I viewed Saw II (I now refuse to say "saw" in connection with this series) immediately after watching Saw thanks to my buddy Matt, who bought both DVDs and then let me borrow them. With the first movie fresh in my mind, I slid the disc into my DVD player and held my breath.
If Saw was a homage of Se7en, Saw II is a rip-off of Cube. If you haven't seen Cube, here's the premise: total strangers wake up in a room. The room is part of a larger structure that is really just an excuse to off the victims one by one with innovative death traps. Cube is one of my favorite movies, because the cube had its own internal logic. It was an interesting, horrifying existential take on the best and worst of the human condition.
Just like Cube, Saw II has the usual cast of characters: the slinky femme fatale (Addison, played by the gorgeous Emmanuelle Vaugier), the stressed out freak (Obi, played by Tim Burd), the neurotic schlub (always the first to die, who cares who plays him), the sweet-as-pie innocent (Laura, played by Beverley Mitchell), the young punk (Daniel, played by Erik Knudsen), the mole (Shawnee Smith reprising her role as Amanda), the leader (Jonas, played by Glenn Plummer) and last but not least the most important character of all: the psychopath (Xavier, played with hulking brutality by Franky G)! That's right ladies and gentlemen, it's not just enough to put complete strangers in a room full of traps, it helps if you mix it up a bit by adding a slavering nutjob who isn't afraid to get through the traps by throwing other people into them.
If Saw II sounds like a completely different film from the first, you're right. According to IMDB, this WAS another film that was retooled as a sequel to Saw. It shows.
Interspersed between shots of the wacky Funhouse of Death is a psychological standoff between Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Daniel's father Eric, played by… Donnie Wahlberg! Curse you Wahlberg, was it not enough that you were a muttering bald man in Dreamcatcher? Is there no end to the spread of your evil?
Ahem. Anyway, Wahlberg spits venom, knocks stuff over, and utterly fails to be convincing as a concerned father, a tough cop, or an actual menace to Jigsaw. By the end of the movie, I felt pretty bad for 'ole Jigsaw. I mean, all the guy is trying to do is make an entertaining film by killing off a bunch of crooks. Is that so bad?
This film's traps are considerably more elaborate and the gore factor is definitely upped; enough that I was given pause while eating pizza (Will I never learn? CURSE YOU WAHLBERG!). The clever riddles that Jigsaw gives Detective Wahlberg are lost in the whip-snap camera shots, rendering the second plot more of a distraction than anything else. The final twist is more of a cheat, but the real payoff is in knowing what happened to the characters from the first movie.
In the end, this sequel can't possibly duplicate the taut thrills of Saw because it's actually two films awkwardly mashed together. And it has Wahlberg. Given the conclusion, perhaps we have finally seen the end of my arch nemesis.
But I doubt it.