Monday, January 13, 2014

B-Movie Review: “Critters 2: The Main Course” (1988)

It’s “Space Porcupines Versus Morphing Intergalactic Bounty Hunters in a Backwoods Hick Town Redux,” and while it may not have the charm of its predecessor, it’s still a fairly entertaining late 1980s diversion.

If your life matters, you’ve probably seen a movie called “Critters” before. It’s a flick from 1986 about these evil Furby-looking motherfuckers who try to eat Kansas, and only the kid who would later go on to voice Steve Smith on “American Dad!” and two face-shifting extraterrestrial exterminators can stop them. It was a pretty popular little flick (it even got an oblique nod in the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie), and inspired a lite cult following, primarily through video store rentals (just look at that VHS box art!) and endless runs on late night cable TV. As such, it’s probably not all that surprising that the suits at New Line Cinema wanted a sequel to the unexpected hit, and what we wound up with is 1988’s “Critters 2: The Main Course” -- a flick that, while clearly not as inspired and enjoyable as the first film, still has quite a few positives going for it.

The film begins with a couple of outer space exterminators rooting around in a subterranean cave. Bedecked in what appears to be futuristic riot gear and porting around rocket launchers, they proceed to eviscerate a toothy spider-alien thingy. The two space exterminators --  one a long-haired Danzig doppelganger and the other a goofy, backwoods Earthling --then return to their home base, where a giant alien head (a'la Zordon) tells them they need to head back to Earth to eliminate some leftover "Crites" from the first film.

From there, we jump back to Grover's Bend, a suspiciously non-descript rural community that appears to be somewhere out in the Midwest (all of the characters' chatter about Kansas City, I suppose, would suggest that the city is either in Missouri or Kansas.) Brad Brown -- the junior high school aged hero from the first film -- is on a bus back to Grover's Bend, and he and the bus driver discuss the events of the original movie, thus giving non-viewers of "Critters" enough exposition to figure out what the hell is going on from here on out.

Clearly, these things look like something a chicken would poop out, no?

After that, we get a scene where your typical heavy metal high schooler and a huckster bumpkin break into the farmhouse from the first movie, and steal some Crite eggs; apparently, they want to sell them to make a quick buck around Easter time. From there, we're introduced to a million billion characters; an entire newspaper-owning family, who call Brad "the boy who cried critter," a day care center owning granny with a pretty big vegetarian hang-up, and a trailer-bound slob, who as it turns out, is the disgraced sheriff from part one.

So, Brad enters a restaurant called the "Hungry Heifer," which has its own pseudo-satirical (and inexplicably catchy) in-store jingle. There, he runs afoul of some locals, who literally drink beer out of a generic white aluminum can that simple has the word "BEER" written on it in all-caps. After the lamest fight in movie history ensues, Brad hitches a ride with the newspaper publisher's teen daughter, whom he charms by calling "Jimmy Olsen with breasts."

So, the egg-stealing bumpkin (apparently, an antiques dealer of sorts) from earlier decides to paw the unhatched space ovos to the daycare-center granny, whom asks virtually no questions at all about the weird-ass objects -- like, why are they the size of footballs, and why is icky green fluid leaking out of them? The film, I might add, has a particular tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking tone...if you're a fan of stuff like "Terrorvision," you'll probably enjoy this one quite a bit. The bumpkin returns home, and uh-oh! Some of his unsold Crite eggs have hatched, and the little monsters (all blonde and small, somewhat resembling toothy Furbies) eat both the owner and his dog!

Meet the new face of action. 

Meanwhile, Brad fidgets with the intergalactic gadget the space bounty hunters left him at the end of the first movie, and he wonders whatever happened to his old pal, Charlie -- the rube from the opening scene of the movie, who is now an extraterrestrial exterminator. We then get a brief scene -- filmed in CRITTER VISION! -- in which a small space porcupine enters a young girl's bedroom, only to get stepped on and splattered.

And this brings us to an egg-hiding montage, in which the town's new sheriff dresses up like the Easter Bunny for Sunday service. Of course, all of the Crites emerge from their pods, and end up attacking the new po-po chief. After he crashes through the stained church windows in a particularly gory death scene (especially considering this movie is rated PG-13!) Brad and his not-quite-girlfriend visit the disgraced ex-sheriff and tell him to help them fight off the furry menaces. Alas, he's not very receptive of the idea, and decides to haul ass out town instead.

At this point, the bounty hunter spaceship lands in Grover's Bend. This time around, there are three space exterminators (all wearing costumes on loan from the Cenobites, it appears) including one whose face remains featureless. The eyes, mouth and nostril-less being uncovers a Playboy, and elects to transform into the Playmate of the Month -- complete with a breast augmentation sequence. The critters have gotten larger, and begin rolling down main street like tumbleweeds. The monsters take over the local burger joint, and the bounty hunters pretty much blow up the place in an attempt to eradicate all of the space creatures. There's definitely some self-reflexive humor in this one, as one Critter gets boiled alive in French Fry grease, while another, after having its hair scalped off by a missile, turns towards a refractive surface and states "bitchin!" in his native, alien tongue.

I think we can all agree: the one thing holding back the first "Critters" movie was that painful lack of anti-fast food conglomerate subtext.

So, Charlie and Brad reunite, and then some Critters attack Brad and his girlfriend in her truck. A whole bunch of townsfolk have gathered at the church, and the Playmate bounty hunter transforms into a nerd...and after visiting a video store, it ALMOST mutates into Freddy Krueger, in probably the best bit of the entire movie.

One of the hunters gets eaten by a herd of Crites, and the kids get chased out into a field. The ex-sheriff then makes his big return, while wearing his old uniform no less.The villagers then concoct a wild idea; to rid themselves of the critters, they will trap all of them inside a local meat processing plant, and then blow it up.You know, because that's a WAY simpler idea than alerting the D.O.D. or the C.I.A. or anything.

In a montage sequence, all of the townsfolk arm themselves with pitchforks and shotguns, while the Critters stampede their way towards the hamburger factory. I'm not really sure what's more perplexing here: the film's strangely pointed criticism of the fast food industry,or the fact that the space monsters can apparently speak and understand the English language now. However, one of the critters gets a whiff of the "living meat" in town, and the herd reverse course towards the unprepared villagers!

How this thing hasn't become an overused, omnipresent meme by now is simply beyond me, folks.

Thankfully, the largest Crite (and therefore, the group leader) commands the other aliens to roll back to the hamburger factory, and SWERVE! The big critter was actually one of the space bounty hunters, whom temporarily assumed the form of a critter to sway them away from the townspeople! And all of the creatures get locked in the plant, and sure enough, it gets exploded real good. The only problem is, as soon as the factor doors swing open, a gigantic KATAMARI BALL of Crites emerge, devouring everything in their path and making a B-line straight towards the church.

To save the town from imminent destruction, Charlie decides to Kamikaze his space ship into the Critter ball, resulting in his (presumed) death. One of the aliens face-morphs into Charlie, as a mournful homage to his bravery and self-sacrifice. As Brad and the sheriff prepare to leave the scene, what do you know? Here comes Charlie, who apparently hit the eject button right before impact.

The bounty hunters have a final reunion, and they are all sucked back up into a mother ship by a tractor beam. Before he leaves, the Sheriff gives Charlie a badge, and the town slowly begins to rebuild. And then...well, the movie's kinda' over, complete with a smarmy "no critters were harmed in the making of this movie" Easter egg.

The flick was directed by Mick Garris, who is probably best known for directing a ton of made-for-TV Steven King adaptations in the 1990s -- "The Stand" perhaps being the most noteworthy. Alongside Garris, the writer of the film was a guy named David Twohy, whose most popular work is probably the 1993 Harrison Ford vehicle "The Fugitive" -- although if you ask me, it's 1989's super-underrated "Warlock" which stands out as the scribe's true magnum opus.

There's not really all that much I can say about the cast in this one. The two primary bounty hunters were played by Terrence Mann and Don Keith Opper, whose respective life works are more or less encapsulated by the four "Critters" films. Two sequels followed this one; part three was set in a high-rise and featured a no doubt embarrassed Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his first major film roles, while part four was set in outer space and was pretty damn generic.

Well, the film wasn't as good as its precursor, but it wasn't a bad little B-movie. Perhaps trying to capitalize on the success of "Gremlins" (which, believe it or not, was written AFTER the original script for "Critters" was penned), the movie seems a lot less horror-ish and whole lot more cartoony; what, with the English-quipping space monsters and the hyper-campy dialogue and the totally misplaced subtext about mass consumption and the ills of meat-eating. The first hour may drag a bit, but there's enough surprises in the final thirty minutes to really redeem the film as a whole; it's kitschy, and gaudy, and totally enmeshed in its own silliness -- it may not be a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I doubt anyone would find the movie non-entertaining, either. It's good old fashioned, late '80s cheese, through and through -- bad taste, of a most delectable, guilty variety.


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