Saturday, March 16, 2013

"C" is for Critters 3

 I don't think I've ever seen Critters 3, and it's been a long time since I saw Critters or Critters 2. I definitely never saw Critters 4 based on the way that this movie ends, although since it ends with a "To Be Continued..." I might have to suck it up and finish off the series.

 This sure was a different movie than I remembered the Critters films being, so I went back and checked the first two movies. See, I remember them being sorta sci-fi / horror blends with a little bit of goofy comedy, but I didn't really remember there being subtitles that explained what the critters were saying to each other (there sure were) or that the tone was so kid-friendly (although the protagonists are definitely pre-teens in Critters and Critters 2). Sure enough, when I looked they're all rated PG-13, so maybe I'm remembering them being more violent than they were.

 Either way, Critters 3 is pretty fun but it's hard to argue that it isn't a dumb movie for kids for most of its 86 minutes. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but I definitely wasn't expecting some of the goofy shenanigans on display in this here movie. You know, the second sequel to Critters. Oh, who am I kidding?

 Critters 3 starts out in much the same way that O Brother Where Art Thou? does not, with some cheesy synthesizer music and a cartoony title font that let's you know this here is going to be some goofy shit, but then Clifford (John Calvin) and his kids Annie (Aimee Brooks) and Johnny (Christian and Joseph Cousins) are driving along singing "Big Rock Candy Mountain." I didn't see that coming, but I bet the Coen brothers did. It probably inspired them. Yup, I'm sticking with that.

 Clifford is on his way back from vacation with Annie and Johnny when they run over some firecrackers* and the tire blows out. They have to pull into an RV camp, where Johnny goes to throw his frisbee and almost goes over a steep incline. He's saved by Josh (Django Unchained's Leonardo DiCaprio), another kid hanging out with his mother (Nina Axelrod) and asshole stepfather (William Dennis Hunt), and said asshole stepfather feels the need to be all rich and obnoxious to Clifford while he changes his tire.

 The kids eventually do throw the frisbee off of the incline (technically, it's Leo's fault) and they run into this crazy survivalist named Charlie (Don Opper), who if I had remembered Critters 1 or 2 well enough I would have recognized as the nerdy guy who becomes apprentice intergalactic bounty hunter. Fortunately for me and all of the kids in the audience circa 1991, Charlie explains what happened in the first two movies, complete with flashback footage to jog our memories. It's also done in this obviously "kiddie" tone that's hard to explain unless you're watching it, but think of how everybody acts or is treated in Mac and Me and you'll have a pretty good idea. That's when I realized that this was not going to be a horror movie.

 Of course, Critters 3 decided to trick me when the family leaves the RV park and we jump ahead to the apartment complex they normally live in. We meet the sleazeball electrician Frank (Geoffrey Blake) who is in charge of chasing all of the tenants out. Said tenants include all of the stereotypes for "apartment" in movies: the fat lady who lives downstairs, the old couple upstairs with the husband who is a conspiracy theorist, the lady who works for the phone company that Annie is trying to get her dad involved with...

 Oh yeah, I didn't mention that, did I? So in addition to Clifford working for the railroad and being away from his kids a lot, causing family strife, he's also a widower after the result of something horrible happening to Annie and Johnny's mother. It's not explicitly stated in the film, but I'm guessing it had something to do with why the elevator at the apartment complex doesn't work. Anyway there's this family drama and a sleazeball mechanic who lives in the basement, so you could forgive my slight confusion. Also, the family unwittingly brings home critter eggs. Hey, you go to the RV park, you never know what could come back with you...

 The critters hatch and begin eating people, as they are prone to do, and at least when they kill Frank there's some suspense. But then Rosalie (Diana Bellamy) goes downstairs to see what happened to her laundry and they fail to kill the fat lady, so I kinda knew the score from there on out.

 Luckily, it turns out the asshole stepfather also turns out to be the asshole landlord, and he drags Josh over to the building in the hopes of evicting everybody without having to pay their "relocation fee" before turning the complex into a strip mall. I wonder if he's going to die or not? If it helps, in one of the best "that's why they couldn't call for help," he cuts the phone lines and turns off the power, just because he's that much of an asshole. So yes, of course the critters eat him.

 And nobody else. That's right, while they attack Rosalie and Clifford, they never kill another person in the movie, because everybody else is basically good so they don't need to die. This is the kind of movie that juxtaposes bowling on TV with Annie rolling a trash can down the stairs at critters, complete with a strike for both!

 I'm not actually bagging on Critters 3 because for what it is, it's all right. Certainly better than a lot of "part 3"'s that I can think of (okay, maybe two). This is definitely a movie that "borrows" from Gremlins 2: The New Batch (released the year before), particularly during the section of the movie where the critters just give up on chasing the tenants and goof around in the kitchen. One of them drinks soap and another one eats beans, and then there's a pie fight and antiquing, and I'll let you guess if one of the critters farts or burps bubbles (SPOILER: they do).

 Despite the goofy tone, there are some novel solutions to "getting help" that don't quite pan out but I hadn't necessarily seen in this kind of movie. It isn't always as dumb and obvious as I feared it might be, and when there is gore it's pretty good. Critters 3 was written by David J. Schow (The Crow, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, which Critters 3 is better than) and was directed by Kristine Peterson, who made, uh, Kickboxer 5 and Body Chemistry, but who was also Assistant Director on Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Tremors and Chopping Mall, so she's all right in my book. They both do a pretty good job here of balancing two diametrically opposed genres, and even if it's not as successful as The Monster Squad or The Gate, Critters 3 is entertaining enough.

 This comes in the period of DiCaprio's filmography before he was in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape and right around the same time he was on Growing Pains, so he's okay. I mean, it's hard to distinguish him from the other kids in the movie other than the fact that he grew up to be the guy who Martin Scorsese works with all of the time, but in 1991 it's not like he was leaps and bounds better than Aimee Brooks or the two kids who played Johnny. He's probably more memorable in The Quick and the Dead, but you have to start out somewhere, right? It's not like they elevated his name on the cover like they did for Jennifer Aniston with Leprechaun.

 Anyway, so as Critters movies go I guess this is one of them. It's a respectable effort and reminds me of the days when New Line Cinema would make these little genre movies and everybody seems to be having a good time doing it. Back before David Fincher and those hobbits made it all prestigious and crap...

 Speaking of "prestigious crap," our next movie stars Django Unchained cameo have-r Franco Nero. And it's not Die Hard 2: Die Harder... or is it?

 * Speculation on the Cap'n's part.

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