Category Archives: The Most Dangerous Night on Television

Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)

Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)

Starring Deborah Gibson, Lorenzo Lamas, Sean Lawlor, Vic Chao, Dean Kreyling, Stephen Blackehart, Mark Hengst and Michael Teh

Written and directed by Jack Perez

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

CAUTION: This review spoils the tentacles off Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus, but hopefully saves you the trouble of watching it yourself.

Oceanographer Emma MacNeil (Deborah Gibson) ((If you’re expecting “Lost in Your Eyes” and “Electric Youth” jokes, you’re going to be disappointed; I’m more of a Tiffany fan.)) “borrows” a research submarine to observe the behavior of humpback whales off the coast of Alaska. All is going well until a military helicopter drops an experimental sonar device into the middle of the whale pod. The sonar drives the humbacks crazy, causing them to swim at high speed into the submerged face of a nearby glacier. Entombed in the glacier are a megalodon (henceforth referred to as mega-shark) and a giant octopus (henceforth referred to as giant octopus), two ancient aquatic beasts that were apparently frozen in the midst of a tooth-on-tentacle ((Though octopodes indeed have tentacles, they are typically referred to as “arms”. If you ask me, tentacles are far cooler than arms, so I will continue to take some artistic liberty with the terminology.)) fight several million years ago. As the suicidal whales collide with the glacier face, tons of ice shear off and fall into the ocean, releasing (and, for reasons unknown, simultaneously reviving) the antediluvian combatants.

Oops.

Mega-shark and giant octopus swim off in different directions, leaving MacNeil to wonder whether she actually saw the big beasties or they were a delusion brought about by the powerful sonar device. The oceanographer returns to California, where she’s called in to investigate the mutilated corpse of a whale that has washed up on the beach. Before she can complete a thorough investigation, MacNeil is fired for stealing (and damaging) the submarine. ((Okay, let me get this straight: MacNeil works in California and somehow manages, on a lark, to not only make off with a research submarine but take it all the way to Alaska and back without her company sending the Coast Guard after her. Did she also “borrow” a boat to transport the submarine, or does this magnificent submersible actually have the range to make the round trip without a surface support vessel?))

Something about the beached cetacean doesn’t sit well with MacNeil, so she sneaks onto the site after dark and manages to retrieve a fragment of tooth lodged in one of the wounds. The fragment is more than a foot long, and it’s not until she teams up with her former teacher, Lamar Sanders (Sean Lawlor), that she is able to identify it as coming from a tooth that is perhaps eleven or twelve feet in length—a tooth that could only have come from the massive mouth of Carcharodon Megalodon. ((In fact, C. Megalodon‘s teeth were probably around seven inches long, so this shark is probably a Carcharodon Ultra-Mega-Megalodon.)) Mega-shark.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to MacNeil, the mouth in which her tooth fragment once resided is busy chomping on, of all things, a big ol’ jet airliner. That’s right, mega-shark leaps out of the water (presumably thousands of feet out of the water) to take down a passenger jet that has descended below the cloud cover to avoid turbulence. Mega-shark officially dominates both sea and sky (at least sky that’s over sea), which means humanity is totally screwed.

What is giant octopus ((Hmm. Mega-pus?)) up to while mega-shark feasts upon fresh whale with a side of passenger jet? Why, attacking an oil rig off the coast of Japan of course! Indeed, the colossal cephalopod unleashes eight tentacles of doom upon the oil-drilling platform, ((Ganbatte, Tako-Ooki!)) leaving only one survivor (Michael Teh) to tell the horrific tale. Dr. Seiji Shimada (Vic Chao) contacts Sanders for assistance identifying the attacker based on a police sketch. Shimada flies to California, where he meets with Sanders and MacNeil, who have acquired videotape shot during MacNeil’s submarine joyride. Comparing the sketch made by the survivor of the oil rig attack with a grainy shot of something moving past the submarine’s external camera, the trio come to the only reasonable conclusion: a giant octopus destroyed the oil rig. ((It’s a fact: oil rigs are considered a delicacy among octopi.))

Meanwhile, the military has completely failed to kill mega-shark, ((It’s not even a little bit dead.)) and that has Allan Baxter (Lorenzo Lamas) in a cranky mood; not only isn’t mega-shark dead, the warship that was supposed to kill it has been destroyed, and warships are expensive. ((Well, real warships are expensive. Stock footage of warships with muzzle-flashes superimposed over the ever-bow-facing guns is probably significantly less expensive. Real warships also have keels; when the camera switches to mega-shark’s-eye-view for the deadly attack, the computer-generated hull of the warship is as flat and featureless as a toy boat in a bathtub.)) Baxter’s mood isn’t at all improved by the fact that he must now rely on Science to succeed where Big Friggin’ Guns have failed. But does Baxter bother to pick up a phone and ask Science to give him a hand? Of course not; he sends an armed commando squadron to Sanders’ house to abduct the scientists and their fancy brains. ((If you must turn to Science, at least hold the scientists at gunpoint while they work. It reminds them that Guns > Science.))

Sanders, MacNeil and Shimada decide that the best way to deal with the big beasts is to lure them into shallow water where they can be trapped and neutralized. Their efforts to create an effective means to attract the monsters are futile until Shimada and MacNeil duck out for a quickie in the broom closet and, basking in their afterglow, hit upon the idea of using pheromones to lure the creatures into the shallows. ((“You sure smell pretty.” “Eureka!”))

Pop quiz: How do you know when you’ve hit upon the right formula for your pheromone-based prehistoric critter attractant? Why, when it glows, of course! Vive le Science!

Science accomplished, Shimada heads back to Japan to trap the giant octopus while Sanders and MacNeil use a mini-sub to set the pheromone bait in place for mega-shark. If all goes to plan, the prehistoric predator will be lured into San Francisco Bay, where it can be…well, the plan doesn’t really go into a whole lot of detail after mega-shark is in the bay, really; the scientists insist that the creature should not be killed, but there’s never much talk about how to confine and control a shark large enough to pluck jet airliners out of the sky. It’s okay, though, ’cause there’s just no way things will go according to plan.

Sure enough, Sanders has trouble with the mini-sub’s manipulator arm ((I’d hate to be the maintenance technician who cleared the mini-sub for operation; his best hope of working around subs again is getting a job as a Sandwich Artist.)) and is unable to release the bait. As mega-shark approaches, MacNeil wrestles with the mini-sub’s controls, trying to knock the bait container free of the manipulator arm. She barely succeeds in time to maneuver the submersible out of the monster’s way.

Perhaps realizing that there’s not a whole lot of plan in their plan, Baxter orders the Navy to open fire, but once again the military’s Big Friggin’ Guns prove entirely useless against the awesome might of mega-shark. This tactic would probably have been more effective with a larger special effects budget. As it was, the underwater shots of mega-shark being buffeted by explosions were so poorly realized that it’s no wonder the monster got miffed and decided to eat the Golden Gate Bridge (but only after destroying another terribly expensive Navy warship).

Shimada uses the Navy sub’s videophone ((Surprise! Subs have videophones! Videophones that can be used while submerged!)) to report that his efforts to trap the giant octopus in Japan have yielded results: namely a pissed off cephalopod and massive human casualties. Science, it seems, has failed in a manner most epic.

Crankier than ever, Baxter wants to nuke every giant dorsal fin and oversized tentacle out of the ocean and damn the consequences. ((Radioactive seas, massive loss of marine life, blah, blah, blah…Go hug a coral reef, hippie.)) MacNeil offers an alternative solution: Sharktopus Deathmatch! ((Technically, she compares it to the “Thrilla in Manila”, but I’d rather watch a Sharktopus Deathmatch any day of the week.)) The sassy scientist wants to use the pheromone bait to draw the two ancient enemies together for a long overdue, no-holds-barred grudge match.

Everybody who’s anybody (and there aren’t a lot of those) is already aboard one attack submarine or another, so they agree to used the pheromone bait to lure mega-giant octoshark into the Arctic Circle, where the pair will hopefully resume their Hatfield-Capulet feud and kill each other. ((It never seems to occur to anyone that either beastie will survive.))

With mega-shark in hot pursuit, Baxter, MacNeil and Sanders race toward the Alaskan coast to meet Shimada and the giant octopus. Mega-shark must be getting tired, because it’s having trouble catching the submarine despite the fact that it reportedly swam at 500 knots while chasing the pheromone bait into San Francisco Bay. ((By comparison, an SSN 21 Seawolf-class fast attack submarine has a top speed of 25-35 knots while submerged.)) Mega-shark eventually overtakes the sub and chomps down for a very special version of Seafood Delight, but not before Baxter, MacNeil and Sanders escape in the mini-sub. When mega-shark turns its baleful gaze ((“Like a doll’s eyes…“)) upon the mini-sub, the trio is saved by Shimada’s timely intervention (and a broadside of torpedoes).

Shimada’s sub is grappled by the giant octopus, and it seems that MacNeil is about to lose her fine-scented lover until the cephalopod’s hatred of all things sharktacular comes into play. The tentacled terror releases Shimada’s sub in favor of getting all up in mega-shark’s gill(s) and Shimada is spared.

In the ensuing tussle, nearly every military submarine is either octopulverized or sharkenated. I give style points to giant octopus for demolishing several subs at once, but then immediately dock it several points for having mega-shark all wrapped up and then sticking a tentacle in the one place you don’t want to stick a tentacle when you’re wrasslin’ a shark. Come on, giant octopus! You’ve had 1.5 million years frozen in a glacier to think about this! I’ve seen your diminutive cousins open a screw-top jar, but you don’t realize that it’s a bad idea to stick your arm in a shark’s mouth? Get with the program!

The prehistoric pugilists sink into the icy depths, presumably to die in one another’s embrace, and our heroes return to dry land. Whatever becomes of Allan Baxter? I have no idea, but I’m sure there’s plenty of glowering involved. As for MacNeil and Shimada, they enjoy a romantic moment on the beach before Sanders barges in with infrared images of whatever beasties they’re all going to have to battle ((With Science!)) in the sequel.

I enjoy a schlocky creature feature as much as—and probably more than—the next guy, and have admittedly low standards when it comes to “The Most Dangerous Night on Television”, but Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus was a complete bait-and-switch. It’s a bad film made worse by a cheesy-yet-awesome trailer. Mega-shark attacks passenger jet! Giant octopus destroys fighter plane! Mega-shark eats the Golden Gate Bridge! Everything in the trailer (even Deborah Gibson’s “Thrilla in Manila” line) hints at the sort of ridiculous escapism that makes movies like Snakes on a Plane so much fun. The Asylum ((The same production company that brought you Snakes on a Train and Transmorphers.)) appears to have thrown most of the budget into the few shots that made the trailer so awesome, leaving next to nothing for the eighty-eight minutes that weren’t in the trailer. Shots of mega-shark—all of which are very clearly computer-generated ((The CGI mega-shark is very poorly done, apart from one or two shots that made it into the trailer and perhaps a few seconds of the Sharktopus Deathmatch. I’m okay with a shark that looks fake; I expect the shark to look fake, but not that fake.))—are recycled several times and the submarine interior sets are so sparsely decorated that they bear more resemblance to Shimada and MacNeil’s coital broom closet than anything one might see on an actual submarine. The final product wants to be “so bad it’s good”, but is just so bad.

SciFi Schlockfest: Round 1

SciFi Channel LogoI didn’t get nearly as many movies watched as I intended to while Kyle and Laura were in the Orange Juice and Metamucil State, but here’s the first batch from the SciFi Schlockfest (with a couple of bonus movies thrown in for good measure):

  1. Anaconda 3 (2008). David Hasselhoff can’t need work this badly, can he? I mean, the guy’s got Baywatch money! And don’t get me started on how John Rhys-Davies continues to parlay the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy into movies like Chupacabra: Dark Seas and…this. Why is it that any time scientists are seeking cures for Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer they inadvertently create monsters of unimaginable horror? In this case, it’s a pair of 60-foot-long snakes with machetes for tails. Now instead of just squeezing and biting, the snakes impale! They also live on a steady diet consisting almost entirely of human heads, which makes their two-hour growth spurt to 100 feet long all the more amazing. In fact, the only thing more amazing than machete-tailed snakes that nearly double in size eating only noggins is Hasselhoff’s mustache. (2/10)
  2. Aztec Rex (2007)
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    Aztec Rex (2007). SciFi.com lied to me. The official page for Aztec Rex (AKA Tyrannosaurus Azteca) says “The Aztecs summoned a Tyrannosaurus Rex to keep Cortés and his army out of Mexico. Now they need the Conquistadors’ help to stop the T-Rex from killing them all.” Except that the T-Rex in question has been roaming the valley for thousands of years and the Aztecs have been feeding it human sacrifices every month. The Conquistadors show up and accidentally annoy the beastie, then all hell breaks loose. The computer-generated T. Rex is terrible, Cortés is from New Jersey (he’s got blue eyes for cryin’ out loud!) and…well, Ayacoatl (Dichen Lachman) isn’t hard to look at, and at least the hero (Rios, played by Mario Sanchez) is actually Hispanic.  But really, Jurassic Park was made fifteen years ago, I would think that even the SciFi Channel could afford CGi dinosaurs that don’t stick out like puffy stickers on a Trapper Keeper. (3/10)
  3. Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)
    image-1109
    Rise: Blood Hunter (2007). Sadie Blake (Lucy Liu) is a reporter who has a run-in with the undead and wakes up a vampire. Instead of dressing in black and listening to The Cure, Sadie decides she’s going to kill every vampire she can find until she finds the one who turned her. This is literally a vampire movie without fangs, as the vampires simply don’t have ’em; when the blood suckers want to dine, they use fancy little knives to open the nearest artery. Not a bad flick, but Robert Forster is absolutely wasted as a businessman who almost solicits a prostitute in the first two minutes of the movie and then is never seen again. (5/10)
  4. The Descent (2005) wasn’t technically on the Schlockfest list, but it was on the DVR. A group of spelunking women encounter carnivorous mutants while exploring an uncharted cave. It’s kind of like Deliverance in the dark without the banjoes. As flashlight horror goes, The Descent was really quite good. (7/10)
  5. Croc (2007) is another movie that wasn’t on the list, but I stumbled across it on The SciFi Channel yesterday and, given my well-known love for giant crocodile movies, had to watch. The cast is entirely composed of no-name (and even less talent) actors, with the exception of Michael Madsen as Croc Hawkins, that rarest of beasties: the hunter who’s out for revenge but isn’t so obsessed with the critter that he’s lost his perspective; in other words, he ain’t crazy. All the other tropes are present, though, including the mayor who doesn’t want to shut down the beaches because it’ll hurt the tourist trade. (3/10)
  6. A Sound of Thunder (2005)
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    A Sound of Thunder (2005), yet another movie that wasn’t on the list, was adapted from a Ray Bradbury tale. I heard an old radio production of the story a couple of months ago and the movie adaptation (starring Ben Kingsley and Edward Burns) piqued my curiosity. The story concerns a group of time travelers who muck things up while hunting dinosaurs in the past, thus thoroughly discombobulating evolution. Most of the movie is filler, introducing new and more dangerous beasties in our heroes’ futuristic “present” (which apparently attended the same “How Things Will Look in the Future (Really)” school as Total Recall) with each “time wave”. Edward Burns must fight and dodge the beasties during his desperate search for who mucked up what in the Cretaceous Period. Interesting, but mostly just cheesy filler. (5/10)

For those keeping track at home, here are the remaining movies on the SciFi Schlockfest list:

  • Alien Lockdown
  • Beyond/Beneath Loch Ness
  • BloodMonkey
  • Ghouls
  • Heatstroke
  • Living Hell
  • Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld

Thankfully, SciFi showed Dragon Wars this past Saturday, and I’ve already rendered my opinion of that gem in an episode of The Secret Lair, so the list hasn’t gotten any longer. A few human heads should rectify that.

SciFi Schlockfest is Coming

SciFi Channel Logo

The Saturday SciFi movies are really starting to pile up on my DVR, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to sit down for a little schlock-fest. That opportunity has arisen: Laura and Kyle have gone to Florida for a week with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her family. I had originally planned to go, too, but the timing isn’t ideal from a work perspective, so I opted to stay home. This leaves me in a very quiet house with two cats, an Xbox, a PC with yet another dying hard drive, and a DVR chock full of movies from “The Most Dangerous Night of Television”.

Here’s just a sampling of the movies I’ll be enjoying over the next seven days:

  • Alien Lockdown. Two words: Martin Kove. Yeah, the dude from Hard Time on Planet Earth. ((And also a little film called The Karate Kid.)) Yeah, I’m the only one who remembers that show. So what? Oh, and it was directed by Tim Cox, the fellow who brought us Mammoth. ((Well, brought me Mammoth, because I know I’m the only one who watched that.))
  • Anaconda 3: The Offspring starring David Hasselhoff and John Rhys-Davies. That’s right, snakes hasslin’ the Hoff.
  • Aztec Rex. Dinosaurs and conquistadors in Mesoamerica!
  • BloodMonkey. Yes! Pan Sanguia! I really have no idea what this is about, but the title is made of awesome.
  • Beyond/Beneath Loch Ness. The DVR says “Beneath”, but SciFi.com says “Beyond“. Which will it be?
  • Ghouls. Something about teenagers, probably getting eaten. By ghouls, I guess.
  • Living Hell. “The military created it. An accident set it free. Now one man must lead us to survival or extinction.” I hope that one man is Vincent Ventresca. It’s not? Crap, we’re screwed.
  • Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld starring Arnold Vosloo, because they got Jet Li for the second Mummy sequel.
  • Rise: Blood Hunter. Lucy Liu! Michael Chiklis! Robert Forster! Why is this the first time I’m hearing of this movie?

That’s just a sampling. I know there are a couple more, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Kraken: Tentacles of the DeepKraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Starring Jack Scalia, Victoria Pratt and Charlie O’Connell

Written by Nicholas Garland, Sean Keller and Brian D. Young

Directed by Tibor Takács

Thanks to the wonders of TiVo, I was able to sit down and watch Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep Saturday afternoon. The movie, which stars Jack Scalia, Charlie O’Connell (Sliders) and Victoria Pratt (Mutant X), was originally titled Deadly Water until The SciFi Channel held a contest to rename it. ((Despite the title, the featured creature is never referred to as a “kraken” by any of the characters.))

Archaeologist Nicole (Victoria Pratt) is not Indiana Jones, but she’d like to be. ((At one point, Nicole declares that an artifact “belongs in a museum.”)) She’s traveled to Desolation Passage in search of an ancient bronze mask she hopes will lead her to a legendary opal. She is dogged in her quest by Maxwell Odemus (Scalia), who plans to secure the opal in order to regain favor with his family back in Greece.

Dashing marine photographer and all-around nice guy Ray (O’Connell) offers to help Nicole after the skipper of her boat is killed by a giant squid. Unbeknownst to Nicole and her crew, Ray has his own agenda: his parents were killed by a giant squid in Desolation Passage over a decade ago, and Ray’s got a taste for calamari with a side of revenge.

As SciFi originals go, Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep is pretty mediocre. Apart from the obvious Indiana Jones ripoff (sorry, homage) and the low-grade computer-generated sea critter that changes size from scene to scene, the story is just generally weak. For instance, Nicole maintains that the squid may be the embodiment of Scylla, a figure from Greek mythology. Scylla was a beautiful nymph transformed into a hideous sea creature by the sorceress, Circe. Nicole adds the element of the opal to the myth, claiming that anyone who possessed the giant gem was ultimately slain at sea by a giant squid. This explains why the squid attacks Nicole and her crew when they’re exploring the sunken Chinese freighter (which was also attacked by a giant squid) that contains both the mask and the opal, and it certainly makes sense that the squid would attack Odemus’ men when they attempt to recover the opal after blowing up Nicole’s boat.

Even the hapless teenagers who are attacked halfway through the movie have managed to earn the squid’s ire: they inadvertently stumble on the remains of Nicole’s nosy underwater camera, the very thing that awakened the cantankerous cephalopod in the first place.

But why attack Ray’s parents at the beginning of the movie? They didn’t possess the opal, nor were they attempting to find it or even in danger of accidentally stumbling upon it. It’s just a random attack on some innocent people who are trying to enjoy their vacation. Of course, it gives Ray a reason to want the squid dead, but it’s one of those annoying inconsistencies that turns a passable story into a bad one.

In the end, the bad guys are all killed, a couple of the good guys manage to escape, and the opal sinks back to the bottom of the passage, where a host of tiny squid swim around it in preparation for Kraken 2: Deeper, Tentacles, Deeper!. ((SciFi Channel’s first original hentai movie.))

A.I. Assault (2005)

SciFi Channel LogoA.I. Assault (2005)

Starring Joe Lando, Joshua Cox, Alexandra Paul, Bill Mumy, George Takei, Michael Dorn, Robert Picardo, Hudson Leick, Lisa Lo Cicero, and Jack Deth.

Directed by Jay Andrews.

Jay Andrews (whose real name is apparently Jim Wynorski, and who directs under a host of pseudonyms including Thaddeus Wickwire, Bob E. Brown and H.R. Blueberry ((No, seriously.))) has an interesting filmography, one glance at which should be enough to set proper expectations for A.I. Assault; and by “proper” I mean “low.”

To his credit, Andrews/Wynorski directed The Return of Swamp Thing, which is a campy, fun super-hero movie. He also directed The Bare Wench Project, ((I’ve not seen The Bare Wench Project or any of the four sequels Wynorski also directed, and I don’t know that I could bring myself to write a review if I had.)) Alabama Jones and the Busty Crusade, Busty Cops, Raptor, Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness and The Curse of the Komodo. Sometimes referred to as a modern day Ed Wood, Wynorski seems to have made a career bouncing between sci-fi/horror schlock and T&A.

Good work, if you can get it.

A.I. Assault features some fairly well-known names from science-fiction and fantasy, all of whom were apparently unfamiliar with the director’s previous works. George Takei was Sulu in the original Star Trek series, Michael Dorn played Lt. Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Robert Picardo was the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, Hudson Leick was in Xena: Warrior Princess and Bill Mumy played young Will Robinson (“Danger! Danger!”) on Lost in Space. Tim Thomerson played the title role in Dollman and its sequel, Dollman vs. The Demonic Toys, not to mention five movies in the Trancers franchise. ((I met Tim Thomerson a couple of years ago at Cleveland-Hopkins International airport, and we had a very nice chat on our way to baggage claim. I had recognized him when I boarded the plane in Phoenix, but the seating arrangements did not allow for conversation during the flight; he was in first class and I was in steerage.))

The cast is divided into five groups: those who are killed in the first five minutes, a separate group killed in the second five minutes, a group of thieves who take their sweet time dying throughout the remainder of the movie, a group of military-types who do the same, and a second group of more important military-types who stay the hell away from whatever is killing everyone else.

Most of the killing is handled by the titular artificial intelligence; multi-limbed, heavily-armored combat platforms created by the military. The military has lost control of their new toys, which proceed to do what every other uncontrollable artificial intelligence in the history of uncontrollable artificial intelligence has done: kill everyone.

The movie begins with one of the rampaging Assaulticons ((The official military code name was something just as silly, but I can’t recall it at the moment.)) chasing folks through the desert. After the chrome-plated critter tracks down and kills everything with a pulse, the credits roll and the movie continues on a government charter plane bound for Australia. The Assaulticon has apparently been subdued, but not for long. Mother Nature intervenes, the plane crashes, and the Assaulticons (now numbering four) are let loose on an island in the South Pacific.

A group of survivors takes a radio and heads to high ground, hoping to call for help. They intercept a looping message in French, which Shannon is able to translate. Doing some calculations based on and automated counter in the message, Sayid is able to determine that it has been looping for–

Whoops, wrong island in the South Pacific.

After robbing a cruise ship, a group of thieves boards a helicopter piloted by Jack (Joshua Cox, AKA Josh Coxx) and flies into the same nasty storm that downed the plane. As (bad) luck would have it, Jack is able to land the helicopter on the very same South Pacific island on which the Assaulticons have recently taken up residence.

The military, eager to have their expensive killing machines back, sends an elite squad of commandoes to the island on a search-and-destroy-or-maybe-retrieve (but probably just destroy) mission. The commandoes are briefed by Susan Foster (Lisa Lo Cicero), the daughter of one of the scientists who designed the Assaulticons. Ms. Foster accompanies the commandoes to the island, because it wouldn’t make much of a luau without a few hula-honies.

During the briefing, Susan Foster informs the commandoes that the Assaulticons’ armor is made of a new titanium alloy matrix, rendering the metal monstrosities impervious to anything short of a 5,000 pound bomb. Despite this, the commandoes fire away with everything from pistols to machine guns and rocket launchers every time they come into contact with the Assaulticons. This is most likely because Ms. Foster failed to yell, “Listen up, maggots!” before she began the briefing. Those protocols are in place for a reason, lady.

The commandoes have one weapon that could destroy the Assaulticons, an experimental LASER rifle. Unfortunately, they give it to a guy who can’t shoot straight. With a LASER. Thanks to Joe Shaky, the Assaulticons are able to steal the weapon and whisk it away to Jack’s helicopter, which they’ve stolen and are in the process of repairing. Seems the Assaulticons don’t like it on the island, and they want to spread their robot loving far and wide across the globe.

The commandoes are in a race against time. The military plans to nuke the island if the Assaulticons aren’t neutralized by 0700, but the rogue robots may well be long gone by then if they can repair Jack’s whirlybird; their LASER in the hole is gone, they have no way to communicate with their superiors, and half of the squad has been chopped up zapped or crushed by the Assaulticons.

The thieves are pretty much hosed, too. They’ve been sliced and diced, tossed around like ragdolls and generally mistreated by their robot overlords. ((Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.)) Joining up with the commandoes hasn’t helped much, either.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that—mercifully—A.I. Assault has one. It’s not especially satisfying, and there’s a little more denouement than is necessary. So much so, that I expected one of the Assaulticons to come back to life, climb out of the backseat or otherwise to something to make those last few, awkward minutes before the end credits rolled at least mildly entertaining. No such luck.

A.I. Assault is mediocre, even by “SciFi original” standards. The first fifteen minutes are terribly disjointed, the special effects — while not utterly wretched — are very clearly special effects, and most of the actors of note are either killed after three minutes of screen time or relegated to standing on the sidelines well away from the action. This is probably the worst thing about the movie, especially given that SciFi Channel used their names to promote the movie.

Next week (20 May 2006): The SciFi original movie, Abominable. Let’s hope the heroes remember that bumbles bounce.

Mammoth (2006)

MammothMammoth (2006)

Starring Vincent Ventresca, Tom Skerritt, Summer Glau, Leila Arcieri, Cole Williams, Charles Carroll, Andrew Peter Marin, Marcus Lyle Brown, David Kallaway and The Big Bad Wolf.

Directed by Tim Cox.

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch every one of the “SciFi Original” movies that premiere Saturday nights at 9:00 on the SciFi Channel. It’s not an easy admission to make, but it is—sadly—true. I became aware of just how lax I’ve been in this regard while I was doing my post-viewing research ((Yes, research.)) on the latest SciFi original movie, Mammoth. It seems that Tim Cox has directed at least two other SciFi original movies in the last several years, Larva and The Man With No Eyes, neither of which I’ve seen. It’s an embarrassing deficiency, but I hope it does not disqualify me from rendering an opinion on Mammoth.

Because you know I’ve got one.

How many times has this happened to you? After five years of intensely scrutinizing a woolly mammoth entrapped in a multi-ton block of ice, you drill into the frozen mass to extract a small, blue object suspended near the ancient beast’s preserved body. The object, about the size of a pebble, turns out to be an alien homing beacon; a homing beacon that sends a powerful signal across the reaches of space to activate the opening credit sequence.

A silver flying saucer ejects a silvery, spherical probe that sprouts twin antennae and whisks its way through an asteriod field. After darting between tumbling rocks, the probe dives into one of the larger asteroids to reveal cave drawings on the walls deep inside. There, animated cavemen flee from a marauding UFO, then retaliate with their spears. The credit sequence is important because it sets the tone for the movie, which is definitely not taking itself too seriously.

Mammoth isn’t quite a spoof (at least, not on the same level as Mars Attacks!), but it’s not anywhere near a serious sci-fi/horror flick, either. It’s somewhere in the middle, with bumbling deputies, surreal flashbacks, snarky dialogue and, of course, an alien-possessed mammoth. It’s not as clever as Army of Darkness, but writer-director Tim Cox and company were most likely thinking along the same lines as Darkness director Sam Raimi when they created Mammoth. Vincent Ventresca (formerly the star of the SciFi Channel series “The Invisible Man” ((Ventresca played Darien Fawkes, a criminal who had been “recruited” by a secret agency to help them study a “quicksilver” gland they’d developed. The gland excreted a substance that rendered Darien invisible, but had some unusual and potentially dangerous side-effects. Though I wasn’t a regular watcher, I thought the show was well done.)) is no Bruce Campbell, but there definitely seems to be a Campbellian influence in his character, Dr. Frank Abernathy. Abernathy is somewhat socially inept and a bit of a bumbler, which might also describe Ash in Army of Darkness. Thankfully, Abernathy doesn’t come off as an Ash-wannabe played by a Campbell-wannabe. ((And honestly, after seeing The Man With The Screaming Brain and Alien Apocalypse, does anyone want to be Bruce Campbell?))

The other Mammoth headliners are Tom Skerritt and (as SciFi Channel incessantly pointed out in the week leading up to the premiere) Serenity‘s Summer Glau. Glau plays Jack, Dr. Abernathy’s sixteen-year-old daughter, while Skerritt is Frank’s father, Simon. Their family is falling apart, and only a prehistoric nightmare brought to life by a malevolent extraterristrial can bring them back together. Nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before on “Picket Fences.”

As with most SciFi original movies, the special effects aren’t exactly top caliber. The mammoth looks decent, but not great; in the big chase scenes, the lumbering, bellowing beast looks out of place in the frame. There seem to be some lighting and texturing tricks CG artists use to magically make their creations seem a part of the “real” world, and whatever those tricks are the artists who make movies for The SciFi Channel haven’t quite mastered them. That said, mediocre special effects can be forgiven if there’s a well-crafted story being told by talented actors under the guidance of a gifted director.

Whether the story of a rampaging prehistoric mammal possessed by an alien and sucking the “organic energy” out of the residents of a Louisiana town could be considered well-crafted is certainly open to debate, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Mammoth just a little. Yes, I scratched my head when a creature that leaves eight inch deep footprints the diameter of dinner platters managed to sneak up on the heroes in broad daylight not just once, but twice. ((This is even more headscratchworthy when one considers that the beast bellows almost incessantly.)) I also winced on the few occasions when the Lifetime Channel rapped on the window while Frank reminisced about his departed wife and tried to mend his fractured relationship with Jack. Despite a few plot holes, awkward emotional moments and some groan-inducing dialogue, Mammoth was a fun flick; certainly no worse than the bulk of The SciFi Channel’s original movies.

That’s not exactly high praise when you consider such duds as S.S. Doomtrooper (Ben Cross, your chariot is officially doused), but unlike Doomtrooper, I have no intention of demanding that The SciFi Channel reimburse me for the time spent watching Mammoth. I think the best thing I can say is that I’d watch the sequel so subtly hinted at before the end credits rolled.

Shark Academy 5: Police Frenzy

I watched a couple of movies last night while Laura was at her church council meeting. It was a long meeting. She didn’t get home until 11:00.

First up, the SciFi original, Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, starring Jeffrey (Re-Animator) Combs, William (Career Opportunities) Forsythe and Hunter (The Bold and the Beautiful) Tylo. It was no Alien Apocalypse (for which I am thankful), but that’s about the nicest thing I can say about it.

William Forsythe has been in a lot of movies — heck, he was in the epic gangster flick, Once Upon a Time in America — but he’s not exactly leading man material. He doesn’t have the physique for action, nor the personality for romance. He’s a pretty good tough guy, gruff goon type, but I certainly don’t buy him as the head of I.T. for a major pharmaceutical company. Sorry. (Side note: Mister Forsythe’s headshot on IMDb is very flattering. Makes him look like a young, badass Robert Duvall.)

The real star of Hammerhead (apart from the shark-human hybrid, I suppose) is Jeffrey Combs, anyway. He plays a mad scientist. He always plays a mad scientist. Combs’ Dr. King has found a way to cure cancer using shark stem cells (controversial!), but with horrific results: the patient becomes more shark than human. The bad doctor is searching for a way to bring back the patient’s humanity, as well as create viable offspring that will be the next step in human evolution. This involves stripping fairly attractive women down to their underthings and tossing them in a greenhouse with the manshark. Oh, did I mention that Dr. King’s hybrid is amphibious? That’s right, manshark is also a landshark, at home in the water but able to run through the jungle to kill pretty girls and machine gun-wielding goons.

The death toll is pretty high, as the manshark has quite the appetite. He even eats a couple of swimmers during Dr. King’s luau on the beach. Where these swimmers came from and why no one seems to notice that they’re missing is anyone’s guess. Numerous blood-soaked chunky bits and a couple of exploding helicopters later, Dr. King unsuccessfully attempts to get the manshark to mate with Hunter Tylo, gets his arm bitten off by his own abominable creation, and is shot in the back by William Forsythe. This is pretty standard for Jeffrey Combs.

Hammerhead is typical fare for the SciFi Channel. If it crawls, swims, slithers or flies and is remotely creepy, SciFi has mutated it and sicced it on the populace. Giant snakes and lizards, swarms of bees and other insects, spiders, and even the chupacabra have been featured in recent SciFi productions. Just tune in on any Saturday afternoon and you’ll see what I mean. If it weren’t for the Stargate series (coming soon: Stargate Miami) and Battlestar Galactica, there wouldn’t actually be any science-fiction on the SciFi Channel.

Ah, but I’m high atop my soapbox again. Best climb down and get back on track. Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is certainly not a good movie, but it was at least mildly entertaining. The manshark looked nifty in his tank (where he was computer-generated), but not very nifty in the choppy, frenetic glimpses of him roaming about on land. Even worse were the ridiculous close-ups of his eye as he watched his hapless prey stumble through the jungle. The victims characters ranged from generic (the millionaire’s pretty, vapid girlfriend and the mad scientist’s hunched over, servile assistant) to unbelieveable (I’m telling you, there’s no way Forsythe’s character is in I.T.) and the story was predictable, with just the right number of inconsistencies to keep it amusing.

Later, while cooking a bit of a late dinner, I happened across Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach. I… don’t know why I watched it. I plead temporary insanity.

In terms of number of sequels, Police Academy franchise sits somewhere between Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (5 sequels) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (8 sequels).

The most recent, Mission to Moscow, was released in 1994. According to IMDb, we haven’t seen the last of Bubba Smith and Michael Winslow. There’s a new Police Academy movie in the works, slated for release next year. This as-yet untitled movie will be the seventh sequel in the series, and is apparently being directed by Hugh Wilson, who directed the original Police Academy but none of its sequels. No word as to whether Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes), who has been in every installment to date, will be returning. As Mister Gaynes is currently 88 years old, I’d say the chances are fairly slim. (A very, very interesting side note for every Suomi poika and tyttö who might be reading this: George Gaynes was born in Helsinki, Finland.)

More than anything about the Police Academy series, I remember Leslie Easterbrook’s enormous breasts the theme song. In high school band, I eschewed scales as my warmup, opting instead to bring my trombone to temperature with the Police Academy theme. I couldn’t quote lines from the movies or remember much of the “plots,” but I could certainly play the opening bars of that theme song on the trombone.

So, maybe it was the theme song that snared me. Yeah, that’s it.