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Croc flick is out of its element

`Primeval' goes for social commentary, but this critic doesn't bite.

January 13, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

The poster for "Primeval" sells it as being "inspired by the true story of the most prolific serial killer in history." To be honest, it should tack on a "Kind of."

From the start, when U.N. workers in Africa discover mass graves and then a scientist is chomped on by a giant crocodile, the filmmakers can't make up their minds what story they are telling. Someone in the production, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris and directed by Michael Katleman, had the bright idea that it was possible to cross-pollinate a semi-serious political drama about warlords in Africa and a skeevy horror flick about that aforementioned killer croc. Guess what? They don't mix.

A from-the-rack TV news crew -- a cynical reporter, a pretty female nature expert, a Steve Irwin-style showman, a wisecracking cameraman, a hard-boiled hunter and assorted natives -- set out to find and capture the animal, and soon start getting picked off one by one.

It doesn't help that as more of the crocodile is seen, the sillier it seems. When the croc gets up on land and its stubby little legs start pumping at lightning speed toward its next victim, the effect is more goofy than chilling.

Because most of the killing takes place at night, even the blood-sport thrills of flying limbs and bursting brains are muted. The final kill, when the bad guy gets it, is by far the best, in no small part because one finally gets to really see something.

Strangely self-serious, and without covering the prerequisites of top-shelf nastiness that contemporary horror requires, this giant crocodile movie turns out to be neither fish nor fowl.

"Primeval." MPAA rating: R for strong graphic violence, brutality, terror and language. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In general release.

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