February 21st, 2017

DEADLY EYES (1983) **

Rats eat grain infused with steroids and grow to enormous size. After the health department orders the tainted grain burned, the rats scurry into the city to find a new food supply. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’re going to start eating people. A health department worker (Murder by Phone’s Sara Botsford) and a high school basketball coach (Sam Groom) try to put a stop to the ravenous rodents before they can take over the city.

It's nice to know that twenty-four years after The Killer Shrews, filmmakers were using the same special effects methods to create giant killer rats. Of course I'm talking about dressing up puppies in rat costumes. If you couldn’t already guess, the “rats” in this movie look fucking terrible. (Piss-poor hand puppets were used for the close-ups.)

Because of the cheesy effects, director Robert (Enter the Dragon) Clouse botches most of the rat scenes. The sequence where the rats kill a toddler in a high chair would’ve been deeply disturbing, if not downright objectionable, if the rats didn't look so awful. The other attack scenes (which take place in a bowling alley and a subway) lack… (ahem)… bite.

Clouse does score one awesome sequence that almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. That’s the sequence where the rats take over a packed movie theater (that just so happens to be showing Clouse’s Game of Death). This scene is a real hoot and features lots of carnage. Not only do the rat puppets chow down on lots of moviegoers, the ensuing panic results in people being trampled and thrown through plate glass windows by other hysterical theater patrons. It’s a shame the rest of the movie isn’t as fun.

Groom makes for a bland hero. He has no chemistry with Botsford, but at least their lousy love story subplot pays off with a topless sex scene. You also have to feel for poor old Scatman Crothers. One year he’s getting killed by Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Three years go by and he’s getting killed by puppies dressed up like rats in this.

The adorable Lisa (The Man Who Wasn’t There in 3-D) Langlois is the only bright spot in the cast. She plays a sexy student who has a crush on Groom. Even though her scenes are written like a bad After School Special, she remains a vivacious presence in an otherwise middling movie.

AKA: Rats. AKA: Night Eyes.

WAVELENGTH (1983) * ½

Wavelength is a potentially intriguing, but boring as hell hybrid of sci-fi movie and conspiracy thriller. The lead singer of The Runaways, Cherie Currie plays a semi-psychic who is getting weird vibes from a nearby underground government facility. She and her musician boyfriend Robert Carradine go and check it out and find that some government stooges have three alien beings locked up for observation. Cherie and Robert then take it upon themselves to break the little E.T.’s out and return them to their mother ship.

Things start off well enough. I liked the chemistry between Currie and Carradine, and Keenan Wynn was pretty funny as their crotchety prospector neighbor. The shots of the aliens hibernating in their pods are eerie and effective too.

Once Currie and Carradine arrive at the facility, things come to a screeching halt. It’s here where the focus shifts from the two likeable leads to a bunch of generals and scientists debating endlessly about what to do with not only the aliens, but the two snooping trespassers. You’d think that once they bust the little green guys out of the lab, the film would pick up steam, but the opposite happens. Basically, they just wander around with three naked alien pre-teens in tow for a good half hour or so until the anticlimactic moment when they finally get sent back home.

Most of the movie is just too boring to really keep you interested. Even when something happens, nothing really, you know, happens. The only thing the droning Tangerine Dream soundtrack is good for is to help put you to sleep. You can try to keep yourself awake by playing a little game I like to call “Spot the Visible Boom Mike”. Other than that, they should’ve called it Close Encounters of the Turd Kind.

THE GREAT WALL (2017) ***

They should’ve called The Great Wall Good Will Monster Hunting as it features Matt Damon acting like Legolas and bow-and-arrowing monsters from atop a giant wall for two hours. It’s about as good as a mid-range Hobbit movie too. There’s a nice sense of world-building and a handful of clever, if not stunning action sequences.

Damon plays a white “trader” looking for gunpowder who stumbles upon the Great Wall of China and finds himself in the midst of an ongoing battle between the local yokels and an evil alien race. Every sixty years, the beasts go out and forage fresh meat for their Queen. Of course, Matty Boy just so happened to show up on their doorstep right on year sixty. Since he’s handy with a bow, he figures he’ll stick around and fight until he can find their stash of gunpowder. It’s not until he begins to respect the people’s leader (Tian Jing) that he learns to give up his mercenary ways and fight for a cause worth fighting for.

I admired the way director Zhang Yimou choreographed the action. You have to appreciate the way he organizes the hundreds of extras (only some of which are CGI) and executed the massive battle sequences. Like his film Hero, there’s a real vibrant use of color (all the soldiers belong to color-coordinated regimens) and the cinematography is often breathtaking.

What the monsters lack in personality, they make up for in sheer number. Think the bugs from Starship Troopers and that might give you an idea of what we’re dealing with. I also have to praise the editors of the film’s trailers on their restraint. Most of what you saw of the monsters only happens in the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie. The flick has a lot more monster-mashing up its sleeve, and I for once appreciated the fact that they held back on showing much of the monster battles in the previews.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking that this is what The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wanted to be. It’s a siege movie with long, sustained battle sequences with just enough plot to keep it all together until you get to the next monster fight. I liked the back-and-forth between Damon and Jing. Although Matt is miscast, he’s not bad and equips himself in this kind of tomfoolery rather well.

The real reason to see The Great Wall is for the 3-D. This is one of the rare instances where the filmmakers took great care into the 3-D effects. I’d imagine that if you saw this on cable a year from now, it might feel a bit ho-hum. However, if you see it on the biggest screen possible with the best 3-D system available, you’ll be in for a treat. There are more 3-D effects here than in the last two years’ worth of 3-D movies combined. I’m sure I missed a few of them, but here’s a litany of stuff that comes screaming towards your eyeballs throughout the picture:

• 3-D Arrow
• 3-D Acrobatic Warrior
• 3-D Female Breastplate
• 3-D Spear
• 3-D Ring
• 3-D Monster
• 3-D Gaping Monster Maul
• 3-D Platform
• 3-D Rope
• 3-D Harpoon
• 3-D Lantern
• 3-D Chain
• 3-D Axe
• 3-D Axe (again)
• 3-D Arrow (again)
• 3-D Ash
• 3-D Exploding Monster Chunks
• 3-D Magnet
• 3-D Hot Air Balloon
• 3-D Arrow (again)
• 3-D Spear (again)
• 3-D Matt Damon (not as good as the 3-D Zip-Lining Milla Jovovich from Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, but still pretty sweet)

FIST FIGHT (2017) ***

Fist Fight takes place in a school where nearly all the teachers are being fired because of budget cuts. Charlie Day stars as a teacher who just wants to get through the last day of school with his job intact. When it comes to losing his job or snitching on a fellow teacher (Ice Cube) who threatened his students, he gleefully snitches. Then the other teacher challenges him to a fight in the parking lot at the end of the day. The rest of the flick has to do with Day’s increasingly desperate ploys to get out of the fight.

I think a lot of people can identify with Day in this. He’s got a pregnant wife at home and doesn’t want to disappoint his young daughter either. I think we can all relate to someone who wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat and would rather worm their way out of a conflict than to get involved with someone else’s affairs. Because so much of the movie rests on Day’s capable shoulders, it works.

Day is basically the straight man to all the other teachers who are seen as psychotic (Cube), clueless (Tracy Morgan), or downright creepy (Jillian Bell). The students are no better as they run rampant through the school, with the administrators incapable of doing anything about it. There are also a few sly jabs at the education system here too as everyone in the administration seems to not give a shit about any of the teachers’ problems.

The film more or less feels like a remake of Three O’Clock High, but with teachers instead of students. It doesn’t reach the surreal heights of that flick, but it is a solid comedy and a good vehicle for both stars. If there is a flaw, it’s that they never go all in and make Ice Cube an out-and-out bad guy. I think it would’ve worked better if he was a total heel. Since the message of the movie is that Day finally stands up for himself, it would’ve meant more when he finally lands his first punch. As it is, Cube is just a guy like Day who’s reached his breaking point. It’s just that he lashes out in a different way.

The final fight is pretty funny. It’s a long drag-out deal. Since Cube is a lot more physically intimating, Day has to resort to using staplers, books, and fire extinguishers to defend himself.

In the end, it’s all harmless and likeable. I do kind of wish they embraced the R rating a bit more and went all out. Still, there’s plenty of good stuff here and fans of both stars should walk away happy.