel, in the aptly named Unknown (now at Oak Street), torturously touted by Brunzell as "Memento meets Reservoir Dogs."
Whether or not the kids can be lured to art movies that don't feature multiple decapitations and underwater births is a question as open as Mel's bottle and as venomous as his mouth. Even Apocalypto (Cannibal Holocaust meets Hard Target?) seems dicey to EW, which has reasoned its "subtitles could scare more people off than anything the director said during his run-in with the police." (Jesus—and they say alt-weekly film scribes are irreverent?) Ever optimistic, MFA passed the offering plate, so to speak, soliciting donations to the church of indie cinema and stumping for its $30 membership card—which kicks ass, people.
Apocalypto dares to approximate a happy ending (thank God for the Christian settlers!), although this long-suffering disciple of the old, chopped Oak left the crowded theater with a tiny touch of faith in MFA II—The Second Coming. It's damn near biblical: Out of hate in Beverly Hills springs hope in Stadium Village.