Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Dead Ant: It Came from the Desert, Again

1980s heavy metal hair bands haven’t died. They are just in denial. Sonic Grave is convinced they will make an inevitable comeback, despite changing tastes and their lack of talent. However, the rampaging giant formicidae might finally force them to face what passes for reality in this goofball stoner movie. They can blame the peyote for unleashing some massively bad mojo, but it is all really their own fault in Ron Carlson’s Dead Ant (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select cities.

Frankly, Sonic Grave does not take itself too seriously, so why should we? Their loudmouth manager with a martyr complex has booked them at No-chella, the down-market alternative to Coachella. Naturally, they stop for some peyote on the way. “Bigfoot,” the native dealer warns them not to harm any element of nature while they are tripping or it will boomerang back on them. Of course, Art the bassist starts tripping early and then “disrespects” some ants. It works out badly for him.

Soon, Sonic Grave have an early Roger Corman movie on their hands, except it isn’t as fun (despite being an intentional comedy). Yes, this might be hard to believe, but it turns out a giant ant movie starring Tom Arnold is kind of lame. Arnold certainly does not help much as the compulsively verbose manager. Dude, shut up. It is also pretty stunning to see Michael Horse, the reliably tough and cool Native American actor, playing the shticky Bigfoot (seriously, he was Deputy Hawk on Twin Peaks).

As Sonic Grave band members, Sean Astin, Jake Bussey, and Rhys Coiro mug and chew the scenery shamelessly. Arguably, Sydney Sweeney gets the biggest laugh of the film old-shaming Coiro’s Pager, but then script has her acting like a super-available groupie minutes later.

Reportedly, Carlson spent a year perfecting the digital effects for the rampaging ants. Some of that time might have been better used punching-up the script. The ants look okay, but the “wow factor” in this film is minimal. Yet, let’s be honest—in a movie like this, we want the ants to look cheesy.

It is not obvious from the final film whether Carlson has nostalgic affection for either old Corman-style monster movies or 80s hair bands, which is a problem. Frankly, it makes It Came from the Desert look like Young Frankenstein. Not to repeat ourselves, but the tragically under-screened Attack of the Bat Monsters is the best film for early 1960s monster nostalgia—and it doesn’t even have any real monsters.

Carlson maintains a well-caffeinated energy level and there is plenty of silliness to keep drunk or stoned fans giggling, but the film does not have any real heart or soul. It is no Ahockalypse, that’s for sure. You are better off watching Them! instead. Not recommended, but whatever, Dead Ant opens this Friday (1/25) in LA, at the Laemmle Music Hall.