A brief break before we tackle the last couple of “Zombi” entries, with the sequel to one of our favourite films of last year. “Lavalantula” could have been an empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort, but director / co-writer Mike Mendez helped fashion a love letter to monster movies that was also lots of fun.
They sadly saved the empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort for part 2. No idea why Mendez chose not to return, but they replaced him with Nick Simon, whose only directorial work in the last five years was “The Girl In The Photograph”, a poorly regarded indie thriller from 2015. The two co-writers from part 1 are back, which I guess gives us an insight into exactly what Mendez brought to the table; also returning are The Gutte (obviously), Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsey. Nia Peeples, who played The Gutte’s wife, is “on a yoga retreat halfway round the world”, as is their son (although he gets thirty seconds on screen via Skype).
Presumably there’s a story behind why there’s a distinct lack of star power – relatively speaking – and everything seems a little cheaper. Perhaps SyFy isn’t doing as well as it was, and is putting all its eggs in the Sharknado basket, but it seems pretty obvious they’re not interested in making any more “Lavalantula” movies. Factor in two utterly baffling central performances from Guttenberg and Winslow – Guttenberg seems to be doing a weird impression of a dumb action hero, and Winslow just can’t act (although he was never able to) – and this feels like a contractual obligation on almost everyone’s parts.
Colton West (Guttenberg) is on the set of his latest movie, “Clown Cops”. Now, right at the very beginning is when they start throwing us curveballs – given the worldwide celebrity he’d have gotten at the end of the first movie, some cheesy garbage like “Clown Cops” is the best he could manage? Anyway, he’s doing the diva thing, demanding a chair just be placed behind him wherever he is, and so on, when he discovers his step-daughter is in Fort Lauderdale partying, instead of at college, he gets all upset. By the way, as far as I can remember, the stepdaughter wasn’t mentioned in the first movie at all, and I bet one draft of the script had her as his new far-too-young girlfriend.
So, lavalantulas just start emerging from the ground again, and it’s on. Colton and Marty (Winslow) head off to Fort Lauderdale to stop the infestation and save the day, the director of his movie (who was on “Glee”) shrieks ineffectively, stepdaughter Raya (Michele Weaver) meets a couple of local mechanics / lavalantula-killing enthusiasts, and milling around the plot is Colonel Jester, played by 80s stalwart Martin Kove, who’s friend and foe depending on what minute of the movie it is.
The subplot with Raya is fine, because while it feels a bit like a million other SyFy movies (the act 2 lull, where they’re just trying not to spend much money), it doesn’t feel like they’re just straight ripping off something else. It’s also nice to see a movie with a majority black cast, but there’s a bit which I’m still not sure about – when both “teams” meet up, they go to TJ the mechanic’s house, and his mother serves them dinner. Fried chicken? And the mother is the sassiest, most bad-sitcommy mother I’ve seen in ages.
If you’ve seen a SyFy movie, you’ll recognise every beat of this, with the sole difference being the presence of 80s movie stars in leading roles. But there’s a serious issue, in that one of the writers just decided to make this a reference-fest. There was a little of that in the first one, but perhaps Mendez kept it to a minimum? But here, we’re at a level not a million miles from people like Friedberg and Setzer (“Epic Movie”, “Vampires Suck”, etc). The following is a list of the movies and shows they just lift things from – no cleverness, just straight “hey, remember this?” moments.
Dr. Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Sanford and Son; Deliverance; Star Wars: Episode IV; Apocalypse Now; Cocoon; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Poltergeist; Scarface; The Karate Kid; Miami Vice; The Terminator; Crocodile Dundee; Top Gun; Predator; Die Hard; Jurassic Park; Pulp Fiction; Friday; Apollo 13; Sling Blade; 2 Fast 2 Furious (obviously); Frankenfish; Burn Notice; Straight Outta Compton; Aliens; Armageddon; and Independence Day.
The only one of those they do anything fun with is “Crocodile Dundee”, when they meet a guy in the swamps called Alligator Dundee, who’s a predatory homosexual with designs on Colton’s assistant Kyle (Jimmy Bellinger) – perhaps a bit on the offensive side, but at least they tried. Then there’s a great bit where Guttenberg calls this movie’s big bad the “Gargantulantula”, and TJ questions him over what it means – it felt like it came out of improv, and is great.
Ultimately, and this is the most disappointing thing, it’s too much like a completely ordinary SyFy movie, played for laughs. No-one really bothered to make any effort (would a few more “Police Academy” cast members have been that difficult to dig up?) with the exception of Raya and TJ; and the genuine sweetness at the heart of part 1 has been replaced with…well, nothing. I’d be amazed if there’s a part 3, after this. It just feels like a waste – you can make a funny film and bother with plot and performance, as the first one showed.
Rating: thumbs in the middle