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Review by
Mike Oliveri

BATS - 1999
Destination Films
: Australia: M / France: -12 / Germany: 16 / Mexico: B / Norway: 15 / Singapore: PG / Sweden: 15 / UK: 15 / USA: PG-13 (USA: R Video)

I'm seriously tempted to refer to this one as "Guano" throughout the rest of this review.

It's rare that a movie is one giant compilation of clichés, but writer John Logan (TORNADO! [The blatant TWISTER made-for-TV rip-off]) managed to get just about all of 'em into this script. For example, the first scene of the movie shows two young lovers out in the middle of nowhere in a car. Predictably, the car is swarmed and they are killed. The bats break through the windshield and even tear through the roof of his car. Later on, however, when the protagonists hide in the sheriff's Blazer, the bats can't break in, even after he shoots a hole through a passenger window to kill a bat.

It just gets better. The bats are the product of a virus! And an experimental virus, to boot! They've been made stronger, smarter, and even omnivorous! Yes, that's right, omnivorous, but bloodthirsty! And if the bats aren't stopped soon, they'll migrate and spread across North America within six months! The military gets called in, but they just want to blow everything up. But our heroes don't want to see the town destroyed, so the military says okay, you have 48 hours and wants nothing to do with it!

And it just goes on from there. I could come up with several more, but then I'd be giving away spoilers.

The characters are mostly stereotypical as well. Lou Diamond Phillips (THE FIRST POWER, SUPERNOVA), who's career seems to be a series of ups and downs, appears to have started another downward slide. He plays Sheriff Emmett Kimsey who is just like every cheesy Texas sheriff you've ever seen: he talks tough with a strong accent, smokes cigars, and is an all-around tough guy. In a feeble effort to make him different, he listens to opera music. "Don't tell nobody else," he tells the other characters. "I'll get run out of this town on a rail." Well, don't worry Lou, that may still happen.

Enter the concerned scientist, Sheila Casper, played by Dina Meyer (DRAGONHEART, STARSHIP TROOPERS). She's a zoologist and bat expert called in to help investigate the problem with the bats and to help the CDC find the bats' lair. She starts off with the attitude "That's impossible! Bats don't kill people!" Then she moves on to "No, we can't kill them!" Within minutes, it's "Our only hope is to wipe them all out!" And, of course, she's the one who figures everything out, despite the (feeble) attempts of the bad guy to stop her.

Casper's sidekick/partner is a wisecracking black guy named Jimmy (Leon of HBO's OZ [TV]). Everything's a joke to him, and he's only marginally more appealing than Jar-Jar Binks as comedy relief. At one point, when running from the bats, he gets to trip and fall and scream a lot until somebody saves him.

Finally, we have our human antagonist, Doctor McCabe, played by Bob Gunton (DOLORES CLAIRBORNE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION). He's the creator of the bats. He starts off as a concerned scientist, moves on to a simple stick-in-the-mud ("they're too smart, they know what you're trying to do"), and finally the traitor. Like any good traitor, he gets it from his own creation. Oh, and why did he make these bats? "Because I'm a scientist! It's what I do! I make things better!"

If you can suspend your disbelief for awhile, there are a few good scenes with some tension and suspense, particularly when the bats are first arriving at the town. Many of the actual attacks are terribly shot, however. Director Louis Morneau (CARNOSAUR 2) is apparently from the school of "Move The Camera Around A Lot For Some Cool Effects." Unfortunately, the result are dizzying and, in some points, distorted and even blurred in shots. Furthermore, he apparently never heard the phrase "blind as a bat" before, as there are camera POV's from bats that are in perfect focus but for a red filter.

The bats themselves are a combination of CGI effects and puppets. When they're swarming, they're all CGI-generated (Robert Carol Powers: GHOST COP [TV], DISTURBING BEHAVIOR). When they're creeping up on somebody or attacking, they're done with puppets courtesy of KNB Effects (Rick Bongiovanni: GODZILLA [1998], THE X-FILES [TV], IDLE HANDS, THE HAUNTING [1999] ). While they're not incredibly realistic, I've seen much worse in the past.

Probably one of the best things this movie has going for it is the soundtrack. Somehow, the studio managed to land the almost legendary Graeme Revell (SPAWN, THE CROW, FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN) to write the score. After seeing his name in the opening credits, I listened closely for the music and was not disappointed.

In all, if you go into this one expecting a serious horror movie, you will be vastly disappointed. This is the kind of movie you attend to make fun of. My friend and I tried hard not to laugh at the flaws as we sat in the theater, and when we left we had a good laugh shredding it. Few of the written jokes are funny, though the final scene gave us a genuine laugh. If you bother to go, catch it in a matinee showing. But go quickly! I predict it won't last long in the theater. I give it two negative shriek girls.

This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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Another "Bats as monsters" theme was previously explored in 1979's NIGHTWING
David Warner
Nick Mancuso


Reviewer Mike Oliveri is the winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for his novel








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