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IN SHORT: A campy comedy, as funny as it is furry. Really. We mean it. [Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language. 90 minutes]
Proving, once and for all, that all that is evil and awful and dangerous and nasty in this big, wide world is caused by the random road wanderings of a furry little bunny is summer popcorn comedy Eight Legged Freaks. Yeah, sure, you think it's about spiders but it's really about how bunny rabbits ruin the world or the nation or the State of Arizona or the city of Prosperity therein, not necessarily in that order.
You'll understand once you see the opening scenes of Eight Legged Freaks which, even though it does feature man-sized, man-eating arachnids, is a helluva lot funnier than it is scary. It doesn't take long before the script realigns your expectations and resets your funny bone -- at least it did ours -- and we spill those beans because the last thing we need is obscenity laced e-mail from teens telling us that our rating was a crock because Eight Legged Freaks was supposed to be a scareflick about spiders. Creepy? At times. Scary? No. Funny? Absolutely.
If you could see our face as we type that "f" word again and again, it would be the equivalent of blue. Let us, then, drop the extra syllables, resort to simply labeling the movie as "fun" and report that our audience applauded when the closing title credits rolled at the flick's end. Ours wasn't a screening jammed to capacity with freebie-pass flashing fanboys, attributable to the facts that summer had just begun or that most of us have already been through three Scream flicks starring David Arquette (click for CrankyCritic® StarTalk) and had no desire to plant for another derivative scareflick -- if indeed the advertising was spot on, which it wasn't.
Eight Legged Freaks is a spot on, sink-your-fist-into-the-golden-topping-soaked-popcorn-perfect summer flick. Ten buck may be a bit steep to lay out for a disposable bit o' fun but, in retrospect, there is little in this production that left us feeling ripped off for doing so. [And by way of movie reviewer explanation of that last sentence, since we don't pay hard cash money more than a couple of times a year in the line of our work: if you sat through 300 films a year, of which 200 were unbearable crap, you'd be sympathetic about the reference]. We admit that we don't walk into films whose posters advertise "From the Producers of . . ." because having worked in the biz and carrying a Director's Guild card in our wallet, we respect the producer's role as "the guy who raises the money that keeps me employed and fed" and nod as if we're paying attention when those producers mouth off, thinking that raising money gives them the ability to make creative decisions, which it rarely does. In the case of writer/director Ellory Elkayem, his producers include the team that co-wrote and produced Stargate, ID4 and Godzilla 2000. Regardless of what you think of those films as a viewer, there are technical aspects to making 'em which would have us bending an experienced producers ear for advice. It is a credit to Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich that they did their gigs by keeping to the background instead of stomping on a clever short film director whose 13 minute long homage to 1950s "B"-movie horror tore it up at a number of film festivals back around 1998 and 1999.
Prosperity, Arizona is a great place to live, but only if you're the kind of bunny who likes to scare the crap out of caffeine deprived truckers barreling down the back highways of town OR if you're a manipulative town father like the pony-tail wearing Wade (Leon Rippey) who gets the fine people of Prosperity to fork over their hard saved cash to build shopping malls over the soon to close McCormick Mines. Wade has already put in place a deal to sell the mines -- and the town on the land above -- to a company that has its own plans for the land, lock stock and barrel. Sure, the townspeople will get a fair chunk of change for selling out but Wade will make a fortune because he's got a backdoor deal pending and the only thing in his way is the son of the mine owner who has reappeared after a ten year absence. Chris McCormick (David Arquette)'s dad is dead, but the old man mumbled enough about finding gold in the mines that his darling boy is determined to find it and get insanely rich. Not only that, but Chris must make amends with the girl he left behind -- Samantha "Sam" Parker (Kari Wuhrer)-- who is now the town sherriff. Sam's abusive husband, who Chris punched out long ago, is gone. There are words that have to be said to make the relationship right, but they never get said because of that damned bunny, the spider scientist who looks like a pedophile and potential victim Mike (Scott Terra), son of Sheriff Sam, who can save the town from the killer freaks, if only his sister Ashley (Scarlett Johansson), would lay off beating the kidlet up or if the grownups would listen to a twelve year old kid about the super-sized spiders waiting to turn Prosperity into Lunch.
Grownups never do, of course, especially in films that are more than aware of how genre films are supposed to work and go out of their way to make sure that you the audience knows how they're supposed to work, too. We learn that the male spiders cocoon their prey, leaving various insects or dogs or cats or Medicare card carriers to await the choice of the Queen of all Insects. Kinda like the just passed Reign of Fire, in which the uber-Male got to impregnate all the femme eggs. In this movie, though, it's a lot more interesting to watch all sizes of spider hop, jump and scurry through the streets of town. Once the phone lines go down, the only way to get a cry for help out to the world is to use the radio airwaves modulated by KFRD-FM, run by Harlan Griffith (Doug E. Doug) the local paranoid conspiracy nut. Harlan's been preaching an imminent invasion of space aliens for months. But did anyone believe him??????? And do you think he's going to let anyone forget about that????????? Heh heh heh.
One last thing, or maybe two, the spiders squirt green blood when shot. They jump and move in such a cheesy awkward manner that those 1950s B-movies are well homaged and the language of the bugs isn't all that far from a cross between the jibber-jabber of Gremlins and the squeaky noise of Cousin Itt of the Addams Family. We meant it. Buy a gallon of that fake golden glop stuff and more popcorn salt than is healthy.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Eight Legged Freaks, he would have paid . . .
And for those who only look at the numbers instead of taking the time to find out how our methodology differs from the, say, three stars out of four systems, here's how: When the rating is based upon whether or not a viewer should shell out the cash for a ticket, as opposed to wait for a teevee PPV play or a tape/DVD rental opportunity, the better action and popcorn flicks will always land a higher number than serious Oscar bound movies for the simple reason that flat out fun is worth paying for. "Serious" statue contenders get a more severe look see since, as nomination time rolls around.
Hell, it'll cost you close to a ten spot to buy enough soap to clean your fist of the golden glop from the popcorn. Make whatever mathematical adjustments you'd like. Feel free to enhance your cerebellum nerve endings if you're still doing that stuff. Eight Legged Freaks isn't so desperate for laughs that it'll try to whack you with a shovel a la Austin Powers, but it'll sure get you in the mood for that film, due in a week's time.
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