Another feature of...
Plot: Hordes of rats
threaten New York City. It’s not a documentary.
We open with a series of title cards. We’re reminded that rats killed half of Europe during the Black Plague. That they were the first creatures to reinhabit Hiroshima after the atom bomb. That New York City has spent decades attempting to eradicate them. In other words, rats are gross and tough. (Which is why koalas and pandas aren’t the subject of many horror movies. Unlike, er, frogs and giant bunnies.) Then the camera begins gliding up the tail of a CGI rat. A pull-away shot reveals a large crowd of its fellows. They are seen chewing through electrical cables (!), with little ill effect. This action soon plunges the Statue of Liberty (!!) into darkness. This is merely a teaser, though, and not actually part of the story.
Next we see a typical NYC street scene, all tumult and crowds. The credits reveal our leads to be Madchen Amick, one of numerous actresses still getting work from being on Twin Peaks, and Vincent Spano. He wasn’t on Twin Peaks, and therefore, as far as I can tell, has no business appearing in even TV movies any longer. A prime example of Mr. Spano’s work was explored here.
The camera glides down and around under the city, until in the deepest tunnels we find…rats. Like the ones we saw a minute ago. Only underground and not attacking the Statue of Liberty. One rat scurries around, and we get a rat POV-cam. Everyone making a monster movie since Predator thinks we needs a gimmicky POV shot for every menace. This one shows things low to the ground, naturally, and is both black and white -- as it should be -- and distorted. Then we cut back and forth from the people, running around in fast motion, and the rats, running around underground. Yes. ‘Rat Race.’ Very doll. (Can I get my money back?)
Above ground we cut to Garson’s, a grand and busy department store. We follow the amblings of an attractive young lady, her movements intercut with footage of a rat running through a pipe. She enters a dressing room. (Hmm, I think I see where this is going.) She start unbuttoning her blouse, revealing her bra. Then the bra comes off. We get a topless shot, added footage to juice up the home video release. Unless Fox’s broadcast standards are even looser than people think. Meanwhile, the rat’s still approaching. This seems a lot of work to terrorize one shopper, but hey, rats are hard working. You’ve got to give them that.
Off come the pants, revealing some thong underwear. At this point I was wondering what was taking the rat so long. (This is about it for T&A, though, so maybe they thought they should drag it out.) Butt properly showcased, the jeans go back on. Then she digs her hand into the pile of clothes she brought in and gets bit. At this point I was wondering if they were going to go the Killer Shrews route and make the rodents poisonous.
Meanwhile, a generic Arab Queen and her retinue arrives in limos outside the store. (Another scene, perhaps, that wouldn’t have played well three days after 9/11.) She is met by Susan, Garson’s Operations Manager. "I handle everything from security issues to public relations," Susan expositories. This is Ridiculous Bit #1. Susan, you see, is our Female Lead, played by the aforementioned Madchen Amick. Ms. Amick was thirty, or at most thirty-one, when the movie was shot. Moreover, like most actresses, she looks younger than her age. Which means that her being the "Operations" Manager of a swank Gotham department store is ludicrous. A forty year-old woman, just maybe. A thirty year-old? No way. We’ll explore further unbelievable aspects of Susan later on.
Our Heroine stumbles through a welcoming speech in Arabic. (Again, you’d expect someone possessing a greater facility with languages to be in this job. I’ll bet this sort of thing doesn’t happen at Harrod’s.) Are you ready for the movie’s first ‘joke’? "Today I will be," Susan stammers in the translated subtitles, "your cattle prod." See, she didn’t mean to say ‘cattle prod.’ It’s just that her Arabic isn’t that good. Get it?
Susan then over-annunciates in English, "I-hope-you-enjoy-shopping." This sets up the film’s second ‘joke.’ Three guesses. "Oh, I adore shopping," the Queen replies, speaking in a flawless British accent. Hah! Foreigners always make us Americans look stupid, don’t they? Then the woman pulls aside her dress and reveals her stockings. (What Muslim country is she from again?) "Versace," she explains.
Hah! What a cliché-busting scene this is! Well, OK, everything about it is cliché. Still, these are proper, politically correct clichés. Thank goodness, eh? Hey, there’s a thought. Shouldn’t there be a word for a reversal of a previous cliché that’s now been used so often that it itself has become a greater cliché? I guess the post-modernists might call it a metacliché.
The Queen leaves and Susan gets a call about the customer bitten by the rat. Since the woman received her injury while her hand was thrust into a pile of clothes, Susan deduces that she cut herself on a loose floor tack. She gives the woman the outfit she was trying on as recompense and sends her on her way.
She does suggest the woman see a doctor, though. This shows us that Susan is a good person. It also shows that she’s a horrendous Operations Manager. Were the woman to sue the store, Susan’s advice could be construed as an admission that the incident was serious. Admittedly, Susan’s boss, Ms. Page – we can tell she’s not a good person, like Susan, because she wears a fur coat and is driven around in a limo – does mildly chew her out on this later. Not nearly enough, though.
We cut to Susan, model thin in a chic blue one-piece bathing suit at an indoor pool. She’s encouraging Amy, her Obligatory Cute Daughter, who’s swimming laps. This is ridiculous bit #2. Susan seems to have an incredible amount of free time for someone in her position. I’ll bet the average person in her field works a good sixty to eighty hours a week. Hence they don’t, probably, regularly attend their children’s swim lessons, much less act as a volunteer coach. We know Susan does so because she calls out instructions to other swimming children by name. She and Amy also inevitably engage in some lame ‘cute’ banter, stuff that sounds like outtakes from The Gilmore Girls – The Sucky Years.
Back at their apartment, Amy sees a rat outside their window. Susan calls Jim, the Stereotypically Big Dim Slob of a Super. As he examines the scene, we get a butt crack shot. This is meant to be funny, because he’s a Big Dim Slob of a Super. He seems too lazy to want to set traps, but Susan orders him too. However, downstairs in his (what else?) slovenly basement apartment, we learn that he instead just likes rats. This is the film’s great leap in unexpected characterization.
The guy’s vermin-friendly philosophies do him little good, however. A large number of rats swarm his place and kill him. (Some home video gore is added here, including an ear being chewed off.) This is one of the film’s most bewildering loose ends. The struggle concludes in the garbage area behind the building. Even assuming that nothing but a skeleton would be left, well, wouldn’t somebody notice it? The garbage men, for instance? Or the fact that the super has gone missing? Something? Yet nothing of this incident is heard of again.
Oh, I’ll bet you were wondering what ‘ironic’ artifact was playing on the TV when he was attacked. It was The Fly, the ‘50s one. Yep, can’t have somebody killed in a horror movie these days without an old monster movie playing on the tube.
I was more or less right on the Killer Shrews thing, it turns out. Susan gets a call and rushes to the hospital. The bit customer is in bad shape. (So why would they call Susan?) The rat bite gave her Weil’s Disease, a nasty, possibly fatal condition.
Let’s see what I find wrong about this scene. First, Susan’s presence here again would prove highly damaging during any resultant lawsuit. Second, and this is moronic, there are no lawyers around, either for the girl or for Garson’s. Nor do we ever see any family or friends of the victim, either. How convenient. Third, Susan is given medical information despite the fact that she’s not a relative. Fourth, again, Susan seems to be able to come and go from the store at will. Nice work if you can get it.
Susan heads back to Garson’s and tells Ms. Page that the girl was in fact bitten by a rat in their store. Ms. Page orders the inevitable downplaying of the incident, then instructs Susan to hire the Best Damn Exterminator in Town. This proves to be Jack Carver (who comes up with these names?), played by Vincent Spano. I wondered earlier why Spano’s even making TV movies any more, but once I saw him I understood. He’s broadened out into a granite-chinned Manly Man sort. Lest I miss my guess, he’s being groomed to become this generation’s Nick Mancuso or Jack Scalia.
When Carver appears we instantly know he’s a Hotshot Maverick. For instance, he parks his car in the loading bay, even though he’s not supposed to. Personally, I think that makes him primarily an Idiot. But in film terms he’s definitely a Maverick. Second, he inevitably owns a cherry ‘68 ragtop Mustang. These guys always drive vintage cars, because they’re so cool and iconoclastic and stuff.
There’s (surprise) friction between Jack and Susan at first, because she’s the Loyal Employee and he’s the Hotshot Maverick. Despite the fact that the situation is supposed to be all hush-hush, the two keep loudly using the term "rat bite" as they walk through the crowded store. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Once in the dressing room, Jack finds the rat hole.
Ho hum. I really don’t want to get bogged down here. Let’s skip to the highpoints.
In sum, Rats is a generally uninspired yet watchable rent. I think. Frankly, I’ve seen so many killer animal movies over the last couple of years -- thank you, Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment (see below) -- that I’m not sure I can rate them objectively anymore. In other words, Rats might have seemed comparatively good because it doesn’t quite suck as much as movies like Fangs and Boa.
While the script is weak, it’s not insultingly so. The acting is good, due to a solid cast. I never really thought of it before, but people like Amick and Spano are like movie actors back in the studio system days. By which I mean that, unlike modern movie stars, they’re constantly working in one project or other. Like the screen actors of old, a guy like Spano might appear in half a dozen or more projects a year. This doesn’t necessarily mean they become great actors. Yet it presumably teaches them to project to the camera what they wish, and with a minimum of fuss. And at least the script here doesn’t make either of the leads look like complete morons.
Some viewers will undoubtedly be annoyed by the lack of grue and the extremely low body count. Others, meanwhile, will be relieved. Which makes the inserted few moments of gore and nudity actually counter-productive. Not nearly enough for the horror crowd, a bit too much for the family market.
For me, the most problematic aspect was the goofy, typically TV nature of the leads. Susan, as noted above, is a fantasy Woman of Today. The amount of time that she spends hanging around with Amy is, sadly, comical. Carver, meanwhile, acts as if killing rats weren’t a job so much as a vocation. Wherever rats do rear their shaggy heads, Jack Carver is there. For a guy running New York City’s most prestigious pest control service, Carver, like Susan, seems to have an awful lot of free time on his hands. Especially since his firm seems to consist in its entirety of him and Ty. Also, unless Jack’s so exclusive that he only takes on one job at a time, I wonder what the rest of his clients think about his more or less disappearing for the week or two covered here.
Jack’s battles with the city bureaucracy are probably the film’s stalest and most tiresome plot element. Even so, the fact that Jack’s basically willing to work within the system and doesn’t constantly parade his moral superiority makes this stuff much less annoying than usual. The funniest bit, meanwhile, was for me the closed-down genetics lab that rather conveniently left all their incriminating paperwork behind.
Summary: Okey-Dokey Fare.
Plot: A couple rescued at sea learns a terrifying secret about the men who saved them.
So, Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. We meet again.
A couple of years ago, a small production company named Nu Image produced a trilogy of giant monster movies. These premiered on the USA cable network on consecutive evenings. Imaginatively dubbed Octopus, Crocodile and Spiders, they formed the basis for a set of reader roundtable reviews. USA apparently also took care to telecast them in the order of quality: Octopus sucked, Crocodile was aggressively lame, and Spiders halfway decent.
This year a round of ‘sequels’, all internally unconnected with their predecessors, came out on DVD. Octopus II, unsurprisingly, proved at least better than its truly awful forebear. Crocodile II, meanwhile, was more of a draw with the first film. In other words, I think you could make a fair argument for either as being dumber and more annoying. Spiders II, however, not only manages to improve on the first chapter but is actually a fairly good movie. It certainly has its flaws, including an occasionally atrocious CGI shot. Still, I found it an actual two and a half star film. Which in the Valley of the Dreck makes it a compound-eyed king.
The opening’s pretty good. We see a plastic-wrapped human body being dragged into a lab. The bearer stops before a containment room. Through a web-bedecked window we can see the obscured form of a huge spider. (No use trying to be coy, after all, given the film’s title.) The body’s chucked inside to become spider chow.
The bit following this isn’t as promising. A group of yuppyish men and women on a small yacht are assaulted by a group of masked invaders. There’s a bunch of low-grade martial arts stuff, and a markedly weird reluctance of the heavily armed marauders to just shoot the boat’s occupants. (Although this will prove to make sense as things progress.) The scene ends with the boat being destroyed, as portrayed by some desultory CGI work.
A handsome married couple,
Alex(andra) and Jason, come across the destroyed hulk of the yacht the
next morning. Then a heavy storm arises and swamps their craft. They both
find themselves in the water, with Jason injured to boot. Luckily, a
massive cargo ship appears on the scene at the last minute and rescues
them. Captain Bigelow welcomes them on board and seems sincerely concerned
for their welfare. The couple is also ministered to by the ship’s
brusque physician, Dr. Grbac (Richard Moll!).
In this case Jason’s the suspicious party. Alex credits his increasingly shrill fears to the fever he sustained during their plight. (We, meanwhile, are more concerned about the supposed antibiotic injections Grbac keeps administering.) When Jason – correctly -- reads something deeper in the seemingly innocent attention Bigelow pays Alex, she credits it to jealously. As his fears grow he sounds increasingly paranoid, and Alex more and more angry with him. This is classic Horror Movie material, and it’s well played.
Unfortunately for Jason, however, his situation doesn’t remain one of abstract fears. Indeed, the guy suffers through some of the more horrifying straights I’ve seen some time. Dr. Grbac, needless to say, turns out to be conducting experiments involving giant spiders. When one of them is set on Jason, we’re horrified. Then we realize that the spider isn’t doing what we’d expected it to, and we’re more horrified yet.
The film’s strengths include the cast, who generally provide more than adequate performances. In particular, the actors playing Jason and Alex are quite capable. The guy playing Bigalow also provides nice work. His attraction to Alex is well played enough that both Jason’s suspicions and her dismissal of same are credible.
Moll, meanwhile, is a revelation. In the past his penchant for muggery has served to undercut any menace he might have tried to project. (See Dungeonmaster, as an obvious example.) Here he brings more of a reserved quality to the part. In fact, he somewhat reminded me of Vincent Price. If Moll wanted to work at it, he could join such solid b-movie heavies as Lance Henriksen and Tony Todd.
The script, while prone to the sort of gaffes typical of the breed, has some strong points. The setting of a cargo ship as a base to conduct illegal experiments makes a good deal of sense, for instance.
The special effects are all over the map. The best are some really quite good practical effects, including mock-ups and prosthetics. Some gooey close-ups of giant spider eyes are particularly effective. There’s also one quick shot of what’s obviously a real spider shot on a miniature set. This isn’t particularly convincing, but it’s better than lots of the computer stuff. You wonder why they didn’t do more of this.
The CGI ranges from good to frightfully bad, with more, perhaps, of the latter. This is partly because they’re really ambitious as to the amount of CGI they insert. You’ve got to admire that, anyway, and the latter part of the film is bursting with giant spider action. Even so, a couple of shots in particular should have just been clipped out. However, given the film’s presumed budget, the producers probably couldn’t justify tossing away money they’d already spent.
In any case, some of the CGI does the job, some of it doesn’t. Still, you have to appreciate the mass of spiders crawling over the ship during the film’s climax, even if the effects are mediocre. The image is interesting enough that the somewhat flawed execution doesn’t really hurt it much.
Of course, there is your run of the mill pet peeve material. Some of the imagery is almost inevitably ripped off from Alien/Aliens. This I could have done without, since such stuff has been beaten to death. Also, there’s a bit where Jason, in a fever, sees a meat locker full of dead bodies. He returns with Alex soon after, and the bodies of course are gone. The problem is that it’s unlikely in the extreme that the bodies could have been removed and replaced with animal carcasses in that time.
There are other amusingly bad elements. For instance, when you come right down to it, there’s no good reason why the villains would have saved Jason and Alex in the first place. Other than that being necessary to the plot. Yes, Jason’s used as a guinea pig, but why not use one of the captives they already had, rather than someone they then leave to wander around the ship?
Finally, Grbac has one of those really, really bad containment systems. You know the kind. The one where if the power is temporarily cut off, all the doors to the spider pens pop open of their own accord! That’s really not how I would have arranged it myself.
Of deeper problems, I’d name three. First, given how hard-edged the movie is otherwise, the script provides a simply unbelievable Deus ex Machina/MacGuffin to save one of our two leads. I have no problem with a happy ending, but this device was ludicrous in the extreme.
Second, there’s the increasingly self-defeating tendency to come up with some overblown last minute ‘shock’ following the film’s natural climax. Here it’s when the leads are attempting to climb to safety and suddenly the very biggest spider nonsensically pops up to threaten them. Making this especially egregious is that this end up being one of those deals where a person hanging from their arms successfully keeps their grip while a multi-ton creature tugs at their legs.
The film already had a neat ‘big’ ending with the zillions of big spiders swarming the ship. This last bit, on the other hand, just makes you roll your eyes. (Plus the CGI here is really bad.) Here’s a note to filmmakers: When every fricken’ horror movie of the last thirty years has tossed a last-minute ‘shock’ bit at the audience, well, we’re not ‘shocked’ anymore. Let it go. Smaller can be better.
Lastly, there’s the issue of the film’s use of nudity. I’m generally not one to go throwing around terms like misogynist. However, some of the material here definitely brooks question. For pretty much every topless shot in the movie is intermixed with grievous bodily harm. Twice we get close-ups of topless woman in isolation pods who immediately thereafter suffer horrible, body-rending damage. None of the men in pods garner this sort of attention.
As well, during the aforementioned meat locker scene, the corpse front and center is that of an attractive woman, nude and hanging from a meat hook. Admittedly, there are men similarly featured in the background of this shot, but the woman I mention is the one the eye goes right to. By the way, is the actress who stripped down and had blue body paint applied to make her appear to be a nude corpse going to put this gig on her resume? In any case, this is kind of creepy stuff, and not in a good way.
Summary: Hardly a masterwork, but a lot of good stuff.
Plot: Giant scorpions are loose on a jetliner.
As I noted earlier, my objectivity on these DTV killer animal/bug movies is slipping. I’ve seen so many of them this last year that I’ve inevitably started grading the films on a curve rather than on their overall merits. So let this remain a cautionary note to anyone reading this.
The plot set-up is pretty basic. Scientific specimens, here encased scorpion lab subjects, are being transported on a commercial airliner. There’s an attempt to steal them, they get loose, get big, and proceeds to kill most me of the cast.
Tail Sting is an interesting case. To me, anyway. It’s clearly cheaper than even the poverty row DTV fodder I’ve been seeing so much of lately. For instance, it’s obviously shot on video rather than film. We’re not talking the highest grade of video, either. This is especially evident during the film’s opening scenes, which take place out of doors. This become much less noticeable, however, once events move exclusively onto interior sets.
The budget’s so tight, in fact, that the film lacks the otherwise omnipresent rudimentary CGI effects that even junk like Beneath Loch Ness features. Of course, I’m in no position to complain about this even if I wished to. I often have stated my general preference for ‘practical’ effects over computer generated ones. Still, the giant scorpions here, while no doubt the result of lots of hard work on somebody’s part, are never even close to believable. We’re talking the sort of beasties that one might see on a Dr. Who episode. So those who simply can’t get past cheesy effects work should probably forgo this one.
Yet despite such technical problems, the film does exactly what I regularly castigate other low-budget fare for not doing. That is, the filmmakers maximize the small amount of money they have. If they somewhat overreach, they do so in an admirable, plucky sort of fashion. Meanwhile, they ably marshal elements that don’t necessarily require a lot of money. For example, the acting is all pretty good. We’re not talking Oscar-caliber stuff, obviously. Still, every actor seen here can spit out a line with some degree of panache and project appropriate facial expressions. Believe me, this isn’t always the case with these things.
Furthermore, the characters are, within the accepted limits of this sort of deal, reasonably well written. There’s an occasionally witty line. Extra care was also taken to provide the film with a large cast, often missing in such films. As well, much effort was taken to not rely on the sort of long, static shots typical of shot-on-video features. The editing here is pretty much as quick and fluid as a higher budgeted film.
Which isn’t to say that the movie utterly transcends its financial and inherent genre limitations. It doesn’t. For example, at one point it sports perhaps the most hilarious production error I can ever recall seeing. A character is down in the cargo hold of the plane, supposedly alone. Yet perhaps four feet to the side of him, behind some cargo netting, we can see nearly the entire body of the soundman! They actually might have gotten away with this if the guy had been wearing dark slacks. Instead, his shorts leave his bare legs quite evident. Once you spot those, your vision travels up past the boxes hiding much of his torso and you can clearly make out his head and boom mike.
Interior to the film, goofy moments abound. Albeit not quite as much as in drearier fare like, say, They Crawl. (See below.) The scorpions move secretly around the plane for a ridiculous amount of time. Moreover, they manage to secretly kill an awful lot of folks, considering that they’re all on an airplane. Not to mention that the menaces then disappear for long spells, along the cast ample time to prepare for the next onslaught.
Then there’s the matter, seen in so many of these, of how regular sized critter instantly multiple their mass out of thin air. The scorpions begin as just slightly large examples sealed in containers. Once freed, they instantly become dog sized or larger.
Yet while events continue to get sillier, you eventually realize that they’re becoming so on purpose rather than through laziness. This took me a while to pick up on, largely because the film admirably keeps a straight face throughout. As well, many of its contemporaries are equally implausible, and not by design. Still, by the end the film’s tongue is plainly lodged in its cheek. When one character tells a rather grievously wounded survivor that they’d better get him to a hospital, he nonchalantly replies, "Naw, I’ll be fine." That line made me laugh out loud, which, amazingly, is what it was designed to do.
Still and all, this humor is sly enough that many will probably take the movie on its face. For instance, the film’s heroine eventually dons some risible homemade body armor to confront, what else, the Queen Scorpion. Given how often material like this is unironically introduced into lame DTV pictures, you could easily take the sequence to be serious. However, it’s here just spoofy enough to be funny.
Perhaps most detrimental to the film is the apparent rule that features must now last at least an hour and a half. By which I mean, cable TV stations probably demand a certain minimum running time in the films they buy. And shorter films might not be popular with video rental customers, even if the results would be a stronger picture. Conditioned to the idea that a movie is a certain length, they might, for all I know, complain to venders about paying a rental fee for what they perceive to be a short.
I’ve harped on this before, and I don’t mean to become a one-note Johnny. Still, a huge advantage of crappy ‘50s sci-fi movies is that they regularly ran between sixty and eighty minutes. Tail Sting (which is an awful title, by the way – why not "Scorpions"?) would have been stronger if they could have shaved ten or fifteen minutes off. For instance, there’s a series of scenes set in an airport control room, where FAA staff track the plane. These basically exist seemingly to ‘open up’ the events and to help the film make the hour and a half mark. They don’t necessarily detract from the film, but again, their deletion would have help the pacing.
Liz over at And You Call Yourself a Scientist might want to have a look at this. The film was made in Australia, first of all, and there’s some funny stuff involving the scientific experiments that hatched the scorpions. These prove of the Benign But Misguided School. The head scientist, an avuncular older man who perhaps purposely is something of a Richard Attenborough look-alike – the menace is soon referred to as "Jurassic Park Scorpions" -- provides the mandatory background info.
"We were trying to synthesize a biogenetic pathogen that would aggressively combat disease. Diseases like AIDS and cancer." Such pathogens can be found in "scorpion hormonal secretions." So of course the obvious answer was to make great big scorpions, here through gene-splicing. Someone asks what they spliced the scorpion genes with. "Oh, lots of things," Avuncular Scientist replies. (!) That line alone made watching the film worth my time. Again, in many, many other films this dialog could be taken as straight (and again, you could easily do so here). By now, however, the script’s playfulness has become fairly apparent.
Moviemakers should take note, thought: The great giant scorpion movie is still to be made.
Summary: ‘A’ for effort, B- (on a grading curve) for result.
Plot: Killer cockroaches, again, and…are you sitting down...they’re an EEE-vil military experiment!
Has a month gone by in the last year or two that I haven’t watched a DVD of movie put out by Lion’s Gate? (Or two movies? See Spiders II above.) If so, this now officially isn’t it. Man, I need to get a life.
Things kick off with a title credit stylistically ripped-off from Mimic. (‘A’ for Taste, ‘D’ for Originality.) Then we cut to the, er, action. It’s nighttime. A bus driver is outside his vehicle, chatting with a newsstand guy. We see the feet of a Mysterious Passenger leaving the bus. A cockroach falls by his shoe. As he leaves, the driver, looking nervous, reenters the now empty bus. He drives off, but sound effects indicate that a bunch of unseen roaches are running around. The driver screams and begins swatting at his clothes. He doesn’t, however, stop driving the bus, which proceeds to smash through various Chicago landmarks. This goes on for a ludicrously long time.
I must be losing my touch, folks. I was actually thinking, "Hmm, not a bad stunt for a low-budget movie." Then it hit me that this vehicular carnage was undoubtedly clipped from another movie. (If pressed, I’d guess Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat to be the donor.) Indeed, when I went back and watched the scene in slo-mo, I saw that the bus had at least two people in the inserted footage. As indicated, this doesn’t match the scene set up here.
Arriving on the scene the next morning is the Sandra Bullock-esque Detective O’Bannon. (Yes, some of the characters are named after figures familiar to sci-fi fans. Sigh.) She’s met by Det. Hardy, her partner and the squad’s inevitable Inept Slob Doofus. O’Bannon, lest you didn’t figure it out, will be our Cop Who Cares More About Justice Than The Rules, etc., and so on. How come woman detectives are never the Inept Slob Doofus? Man, I hate this sexism.
Our Female Lead established, it’s time to meet our Male Lead. Teddy arrives at the school of Mia, his teen sister, surprising her. He’s been away in the Army, we learn. He asks about "the Bean," their brother. The Bean, Mia replies, got all weird and left home to move into his own place. Once back at the family stead – I’ve lived in suburban Chicago all my life, but I never realized how many palm trees we have out here -- Teddy greets his sickly looking mom. (Grace Zabriskie!) Concerned with the Bean’s actions, Teddy calls to invite him to meet for breakfast the next day. The Bean agrees.
However, the appointment isn’t kept. We see The Bean’s pad. This proves a disheveled but huge apartment that boasts the sort of elaborate computer gear that’s movie shorthand for ‘hacker.’ In the middle of the space is an area enclosed by glass walls. In other words, The Bean’s involved in the genetically altered cockroach thing. OK, I’m just guessing about the genetically altered part. Still, it’s a pretty educated guess.
Getting a phone message about "Azimov" (oh, brother), The Bean jumps up in a panic and runs over to the roach pen. "I can’t believe they took it!" he shouts. Then he’s suddenly hit from behind and knocked out. We next see him sprawled upon his bed. Something – OK, I think we can probably guess what – is moving around under his skin. We cut outside, and a gigantic stock footage explosion takes out the entire floor his apartment was on.
Annoyed that Bean hasn’t shown up for breakfast, Ted heads over to his address. Once there, needless to say, he finds the place swarming with cops. Furthermore, big shock, O’Bannon is the primary detective on the scene. I laughed when Ted entered the apartment, as it was ludicrously undamaged compared to the simply gigantic stock footage explosion we saw earlier.
Talking to O’Bannon later, Ted asserts that Bean’s apartment showed definite signs of demolition damage. He knows because of his Army Ranger training. Of course, the Chicago Police and Fire departments have such training too. Therefore you wouldn’t think they’d need an outsider to point this sort of thing out. Despite this, O’Bannon is surprised. Officially it’s being viewed as a regular fire. "Do you know something we don’t?" she asks. "Because we have no reason to believe it’s foul play." (!!) Yeesh, even Washington D.C. has a better police department than that. Also, when is the coroner’s office going to notice that both the Bean and the bus driver’s bodies were infested with roaches. Wouldn’t you expect that to raise a flag or something?
(By the by, they eventually stipulate that the film is set in California. I was merely thrown off by the Chicago landmarks prominent in the stolen opening bus sequence. That’s one on me. Never assume.)
Back at the station, O’Bannon notes the ash analysis from Bean’s apartment revealed trace amounts of ammonium nitrate and C2 carbon. This indicates the probability that an application of Semtex caused the explosion. (Why hasn’t the Fire Department noticed this? Don’t they investigate fires?) Captain Righetti, O’Bannon’s boss, is annoyed she’s still investigating a case considered closed. How the hell can this be ‘closed,’ when the chemical analysis just came back? Still, he relents. As you’d think, now that the presence of plastic explosives has been indicated.
Of course, Ted decides to investigate his brother’s death. So we next see him visiting Prof. Jurgen, one of the Bean’s teachers. (Jurgen’s played by Dennis Boutsikaris, an actor who makes his living playing the Ron Silver parts Ron Silver’s too busy too play.) Ted learns that Bean did a lot of "insect research" for the college.
Cut to the autopsy of the bus driver, with O’Bannon in attendance. (Even though she’s supposed to be working on the Bean’s death.) One weird factiod is that all the driver’s internal organs are missing. Yeah, that’s a bit suspicious. Meanwhile, Bean’s body shows many of the same signs. I found it somewhat difficult to believe that every single one of the cockroaches got out of both bodies. I guess the script doesn’t want O’Bannon to know about this yet.
That night, Ted sneaks into the Bean’s department. He can do this because, although there’s still police tape loosely draped around outside the building, none of the interior or exterior doors is actually sealed. O’Bannon finds him and there…yawn.
OK, I’m seriously bored by this movie now. In fact, watching this directly after The Rats, I realize why I gave that movie such a comparatively positive write-up. It’s because I’ve seen so many much crappier flicks lately, like this one. Here’s the deal. For a film that’s supposedly about killer cockroaches, this is instead played more like a mystery. In other words, who’s behind the various deaths? There’s all this stuff about a cult, which frankly I had trouble following. In fact, I had trouble following the whole movie, which never makes much sense.
‘Highlights,’ such as they are, include a series of short, very low-grade cameo appearances for the aforementioned Grace Zabriskie, Tim Thomerson (sporting a truly ridiculous ‘Southern’ accent), rapper Tone-Loc and Mickey Rourke. (!!) I never thought I’d feel sorry for Rourke, who’s in full Twitch Mode here, but this was that occasion. None of these guys are in the movie more than a minute or two. Quite obviously they were hired so as to have Names to put on the video/DVD packaging. Don’t be fooled, though. Not one has a material part to play here.
Let’s see, there’s more imported effects sequences. These include what I believe to be a bit from Lethal Weapon. Then there’s a really extraneous plot thread where Ted has a Dark Secret. It turns out he’s facing a military trial for striking a Sergeant who struck him first. Whoever wrote this movie knows squat about the military.
For instance, the incident supposedly occurred during a war game. Ted’s opponents, including the non-com he hit, were, as he describes it, hopped up on drugs. Why a Ranger, with special forces training, would be doing war games opposite regular troops (especially ones who get high during exercises) is left unexplored. As for the trial, Ted explains "I struck an NCO, and they don’t like that." However, by this point we’ve been told Ted is a Lt. (!) Which means the script has it completely backwards. What the Army doesn’t like is NCOs who strike officers, not officers who then strike back.
The writers know police work even less than military matters. The script is dreadful, with O’Bannon making all sorts of boners no real cop would. And there’s a scene where she calls for a patrol car to meet her at an address to provide back-up. The patrol car gets there first, and the uniform cops try to enter the house. Which they’d never do, because they’re back-up. Anyhoo, they get blown to bit (the Lethal Weapon scene). Then Righetti blames the whole thing on O’Bannon, in a manner that makes no sense whatsoever.
If the movie had more scenes with cockroaches than with red herrings, it might not be such a complete pain to watch. (Maybe.) Even the few such sequences they provide are very poorly animated. And in the end there’s a truly out of left field giant monster bit tacked on that’s as pointless as it is moronic.
To sum up, nothing works. The cameos are desultory. The police scenes are ludicrous. Ted is an Army Ranger can’t fight particularly well or shoot for crap. His and O’Bannon’s purely schematic ‘deepening relationship’ is as painful as anything else in the movie, especially the scenes where they bare their souls to one another. The killer cockroaches are lame. The ‘military experiment’ angle might be the single stalest cliché in movies today. Loose ends abound. For instance, why was the bus driver killed? I guess what I’m saying is, this one’s not even funny bad. It’s just bad.
One final note. There’s a commentary track on the DVD. (!) I’ve yet to listen to one such for these cheapjack productions where they cop to taking footage from other movies. This is just insulting, as it’s pretty evident that some bits are from other films. So just own up, people. At least give us the satisfaction of identifying what movies all this stuff is coming from.
Summary: Stick with They
Nest. You’ll be much happier.
-by Ken Begg