Directed by Louis Morneau
Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Leon, Bob Gunton, Carlos Jacott.
1999 90 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and mild gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 22, 1999.
If you thought last summer's "Lake Placid," one of the most recent "nature-run-amok" horror flicks, was unsatisfying, wait until you get a load of "Bats," a PG-13-rated snoozefest that is just about as mild and unscary as a film can be in this genre. The premiere picture for new movie studio, Destination Films, it is obvious that they timed the release perfectly so as to cash in on the impending holiday, but in their mad rush to get it finished and out in theaters, they have forgotten a few vital elements, such as likable characters that you can root for, hair-raising chills, and a story that actually makes sense. Halloween may bring it in some fast cash at the box-office, but "Bats" is strictly direct-to-video fare, and it certainly doesn't bode well for Destination, which is off to a disasterous start.
The pre-credits sequence features a teenage couple parked out in the middle of a desolate desert road. The guy thinks he feels something swipe by his arm, which was hanging out the window, so he goes to check it out. Then, BAM! You know the routine, and this tried-and-true horror cliche can often be fun. Unfortunately, because of the PG-13 rating they must adhere to, the attack scene is a collage of quick, flashy cuts, which are rather difficult to make out. Even on the most elementary level, "Bats" fails miserably.
Switch to young bat researcher (now there's a career!) Sheila Casper (Dina Meyer) and her wise-cracking assistant (Leon), who are approached to travel to Gallup, Arizona, to investigate a series of murders believed to be caused by bats. This is impossible, Sheila skepticizes, because bats aren't carnivorous. That's, of course, before Sheila, along with the town sheriff, Emmett Kimsey (Lou Diamond Phillips), discover mad scientist Dr. McCabe (Bob Gunton) has created two biologically-altered bats who have the ability to pass on a virus throughout their species, rendering them deadly. Soon, the small desert town is being overrun by the black-winged serpents, and it is up to our three zero-dimensional heroes to stop them.
If I had known that the film was going to be so depressingly bad, and that the word, 'bats,' was going to be uttered to the point of nausea, I would have kept myself busy by counting the exact number of times it is spoken. In all seriousness, the word, 'bats,' is mentioned in at least fifty percent of the lines of dialogue, clearly out of desperation to keep the film interesting when it's actually extremely dull. No attempt is made in the vacuous screenplay, by John Logan, to develop the characters or the relationships, and the plot itself furiously comes into focus in the first ten minutes, and is never brought up again. In place of intelligence, we get scene after scene of extras running around screaming, a 'la Hitchcock's "The Birds," but without any of the excitement. And once that ends, a prolonged, insipid climax comes into play, set in the pure daylight!
With visual effects that are adequately convincing, bats that are about as believable as the Muppets, and three performers (Phillips, Meyer, and Leon) who are unquestionably above this grade-Z material, the most annoying thing about "Bats" is its out-and-out earnestness. With a premise as ridiculous as this one, at least a little bit of self-knowing jokiness is needed to show viewers that, yes, the filmmakers know it's silly. Ultimately, the only comedy present is in Leon's lame-o one-liners, and that earnestness--it just never lets up! Had the tone of "Bats" been along the lines of 1995's intentionally campy, "Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight," director Louis Morneau, in an inauspicious jump to the big leagues after his work on the surprisingly superior "Carnosaur 2," might have been onto something. As is, "Bats" is low-rent horror garbage, and one of those rare theatrical outings that actually deserves to be relegated to the junk bin at video stores across the world.
©1999 by Dustin Putman