Michael Jai White never achieved the level of action stardom I thought he deserved. He had a great shot 20 years ago with the titular role in Spawn, but unfortunately for him, that movie kind of sucked. He had featured roles in high-profile films like Universal Soldier and Exit Wounds, but not as the star. His best star turn was in Black Dynamite, but as great as it was, that was a spoof. He was also in a couple of Toxic Avenger movies, doing stuff like this:
I never figured he’d be the next James Bond or anything, but I thought he was certainly worthy of starring in the level of actioners that Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes headlined in the ’90s and early ’00s. I guess those types of films fell out of favor with the movie-going public just as White was making a name for himself, but how he hasn’t even appeared in an Expendables movie is beyond me.
Well, The Crooked Man is one of the latest in his string of direct-to-video features (and one that doesn’t require him to showcase his martial arts prowess), and although he’s not necessarily a household name, he’s big enough to be featured on the movie poster. The ironic thing is, though, he’s not even in the movie for more than 10 or so minutes. He’s not even the hero who comes to save the day at the end. He plays Milo, who’s more of the subject matter expert/“voice of reason” who hips the protagonists to what’s going on with the titular bad guy and spouts pretentious warnings like, “Wherever there’s darkness, he will be there…He cannot be stopped. You cannot hide, and you cannot run. If you have been cursed by the Crooked Man, he will kill you eventually, no matter what.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, Milo! If White were a lesser star, this sort of role might mark him for death at the hands of the villain — snitches get stitches, after all — but he’s pretty much doing the producers a favor by appearing in a film of this caliber, so they’re not gonna bump him off.
The Crooked Man is a typical SyFy creature feature — entertainingly low-brow, perfect background noise while you’re doing your taxes — but it stands out from the pack for its multicultural cast. Of the core quartet of friends who propel the plot by conjuring the demonic titular character, three are women of color: Latina Olivia (Angelique Rivera, the “final girl”), black girl Charlotte (Reilly Brooke Stith) and Asian Violet (Brianne Tju). Along with white girl Alice (Alexis Wilkins), they’re targeted by the Crooked Man, but for no good reason, he puts his reign of terror on hold for SIX YEARS when Olivia is committed to a psychiatric hospital after she’s blamed for the death of another friend of theirs he killed the night of the conjuring.
Now that Olivia has been released, and the “marked” people have been reunited, the Crooked Man returns. Even though this makes no sense, the sensical solution — that Olivia go away again — is dismissed by Milo for an even more nonsensical explanation: “Too many people have died now.” Wha? Basically, Milo is that guy who shoots down every idea everyone else has but never proposes one of his own. Even worse, he can’t be bothered to step in and help; when one girl is being killed, he actually stands outside her window taking photos. Until Olivia tracks him down, his only attempt to warn her of the danger she’s in is…throwing a brick with an anonymous note through her window??? THANKS FOR NOTHING, MILO.
The Crooked Man character, based on the old English nursery rhyme, is full of potential as a horror villain — as indicated by its appearance in The Conjuring 2, about four months before this film aired on SyFy. Coincidence? There’s even a Conjuring spinoff featuring the character in development. This version of Crooked Man, however, has more of a budget rubber mask feel, with some jittery, CGI-enhanced movements that make it look like he’s doing some old-school poppin’ and lockin’:
GO, C.M., GO C.M., GO! Anyway, this is an accurate reflection of the cheesy appeal of this movie, with inadvertent laughs to go around. Like when Olivia has a vision of C.M.’s crooked house, but the only landmarks are two large rocks and a pine tree, and yet somehow her love interest Noah knows EXACTLY where that is…and OF COURSE, it’s within driving distance. And when they get inside, they IMMEDIATELY split up, like they’re reading from the horror cliché handbook. And speaking of clichés, when C.M. attacks, he does that thing where he just throws the good guy (Noah) around the room — THREE TIMES — despite having long, razor-sharp claws he could easily use to kill him.
All in all, The Crooked Man is blindingly dumb but fast-paced and well-acted enough for a Saturday night hate-watch.