Deadly flesh-eating South American Marabunta ants are somehow wreaking havoc in the town of Burly Pines, Alaska. Good thing entomologist Eric Lutes is on hand to try and save the day. Julia Campbell plays a local woman who helps him out, whilst Mitch Pileggi is the local police chief and Patrick Fugit turns up briefly as a local young punk.
Man I would’ve enjoyed the hell out of this had I seen it on original release. I still like cheesy monster movies (or in this case, animal attack films), but back in 1998 I was all about them, and the worse they were…quite often the more entertaining they were. This TV movie from directors Jim Charleston (a veteran TV director, he did four eps of “The X-Files” among many other shows) and debutant George Manasse (normally a producer and unit production manager) looks nice for what probably wasn’t a huge budget and certainly gets right into the action, which is nice. Meanwhile the offbeat and interesting music score by Daniel Licht (“Necronomicon”, “Thinner”) is one of the few un-ironically commendable things about the film.
I also appreciate the attempt at legitimacy actors Julia Campbell (the bitchy prom queen from “Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion”) and “X-Files” veteran Mitch Pileggi attempt to give to their performances, even if to some people it’s beside the point for something like this. I appreciated their effort, Pileggi in particular. Otherwise its chief asset is being amusingly cheesy, and even then I think it needs way more ant carnage. Plus, most of the other performances really suck. Lead actor Eric Lutes (best known for TV’s “Caroline in the City” and playing a gay guy on an episode of “Frasier”) isn’t terrible, but boy are some of the bit roles horribly performed. One familiar face to look out for though, is a young Patrick Fugit in his inauspicious debut. He plays an obnoxious little shit weasel who thankfully gets eaten less than 30 minutes in. Seriously, through no fault of Fugit’s this kid is like Eddie Haskell from “Leave It to Beaver” crossed with Craig Hobson from “The Wonder Years” and Kripke from “The Big Bang Theory”. He’s that much of a turd. On the positive side, I absolutely loved the pompous dire warning at the outset, that was hilarious. Even funnier was the sad plight of Chopper Dave. Funny stuff every now and then. However, you can show me all the carcasses you want, I ain’t buying tiny little ants as scary. In real-life tiny creatures can indeed be dangerous, but it’s a tough sell on-screen and boy does this film not sell you the terror. At least “Them!” gave us giant ants. Still, this isn’t even trying to be good cinema. It’s pretty much “Sharknado” territory, a knowing attempt at making something less than B-grade. And if you’re into this kind of thing, well I guess it’s a lot better at it than some. However, if it’s not gonna be a classic like “Them!” or even one of the Godzilla movies, I think I’d almost rather it be terrible, and terribly funny as there’s a lot of dead spots here. As is, it only proves to be amusing in fits and starts which isn’t quite enough for someone like me who has seen many, many films of this genre and many, many of them far more entertaining in one way or another. However, any film that contains ants carrying off a severed human finger has at least a small piece of my heart.
Scripted by Wink Roberts (who did stunt work on the first six “Police Academy” films) and Linda Palmer (the dubious “Garbage Pail Kids Movie”), it’s not the best or most ‘fun’ film of its type, nor the worst or most ‘ironically fun’, but I guess it’s…acceptable. Yeah, let’s go with that. It’s certainly better than I’d expect from not just a cheesy killer ant movie, but a TV movie at that.