June 30th, 2014

SNAKEHEAD SWAMP (2014) **

The plot of Snakehead Swamp is murkier than the actual swamp where the action takes place. Did the titular snakehead turn into a mutant killer because of the secret experimental testing? Or was it due to the voodoo priestess who cursed the swamp years ago? Or was it a bit of both? I don’t think the filmmakers of Snakehead Swamp ever settled on which, but to be fair, I don’t think they CARED either (I sure as shit didn’t). But thanks to Don L. FauntLeRoy’s efficient direction (he’s a veteran of three Steven Seagal movies and two Anaconda sequels); it goes down a bit smoother than a lot of SYFY Channel Originals.

Anyway, there’s a great opening bit where voodoo witch doctor Antonio Fargas (yes, Huggy Bear’s star has fallen considerably since the days of Starsky and Hutch) is doing a bunch of mumbo jumbo rituals in his shack. When the snakehead escapes from its tank and kills two truck drivers, Fargas drops everything and looks solemnly at the camera and says, “It begins!” How did he know the thing escaped? I don’t know, but it makes for a hilarious moment.

Then, things settle down into a fairly boring pattern: Some unintelligible Cajun rednecks hoot and holler, a shy dude pines for his unrequited love, and the head park ranger (who also happens to be the shy dude’s mom) tries to make head or tails (no pun intended) of the snakehead attacks. Lucky for us, the pacing picks up once FauntLeRoy drops all of this crap and plunges headlong into the Jaws 2 rip-off “My son’s on the water with a giant aquatic killer!” bit.

The CGI effects are laughably bad, there are unnecessary flashbacks to stuff that just happened ten minutes ago, and the POV shots might give you a migraine. At least the majority of the kills are gory. Plus, some of the awful dialogue is good for a laugh too. (Example: When the park ranger’s wimpy ex-husband bemoans the fact that he’s never fired a weapon, she responds, “Point it at the giant mutated killer fish and shoot!”) So all things considered, Snakehead Swamp isn’t anywhere near as bad as it could’ve been.

TIME TO KILL (1989) ***

Nicolas Cage stars as an Italian soldier fighting in Africa. One day, he gets a toothache and leaves his post looking for a dentist. He gets lost and winds up making love to one of the native girls. They play house in a cave for a few days until Cage accidentally kills her. Cage then returns to his post and tells his story to a fellow officer; who pretty much doesn’t care. When Cage learns the girl may have been a leper, he goes a little nuts and does whatever it takes to leave the country and avoid detection.

Time to Kill is a somber and unlikely melodrama, but it’s always interesting and the oddball premise keeps the viewer hooked. I mean there aren’t many movies around that feature Nicolas Cage slowly being driven crazy due to the fact that he quite possibly could have leprosy. So if you’re a Cage fan, you’ll definitely want to check it out solely on that promise.

And if you’re like me and enjoy Cage doing bizarre things, Time to Kill has you covered. The film starts off with him getting a toothache and taking a mess of painkillers, so you know you’re going to be in for a treat. Once he starts giving cigarettes to iguanas, I had to admit I was having fun.

Eventually, the picture becomes fairly straightforward in its second act. But once the does-he-or-doesn’t-he have leprosy subplot kicks in, it starts firing on all cylinders again. Plus, it’s an Italian flick from the late ‘80s, which gives a weird look and feel to the overall production. Put it all together and you have the recipe for a respectable (if a tad uneven) entry in Cage’s filmography.

AKA: The Short Cut.