Saturday, August 20, 2011

Guano: "Bats" (1999)

Take flight, or hide in a cave, either way you cannot escape the stupidity of this film.

Dina Meyer is the beautiful bat zoologist Sheila, who is recruited to fly to little Gallup, Texas to investigate some strange bat attacks. Her wisecracking assistant, Jimmy (Leon), is along, able to lighten any bloody situation with a "funny" line.

In west Texas, she meets with hunky sheriff Kimsey (Lou Diamond Phillips). Sheila and Kimsey immediately do the cute verbal sparring routine, and investigate the strange bat attacks while making goo goo eyes at each other. Our bat hunting crew is completed by CDC guy/"I'll be dead before you know it" Hodge (Carlos Jacott) and the mad scientist McCabe (Bob Gunton, who was better as the warden in "The Shawshank Redemption").

The group looks at the remains of a couple of people who were killed in the opening minutes by the bats. The bats were genetically mutated by McCabe, and this mutation is being passed on to other local bats. These bats are collective and able to work together to achieve a common goal- eat people.

The small town of Gallup is overrun, in a seriously flawed flight of reason, and everyone is evacuated, except our bat hunters (minus the dead Hodge). Using satellite technology, they discover the bats are hanging out in an abandoned mine, and they must get rid of them before the military (who ain't got time to listen to book smart science-types, they just want to blow stuff up) drops a few bombs on the place...which would actually release the bats across the country...but who said they ever had the public's good in mind?

Typical Hollywood military treatment. As military jets that haven't been used in fifteen years fly toward the mine, Sheila, Kimsey, and Jimmy work to blow things up themselves, saving the audience from bats and a suggested sequel.

Believe everything negative you have heard about "Bats." The screenwriter's idea of character development is to have the sheriff listen to opera while the group barricades themselves in an abandoned school. Why did the evil McCabe make the evil bats? Don't really know, there are some vague mumblings about the perfect killing machines (something we have never encountered before in superior films) and being able to control them, but we never get a sense of a master diabolical plan. Leon, who has been much better in other films, is embarassing here. He is given such weak comic relief, I am wondering if he read the script before he signed on.

In the first bat attack on the bat hunters, Kimsey and Sheila jump in the sheriff's cars in the nick of time...and then he cannot find his car keys. The characters all march around, huffing and full of themselves, and begin lines with such trite and true dialogue as "let me get this straight, you knew about..." and "are you saying you knew about..." and "if we don't make it you know what to do..." I do believe this is the first draft, not a final screenplay, for a motion picture.

The special effects are good and bad. The gore scenes are strong and convincing. The bats are not. One great scene has Kimsey and Sheila running for said sheriff's car, with mountains in the background that seem to be exploding in swarms of bats. Too bad we could not keep the flying rodents at a distance, and the effects degenerate into unconvincing CGI and awful puppetry on par with a third grade assembly. The film's cinematography is gorgeous, better than the film deserves. Every scene is well lit and imaginatively expensive looking. Until the effects started sucking, I thought this was going to be a misunderstood multi-million dollar film.

Mourneau is not a bad director, he seems to have been overwhelmed by a poor script and poorer effects. He lets stupid stuff get through: the small town's movie theater marquee reads "Now Playing Nosferatu" (har dee har har); and the weak excuse on why the town did not go indoors when warned is because "we're Texans, and we don't want no one tellin' us things we think we already know." I am originally from Texas, I have family in Texas, and "Bats" knows nothing about Texas (it was filmed in Utah). At least Texans (and the rest of the U.S.) knew enough not to flock INTO the theater when this was showing.

"Bats" has gained a notable reputation for its badness, resulting in the near career deaths of Dina Meyer and Lou Diamond Phillips. I cannot recommend this loser. (*) out of five stars.