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A Good Excuse for Buggin' Out

'Eight Legged Freaks' is an agreeable blend of terror, schlock and ickiness


You've fixed the air conditioner for the seventh time this week. (And it's only Wednesday!) You've played fetch with the dog, catch with the kids, "Truth or Consequences" with your spouse. You're aiming higher in your summer reading this year. But your eyeballs complain about being buggy-whipped through the first 300 pages of "Bleak House."

I know what you're thinking: "Man, I could use me a good giant bug movie just about now!"

Couldn't we all? But let's face it. This isn't the 1950s when James Arness and James Whitmore were all that stood in the way of giant ants ripping up L.A. You used to be able to giggle and hoot at the lame dialogue and absurd behavior like the guys on the late, lamented "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Now these movies do all the giggling and hooting from within, playing up the smarminess and camp until the irony squeals like a smashed cell phone in mid-ring. Postmodern horror movies such as the "Scream" series have been so hip to their own jive for so long now that even the self-mockery feels as quaint as whatever is being mocked in the first place.

So why, then, does "Eight Legged Freaks" make one laugh out loud even though there is nothing revolutionary about its approach to the giant bug genre? Maybe it's because, as with "Scooby-Doo," "Charlie's Angels" and other campy products of young Hollywood, the movie is so unapologetic in its crassness that it disarms even the fussiest connoisseur of throwaway disaster flicks.

Besides, David Arquette, veteran of "Scream," "See Spot Run" and other horror films, is in the lead. You can always count on many well-earned laughs at his expense. Here, he's playing Chris McConnell, prodigal son of a dead gold-mining baron who's coming back to a nowhere desert town to claim his father's mine. He's also trying to reconnect with the town's tough but sexy sheriff, Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), whose rebellious daughter, Ashley (Scarlett Johansson), is making out with the dopey son (Matt Czuchry) of the town's corrupt mayor (Leon Rippy).

All this soap opera stuff is quickly waylaid when a barrel of toxic waste falls in a pond, affecting the DNA of bugs used as food for a private collection of exotic spiders who grow as big as Phantom jets. Sam's bespectacled son, Mike (Scott Terra), is the only one in town who sees the danger. "They never listen to the kid," Mike grumbles. Several living things are snatched, sucked and engorged before everyone gets wise.

New Zealand director Ellory Elkayem is properly freewheeling with the sight gags and B-movie glaze. The dialogue isn't quite as smart as the visuals, and Doug E. Doug only narrowly avoids embarrassment as the town's official paranoid radio jock. Never mind. "Eight Legged Freaks" fulfills your giant bug movie needs with an agreeable blend of shtick and stickiness.


MPAA rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language. Times guidelines: icky, mildly gory scenes, some vulgarities.

Gene Seymour is a movie critic at Newsday, a Tribune company.


'Eight Legged Freaks'

David Arquette...Chris

Kari Wuhrer...Sam

Scott Terra...Mike

Scarlett Johansson...Ashley

Doug E. Doug...Harlan

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow and NPV Entertainment, an Electric Entertainment production, released by Warner Bros. Director Ellory Elkayem. Producers Dean Devlin, Bruce Berman. Executive producers Roland Emmerich, Peter Winther, William Fay. Screenplay by Jesse Alexander & Ellory Elkayem, story by Ellory Elkayem & Randy Kornfield. Cinematographer John Bartley. Editor David J. Siegel. Costume designer Alix Friedberg. Music John Ottman. Production designer Charles Breen. Art director Chas. Butcher. Set decorator Marcia Calosio. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

In general release.

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