Some actors, despite them never being A-listers or anything like that, always elicit a “why are they slumming in this?” response when you see them in a SyFy Channel original movie, one of them being Bruce Campbell, among the most entertaining movie stars ever. If you’re the sort of person who reads reviews on the internet and don’t know Bruce and all the wonderful things he’s done, then go away from these words right now and immerse yourself in one of the finest bodies of work you’ll ever see.
Heck, he’s even good in this, a relatively early attempt for SyFy. It’s a sort of half rip-off of “Planet Of The Apes”, as osteopath Dr Ivan Hood (Bruce), other astronaut Kelly (his “Xena” co-star Renee O’Connor) and a couple of cannon fodder, come back to Earth, having spent 40 years in suspended animation in space. Not sure why, to be honest. Presumably some mission somewhere, but it’s really never mentioned, it’s merely an excuse to have a bunch of people gone for 40 years. Bruce is a dick to his co-astronauts, immediately hoping the world has gone to hell while they’ve been away so he can use his medical skills to become known as “The Great Healer”, and of course he gets his wish.
The world has been taken over by alien termites, called “Mites”. They’re human sized and are moderately confusing, if truth be told. They enjoy eating human heads, fingers and…wood. Y’know, being termites and all. They dropped bombs on most of the cities, destroying the people but leaving the forests intact, and have set up humans as slaves to cut trees into presumably delicious and manageable planks. One character says “they aren’t growing any new ones” as if that’s supposed to explain this patently ludicrous plot. Why don’t they just ship back a bunch of lovely Earth earth and cut out the middleman? Why aren’t they growing new trees? Why aren’t new ones just growing anyway? Why is the lumber yard where most of the action takes place surrounded by trees? Wouldn’t they cut the closest ones down first?
Asking questions of the plot’s logic is definitely a fool’s errand with this one, so I’ll try and stop. After a couple of early deaths, Ivan and Kelly get captured by the overseers (humans who work for the aliens) and we get to see the wonderful state of the extras. Every beard in this movie is horribly fake, for no good reason (several male actors are clean-shaven, so it’s not like they wanted everyone with one) and they’re all victims of the worst dubbing job I’ve ever heard. Now, I understand if you’ve not got much budget and are filming in Eastern Europe, you’re going to need to hire locals, but could they not hire ones who could act a little? And when it came to dubbing them, for the dozens of voices, they used one guy. Every single bloody human sounds the same!
Most of the movie is Ivan’s escape and transformation from selfish asshole to humanity’s saviour, Kelly’s recapture and the story of him building an army out of the remaining pockets of free humanity. Luckily, they’re a short walk from where the last President and his senators are holed up, but of course they’re no good, but lots of people join up, mostly thanks to Ivan solving their relatively minor back problems. Bearing in mind humanity’s only been enslaved for 20 years, almost no-one remembers doctors or indeed anything about the old world, which isn’t played for laughs as much as I thought it’d be. Oh yes, there’s the local woman who joins Bruce, skinny, beautiful and well-shaved in the way many modern women are, but very very few post-apocalyptic women would probably be. Did they find a cache of old razors? There’s also a bit where Kelly sees a couple of gross dirty locals having sex a few feet away and gets so turned on she goes and jumps Ivan’s bones immediately.
The plot hinges on Ivan killing a Mite with a small bit of metal, and every single human acting as if it were impossible. So, in the entire history of human enslavement, not a single person swung a stick at a Mite’s head, or fired an arrow, or punched, or even shot a damn gun? When the humans figure out that yes, they can fight back, we’re then treated to a “Spartacus” ending, where the slaves rise up, everyone says “I’m responsible” to save Ivan’s hide, that sort of thing.
While it’s got a decent sense of how ridiculous it is, and both Campbell and O’Connor are lots of fun, it’s so shoddily made that the “we’re just having a laugh” excuse becomes less usable. There’s no excuse to have only one voice guy, or such terrible fake beards. Director Josh Becker and Campbell have been friends since childhood, which explains why he agreed to do this; looking at his credit list, Campbell and the Raimi brothers have appeared in most of his directing efforts since the mid 80s. It might reasonably be said without his more famous friends, he wouldn’t have had a career, but it’s…fine, I guess?
The biggest issue comes from the lack of connective tissue. While I often complain about movies which take too long to get going, it’s jarring to see a movie where the main character is captured and working as a slave inside the first ten minutes – I’d have liked to see more of the world they found themselves in first (we get a shot of a destroyed Portland, but it’s not really enough). It’s like they wanted to get to the good stuff so just skipped character building and a decent narrative arc and all that.
You’ll have fun with this one if you’re a fan of Campbell, and if they repeat it on SyFy you could do a heck of a lot worse.
Rating: thumbs in the middle