Friday, April 6, 2007

Movie Review: Dinocroc

I should have known better.

Seriously, it’s right there on the poster in gold letters above the title: Roger Corman. The P.T. Barnum of cinema. Granted, he didn’t direct this release but that name attached to a film in any capacity pretty much assures a dubious viewing experience. Despite my familiarity with B-movies, I guess that in the end I’m just a bit of a sucker. I mean, check out the picture of the monster itself- it’s admittedly kinda neat looking. Not only that, but if you poke around on the net, you will find reviews for this film that are actually positive in that “well, it’s not bad for what it is/there are some good scenes here and there”-sorta way. Plus, I found a copy at a used DVD and CD store for nine dollars. Nine dollars! How could I go wrong? Well, allow me to answer that.

The Gereco Corporation is celebrating its latest scientific achievement which involves the bio-engineering of an extinct species of crocodile back into modern day in order to harvest the rapid-growth hormone found in its system. As expected, a mishap (Safety tip: when checking on the status of the dangerous monster you’re raising, it’s best not to walk into the middle of its darkened holding pen while leaving the access door wide open behind you) gives a juvenile Dinocroc the opportunity to kill one of its keepers and then escape out into the wilderness where it takes up residence in a nearby lake. The company sends out a lone flunky to recapture their creation, but the creature has quickly grown to its full adult size overnight and makes a meal out him.

Meanwhile, the community of Grant’s Lake goes about its usual small town routine, unaware of the low-budget horror that is about to befall them. This includes Diane, the local animal control expert and her former boyfriend Tom. The two set out to find a lost dog owned by Tom’s younger brother and their search leads them to a preserve near the lake. It is there that they run into Dr. Campbell, a Gereco employee who narrowly manages to thwart an impending Dinocroc attack directed at the unknowing couple.

The trio heads back to the Gereco laboratory as Campbell explains the details of the situation. They arrive in time to find the head of the corporation holding a press conference in an attempt to cover up the company’s involvement with any potential mysterious occurrences that might or might not have happened, and that may or may not involve resurrected, prehistoric crocodile monsters. As a further contingency, Gereco hires the services of an Australian hunter named Dick Sydney to track down the beast. It’s not long before the body count begins to stack up, forcing everyone to begrudgingly team up in order to somehow stop the creature from using the town as a buffet. Hilarity ensues.

Dinocroc is basically what you’d expect; a forgettable, straight-to-DVD flick which borrows its content from other, more famous films (in this case, Jaws and a smidgen of Jurassic Park) but with a fraction of the charm or competence. In typical fashion, the humans in the story are the weakest aspect of the movie and fall into the category of either “uninteresting” or “annoying”. I simply don’t understand how so many films have copied the Jaws formula while continuously and consistently overlooking the one crucial element that makes it work: characters that you don’t mind watching (or, God forbid, like) when the monster bits aren’t playing out. At times, it’s as if this movie is intentionally trying to make the characters irritating. A particularly exasperating example of this unfolds at the film’s climax wherein Diane and Tom purposely sabotage a plan designed to lure the Dinocroc into a trap because it required using stray dogs as bait. That’s correct- the lives of the townsfolk simply come up short when weighed against the cost of sacrificing a terrier.

If only the Dinocroc itself had looked as good in the movie as it does on the DVD cover. Onscreen, it’s a completely inconsistent CGI effect that runs a gamut between looking somewhat decent in some scenes and downright terrible in others (especially with regards to its stilted and weightless walking animation). Oddly enough, not a single person in the movie seems to notice or care that the crocodile they’re hunting looks like a bizarre dinosaur hybrid; perhaps genetically-altered monstrosities are a commonplace occurrence in the area. Stranger still, I submit that the monster shares more in common with “psycho killer” characters in the vein of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers than that of a rampaging beastie. Consider the following:

1. The Dinocroc is always preceded or accompanied by its theme music (in this case, an obtrusive orchestral and choral mix) whenever it shows up. Obviously this same technique was used in Jaws and the Godfather movies, but I was constantly reminded of the “Che-hee-hee-Hah-hah-hah” cue that would play in the Friday the 13th films which always heralded Jason’s arrival.

2. The creature is capable of performing “stealth kills”, literally appearing from nowhere to surprise its otherwise attentive victims. During a sequence wherein a group of policemen hunt the Dinocroc in a swamp at night, the monster systematically picks them off as the dwindling survivors fearfully sweep their flashlights around their vicinity, unable to tell where the next attack will come from; an impressive feat considering that their adversary is nearly the size of city bus.

3. Much like its psycho killer brethren, the Dinocroc completely revives after being killed. And I’m not talking about ambiguous “demises” like falling off of a cliff into nothingness; this thing is gassed to death, struck by a moving train and has a pipe rammed through its head AND STILL comes back as if nothing has happened. Perhaps a more effective way to stop the Dinocroc might necessitate tricking it into fighting Freddy Krueger.

I was going to give this film 1 out of 5, but it earns an extra half-point for killing off a character in the story that, in any other film of the same genre, would have easily survived to end of the movie. That’s at least worth something.