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EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS
U.S. Release Date: July 17, 2002
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Producer: Dean Devlin
Composer: John Ottman
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 1 hour and 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi violence, brief sexuality and language)

Not so Itsy-Bitsy Entertainment
by Billy Reeves

When reflecting upon Ellory Elkayem's Eight Legged Freaks, the word small doesn't come to mind. Indeed, the creative forces behind Godzilla have given us a production that does everything but scream large. From its cheesy characters to its flashy effects and its preposterous storyline, the film reeks of ostentation. The gruesome mutant arachnids in this movie negate the dainty nursery rhyme, "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" without blinking an eye, and what you are left with is Arachnophobia on steroids.

Having said that, this is quite possibly the most enjoyable film of the summer.

This B-movie, like most B-movies, has a ridiculous story. But the difference between this film and, say, Deep Blue Sea, is that it's well aware of its ridiculousness. It succeeds as pure entertainment because it rarely tries to be anything more. I have no sympathy for anyone that sees the trailer for this movie and comes with Oscar-caliber expectations.

The premise: A truck driver carrying a load of toxic waste swerves to miss an animal in the road and accidentally dumps a barrel of waste into a nearby pond. This pond just happens to be where a nearby spider "farmer" comes to get insects to feed his eight-legged pets. Upon digesting the radioactive insects, the spiders begin to grow at an alarming rate, and it isn't long before they break free of their cages…

These events all take place in the tiny town of Prosperity, Arizona. The name is not without its irony, because the town is anything but prosperous. The town's financial hopes center almost entirely around the mine beneath it, though the mine is basically as dead as its original owner who claimed to have found gold there. Prosperity had attempted a string of other financial flops including a mall and an ostrich farm, but it looks as though things are about to go under all together. The citizens are all in consensus that they should sell their land to a company that wants to fill the mines with toxic waste. But there is one dissenter. Chris McCormack (David Arquette) has recently returned from a ten-year hiatus from the town, and refuses to sell the mine he inherited from his father. He is convinced the gold exists in the mine and is determined that it will save Prosperity. On a side note, he also wants the chance to finally profess his love for the town sheriff, Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer).

It isn't long before the resident spider expert finds evidence of the oversized arachnids and attempts to warn everybody. Naturally, the expert is eleven year-old Mike Parker (Scott Terra) and of course nobody believes him. Faster than you can say "arac attack," the mutant monsters begin killing off the townsfolk and soon outnumber them. "Run for your lives!" becomes the name of the game at this point, as the frightened masses seek shelter in the Prosperity mall.

The movie is visually pleasing from beginning to end. Up close, the CGI spiders are a bit much to swallow, but the real treat is the shots of the arachnids swarming through the streets and scaling the sides of buildings with ease. Parents should be warned that the film is filled with spider violence, but it never becomes gory. With CGI ruling nearly every action scene possible, it's nice to have something left to the imagination.

The picture, though, drags slightly in the beginning and without any good reason. The town's financial plight is unimportant, and it's obvious that the romance element is doomed to fall flat on its face. (Which it does).

Cheesy characters abound, such as the Barney-Fifish Deputy Pete, played by Rick Overton. He's sure to provoke laughter at some point, as well as the chain-smoking Aunt Gladys (Eileen Ryan, I am Sam). The role of Sheriff Parker, however, could easily have been played by any actress, as there is really no chemistry between Arquette and Wuhrer. Doug E. Doug plays the movie's most colorful character, Harlan. He's Prosperity's radio DJ who's convinced that aliens are coming to inhabit the earth at a moment's notice. His anal probe jokes get a bit tired, but he's funny nonetheless. Lastly, Arquette is not exactly terrific, but not a distraction either. He plays the character with the same quiet good guy effect that he employed successfully as Dewey Riley in Scream.

Eight Legged Freaks is the perfect summer diversion. Filled to the brim with tongue-in-cheek humor, it succeeds where other B-movies have failed. When going to see this movie, the most important thing to keep in mind is not to bring one. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the eye-candy.


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