Friday, July 15, 2016

CRITTERS 3 (1991) - *

Rated PG-13
Running time: 86 min.
Release date: December 11, 1991

There is a genre of film out there known as the "little monster" genre. You've heard of some of them such as Ghoulies and the granddaddy of them all, Gremlins. In each instance, the initial film was some sort of success, prompting sequels, which got less return in each case. Such is the case, as well, with Critters. Released in 1986, the original film was deemed enough of a critical and financial success that soon after Critters 2 followed. In 1991, Critters 3 was released straight to video during an age when VHS was still a viable form of entertainment. Unfortunately, it lessens whatever impact the original film may have had, as the series shows that it's out of ideas, or at the very least, knowledgeable execution. The only notable fact from this film comes in the form of one of the cast members, a major Hollywood player, who makes his feature debut here.

The movie opens with a family pulling into a rest stop to fix a flat tire. The family include dad Cliff (John Calvin), daughter Annie (Aimee Brooks) and son Johnny (played by twins Christian & Joseph Cousins). While dad fixes the flat, the kids go off and play Frisbee. Little Johnny chases down the stray Frisbee, as we get our first of many point-of-view camera angles from the furry little aliens known as the Crites. Why director Kristine Peterson chose a POV angle for a creature who has already been featured in two prior films is confusing. The audience for this movie has probably already seen the first two films and knows what danger awaits in the forest. Johnny is stopped from going down the hill by a kid named Josh, who is played by the fresh new hot star of 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio. Josh is at the rest stop with his mother and step-father, Mr. Briggs (William Dennis Hunt). Briggs' character is that of a rich jerk, characterized by an umbrella drink in his hand (at a rest stop, no less), and later finding out that he is the landlord over the apartment complex that becomes the central scene of the film.

The kids run into Charlie (Don Opper), the hero of the first two films. He warns them about the creatures, which the kids all shrug off as crazy talk. He supplies little Johnny with a crystal and tells him that it glows green when danger is around. Unbeknownst to our family, Crites have laid eggs on the bottom of their vehicle. Everybody goes home, where we get to meet the wacky tenants of the apartment building: Marcia (Katherine Cortez), the maybe/maybe not lesbian phone repair tech; Rosalie (Diane Bellamy), the resident fat lady in curlers; Mrs. Menges (Frances Bay), the nice old lady upstairs, and her husband, Mr. Menges (Bill Zuckert), the nice old man who also readily believes in alien conspiracies. There is also the maintenance man, Frank (Geoffrey Blake), who is a seedy slimeball helping Mr. Briggs evict his tenants through questionable means. Mr. Briggs wants to vacate the building so he can build a mini-mall or something like that. The eggs hatch from underneath the family car, and lie in wait in the dark corners of the basement.

Part of the issues with this film are the lack of real characters. The apartment tenants are all caricatures: the fat lady wears curlers and likes to eat; the maintenance man is a creep; the old people....are old. The dad of the family, Cliff, is a candidate for worst dad of the year, as he refuses to discuss serious matters with his kids, and basically spends the film in a coma. The only time he does anything useful is near the end of the film. Aimee Brooks does a fine job as the daughter and hero of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't really accomplish anything to stand out, like one would expect, but he was still more useful in the film than the Cliff character. When you compare this film to the rest of the series that came prior, it appears that it was designed to be more family-friendly. There is blood, yes, but very little of it. The characters that meet a grisly demise are the characters that "deserve it".

The film attempts to be more of a comedy than a sci-fi/horror. There isn't a fright to be found in the movie, and the attempts at comedy come off very flat. One character spends half the film with their foot caught in a rope as they dangle just above the ground attempting to reach a phone booth. The plot is very pedestrian with very little of note really happening. The Crites are dangerous when they're chasing humans, but there isn't enough of that going on. The movie is more comfortable showing the Crites as little troublemakers, as they pig out on beans, douse themselves in flour and fart on each other. This is a very standard low-budget production. The marketing of the film led you to believe that the Crites would be loose in the big city, but instead everyone is confined to this single apartment building.

Any special effects in the film are kept to a minimum, showing the restraints of a low-budget. The Crites themselves appear to have regressed from their form in the original film. The only addition to their movements appear to be the ability to spin out and take off at high speed, like some cartoon character. However, you could say that the Crites appear to have more character than some of the humans.

Ultimately, Critters 3 is too inoffensive to be anything but just there, on the screen. It doesn't make any strides to be anything but a collection of set pieces with flat comedy and no scares. The only reason to really see this film is if you happen to be a Leonardo DiCaprio completist. It is certainly not the worst movie ever made, but there isn't really anything else to discuss about it.

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