Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Spiders: New York Overrun

New York’s subway rats have finally met their match.  That is a bad thing.  When mutant spiders crash to Earth with some old space junk, they take roost throughout the lower Manhattan tunnel system in Tibor Takacs’s creature feature Spiders (trailer here), which opens in California theaters this Friday.

Who knew downtown stations still took tokens?  Probably not for long, though.  They are about to be renovated the hard way. Jason Cole is just starting his shift at the transit command center, when the “Noble Street” stop is rocked by the remains of a Soviet space station that somehow carefully threaded its way through the surrounding buildings, into a perfect man-made lair.  Since the spiders are not viral, initial tests give Cole the go ahead to re-open the station.  However, when waves of rats start freaking out and dying, even the MTA (or NYT as they are called here) can tell they have a problem on their hands.

It turns out the Soviet-era brain-trust spliced some ancient alien DNA together with some spiders because that seemed to be the thing to do at the time.  The resulting mutants cast some wicked webs that supposedly have all kinds of military applications.  That is why the American armed forces have set up shop somewhere just north of Battery Park City with the original scientist who masterminded the Soviet experiments.

Spiders indulges in the annoying fantasy a former Soviet scientist has the standing to give a high ranking American military officer a lecture on morality.  Indeed, the clichéd villainy of Col. Jenkins is a real buzzkill in what could have been a perfectly pleasant exercise in campy bug-hunting.  Let’s be honest, if mutant spiders really do start falling from the sky, we’ll be praying to see the American troops arrive.

Not surprisingly, Spiders works best during its most Cormanesque moments.  The special effects are a decidedly mixed bag, but the creepy way their legs move looks good on camera and jut out well for 3D presentations.  For the most part though, it is glaringly obvious this is a B-movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Starship Troopers’ Patrick Muldoon, who previously co-starred in Takacs’s Sci-Fi Channel movie Ice Spiders, is pretty credible as a transit bureaucrat under extreme stress.  By now, he and Takacs must be real experts on surviving a mutant spider attack.  Christa Campbell also shows some screen presence amid the bedlam as his ex-wife Rachel, a researcher with the city health department.  As one would expect, Spiders follows in the long genre tradition of couple’s therapy through monster rampage.  British actors William Hope and Pete Lee-Wilson largely embrace their characters’ stereotypes, chewing a fair amount of scenery as Col. Jenkins and Dr. Darnoff, respectively.

While watching Spiders, it is hard not to think of Rick’s line in Casablanca: “there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you try to invade.”  Sure, the mutant spiders terrorize lower downtown, but if they tried coming uptown we’d see who’d be crying then.  Spiders should have been a lot more fun, but the anti-military bias is just a tired bummer.  For giant mutant genre diehards, it opens this Friday (2/8) in the Golden State, including the Burbank Town Center 8 and the AMC Atlantic Times Square in Monterey Park.