Komodo (1999)

''Now,  where is that damned remote?''If there’s a tag-line less appealing than “from writer of Anaconda,” it would have to be “from the writer of Batman and Robin.” But we’ll talk about Lost in Space later. This right here is Komodo, which not only boasts the writers of Anaconda, Hans Bauer and Craig Mitchell, but Michael Lantieri, one of Jurassic Park‘s many, many special effects designers. My theory: the producers hired Lantieri out of some last ditch effort to balance out the lukewarmth of Bauer’s and Mitchell’s script. Or perhaps I overanalyize. Perhaps it was as simple as finding Lantieri in a gutter somewhere, clutching his Oscar. “Hey, buddy, wanna job?” “Sure, man. You pay in cash or weed?”

I kid, Mike. I do. I love the stuff you did in JP. And I love the fact that you conned Phil Tippett (who’s far from extinct) into helping out on this little piece of crap. Without the smooth-as-silk CGI lizards, Komodo would be absolutely unbearable. As it is, Komodo won’t cause cancer in lab rats, but human subjects should beware of the early stages of narcolepsy, which set in sometime around the end of our prologue.

To wit: on a coastal North Carolina island (which looks like Queensland Australia), a ZZ Top fan tosses some Komodo dragon eggs out of his truck. They land in the wilderness and the rest, as they say, is the movie. Nineteen years later (wait, hold it…Komodo dragons run around North Carolina for nineteen years and no one even notices? Oh, boy), Patrick (Kevin Zegers) and his family make their yearly pilgrimage to the same coastal, North Carolina island (which looks like Queensland Australia). Patrick’s parents meet up with the island’s cold-blooded inhabitants and Pat goes all Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on us, the wuss. All he does is hear his parents get ripped apart by fifteen-foot lizards. Hell, he doesn’t even get to see it. Nevertheless, Patrick spends the rest of the movie looking like I look whenever I contemplate the fact Brittany Spears is actually famous.

Before Pat can use this trauma as an excuse to go on a killing spree (wearing a Komodo dragon mask, or something, in true Slasher movie form), Dr. Victoria (Jill Hennessy) enters stage left. Having never seen Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Dr. Vic hits upon the idea of taking Patrick back to Komodo Island for some immersion therapy. So he can face his fear and tell everyone what really happened. What could possibly go wrong? With Patrick’s annoying relative Annie (Nina Landis) in tow, the three camp in Patrick’s old house for the night. Faster then you can say, “throw away character” Annie dies the death of the pointless, while Vic and Pat go on the run from the rest of the lizard heard. It looks like they might just escape with their lives when (guess what?) their car almost hits a familiar looking van.

Well, this can only mean one thing. Do you know what it is? What’s that? The evil oil company that owns the off-shore drilling station has sent in a team to sweep and clear all the lizards away before the EPA (or somebody at any rate) gets wind of all these shenanigans? Jinkies. Leading the team, we find Oates (Billy Burke) and Denby (Paul Gleson), his Odious Comic Relief, here to kick some lizard butt. Oates was once a biologist, surveying this island for Pontiff Petroleum. The lizards ate his wife. The police think he did it, despite the complete lack of evidence (no body, no murder weapon, no motive), not that the head of Pontiff Petroleum considers that a good reason to stop holding a jail sentence over Oates’ head.

Denby only exists to die, and die he does, along with the Token Black Dude, and everyone else who isn’t given a long, flowery, “dramatic” speech to deliver, explaining their motivations. Komodo is big on dramatic speeches. And don’t forget the sappy background music. That always helps. Need to introduce an integral plot point? Dramatic speech. Need some character development to keep the budget at a rational level? Dramatic speech. Need to drop some pseudo-scientific expository information on the audience? Dramatic speech. Time to gloat, since you’re obviously an eee-vil capitalist? Dramatic speech. I can only assume that one of the Komodos had a few dramatic speeches as well (“To eat, or not to eat, that is the question . . .”), but those met the editing room floor after an unsuccessful test screening.

Who am I kidding? No production company would dare wast the cash, testing out this turkey. There’s barely a movie here to see: and it might as well be titled Running from LizardsWith Occasional Pause for a Dramatic Speech. Someone, probably the director, thought to scare us with these damn lizards, completely forgetting what scares people the most: the possibility that a person they like might die.

I don’t like any of these people. Even Patrick comes across as flat and uninteresting. Nebraska, minus the trees.Barney's no  good, half-cousin drops by for a brewsky. Now, Jill Hennessy does have a nice pair of rolling hills, but that’s neither here nor there. The acting on display is  decent, at best, in that no one should cut their stomachs open. Actors can only do so much with what writers and directors give them. I can see the entire cast striving for that third dimension but, oops…here comes another chase scene…oops, time for another speech. I can here Lantieri now: “Say your lines like a good little puppet. That’s better. And, for God’s sake, stop trying to show emotion! It doesn’t say you show any emotion on this page! That was on page five! For Christ’s sake, work with me, here.”

The worst practitioner of this “puppet on a string” acting is Simon Westaway, who plays the Evil Capitalist head of Pontiff Petroleum. (“Pontiff,” by the way, is a synonym for “Pope.” Too bad Pontiff didn’t outfit Oates with any Holy Hand Grenades.) He blackmails, he connives, he even covers up mass lizard related deaths. Lenin thought capitalists were evil but, by God, Westaway’s trying to blow even his worst nightmares out of the water. Bauer and Mitchell both fell asleep during the Film School lecture on stereotypes. Missed the class on subtly, too. If you can’t tell which character will die a horribly bloody death, you need to watch more crap movies. I like to be surprised by a flick like this. Deep Blue Sea may have been a terribly stupid film, but  it went a long way toward my good graces by killing the good along with the bad, the well developed with the underdeveloped. Here, there’s no such thing as “well developed.” Every character is either underdeveloped, or a lizard.

The lizards look great. But life-like monsters are almost the norm now. I’m waiting for a monster movie with fluid, life-like humans. Someone really should get Phil Tippett on the case. That boy can bring anything to life, and he’s got the awards to prove it.


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