Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Mutated cockroaches that stand as tall as Zulu warriors menace Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, and Charles S. Dutton in director Guillermo Del Toro’s claustrophobic horror opus “Mimic” (* OUT OF ****), a verminously boring piece of skullbuggery, that takes itself too seriously to have any camp value much less scare merit. While the bugs look convincing enough when you can see them, they don’t make the skin at the back of your neck crawl. Only somebody whose never screamed at a horror movie would have to sleep with their lights on with a can of Reid insecticide under their pillow after suffering through “Mimic.”

A pestilent epidemic spread by cockroaches is killing children by the hundreds in New York city when a group of scientists led by entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) create a genetic mutant called the Judas Breed. They have manufactured a super cockroach in their labs that can kill other cockroaches, but these little buggers cannot reproduce themselves and have a life expectancy of six months. At least, that’s what Susan Tyler and Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam of “The Net”) thought. The Judas Breed eradicates the cockroach plague and spares a generation of children. Everybody breathes a sight of relief, while deep within those abandoned New York subway tunnels, a specimen has somehow managed to survive and breed. Three years later, out it comes to feed and its favorite lunch morsel is human.

Mann tracks these vicious critters into the subway catacombs with the help of Leonard, a grumpy subway cop (the ever reliable Charles S. Dutton), who doesn’t have a clue (like most characters in horror movies) what he’s gotten himself into as the scientist’s tour guide. Meanwhile, Susan finds herself alone in a subway when a bug snatches her up and flies off with her. Miraculously, the critter doesn’t chomp her like it does its previous victims. In fact, other than flying off with her, the bug leaves her intact, dumping her in its slime. Eventually, Susan scrambles through the maze of tunnels and finds Peter. So do a swarm of the bugs. Our heroes hole up in a subway car. Just as the bugs are about to tear their way inside and eat these human sardines, Susan figures out that the bugs can smell their blood. She gets everybody to smear themselves with dead bug guts, and they leave them momentarily alone. Talk about repellent!

The premise that “Mimic” neglects to explain is how these mutants found a way to replicate themselves and take the general shape and appearance of a man huddled up in a trench coat. Gifted scenarists such as John (“Lone Star”) Sayles, Matthew (“Dragonslayer”) Robbins, and Steven (“Kafka”) Soderbergh contributed to writer-director Guillermo (“Cronos”) Del Toro’s heavily derivative script, but none of them seems to have worked the bugs out of their roachy script. “Mimic” appears to mimic “The Lost World” in two respects. The “Mimic” scientists overlook the possibility that their genetic deviants could survive in the wild like “The Lost World” dinosaurs, and one of the film’s better set-pieces shamelessly rips-off the RV scene in “Lost World,” but with considerably less suspense or tension. The only sweat that you will break in “Mimic” is waiting for director Del Toro and his writers to scare you.

Despite this surfeit of talent, “Mimic” stinks because the filmmakers wait too long to flush out the bugs. They waste over forty-five minutes setting up the story before our heroes descend into the subway tunnels. Of course, you can guess when who is going to die, so predictability paralyzes the story. Worse than that is that director Guillermo Del Toro rarely conjures up anything that remotely terrifies. There are too few instances when you want to jump because something on screen shocked you. The scene where the huge roach scoops up Mira Sorvino and swoops off with her is hilarious. It’s like those silent movies where the eagle carries the hero off to its nest. Del Toro is good at showing us lots of yucky bug slime and the bugs themselves. Most of the movie is shot in darkness so that you cannot see the bugs until the movie is half-way over. As for the bugs, the cockroaches in “Joe’s Apartment” were more fun. “Mimic’s” villainous bugs simply don’t look as murderous as either an alien or as creepy as an anaconda, even when one crawls over one of our heroes. When these buggers run, they resemble the raptors from “The Lost World,” but they are far less tenacious or terrifying.

Nothing in this handsomely produced insect epic will peg your blood pressure. A good cast is wasted, especially F. Murray Abraham, and we care so little about these one dimensional characters that when they begin to drop like flies, who cares. The filmmakers ignore whatever potential that they might have stirred up by having bodacious Mira Sorvino strip-tease a la Sigourney Weaver and lure the roaches to their demise. Charles Dutton’s subway cop comes closest to enlisting our sympathies because he gets to curse loudly and bug out his own eyes when he sees the giant insects. There’s an expendable subplot, too, about a small boy who gets lost in the tunnels and befriends the bugs. Skip this bugger. Mexican writer-director Guillermo Del Toro may have breathed new life into the vampire genre with his 1992 masterpiece “Cronos,” but “Mimic” is nothing but a load of bull!

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