Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bobby Miller's Critters Attack!

Cody checks out the latest Critters movie.

2019 is the year of the Crite. After lying dormant for twenty-seven years, the Critters franchise has been revived with two separate projects. Earlier this year we saw the Critters: A New Binge web series (which was more like a movie that was cut up into short episodes), and now comes the new 89 minute feature Critters Attack! After watching both of these, I'm still waiting to see a great new Critters movie that can live up to the first two films, or even the third. At least Critters Attack! is a step up from Critters 4.

If the ridiculous tone of A New Binge wasn't what you were looking for in a new Critters adventure, Critters Attack! should be more to your taste, as it's closer in tone to the original film, mixing humor with some dark, more serious moments. There's a little more blood and guts here than seen in previous Critters, which was enough to make Attack the first film in the franchise to earn an R rating. That's kind of odd when you take into account that production company Blue Ribbon Content made this in association with Syfy. Since airings on Syfy were something the project was aiming for from the start, I would have expected it to get a PG-13 like its predecessors.

The guts mainly come into play due to the fact that screenwriter Scott Lobdell added a new stage to the Crite gestation period that was lifted right out of Alien. Instead of hatching from eggs (leading to the Easter egg shenanigans of Critters 2), these Crites incubate in the mangled bellies of people their forebears have munched on. Eventually baby Crites launch themselves out of the guts of these victims, and then reach adult size immediately.

Lobdell also mixed some Gremlins into his story, which centers on a young woman named Drea (Tashiana Washington), who is hurting from the loss of her mother a couple years earlier and is desperately hoping to attend Leroy University, the school her mother went to. In an attempt to win over a professor who is on the board of admissions, Drea agrees to babysit the woman's two children, tween Trissy (Ava Preston) and 9-year-old Jake (Jake Fulton), who only communicates through text. Drea's brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel) tags along on the job because he has a crush on Trissy, which seemed inappropriate to me at first because I didn't realize the Phillip character was only supposed to be 12. Noel looks several years older than that. Fulton left 9 behind years ago, too.

Drea takes the kids to the park, where they discover a different kind of Crite than we've ever seen before. A cuddly white female Crite. The Gizmo of Crites. The kids quickly take a liking to this creature and name it Bianca. Unfortunately, Bianca isn't the only Crite rolling around in their town, and the other ones are the ravenously hungry little monsters we know from the previous films. While eating anything that crosses their paths, the Crites focus on going after Drea and the kids under her care because they have Bianca. Phillip is obsessed with aliens, is always telling people that they do exist. Now here is proof that the people around him will finally believe.

The best thing Critters Attack! has going for it are the Crites themselves. The creatures are once again brought to the screen through the use of puppets, and while some fans don't like the nostrils on these particular puppets I thought they looked great for the most part. The Bianca puppet is more funny looking than convincing, but that kind of adds to her cuteness. It's tough for a Crite to be cute.

The major drawing point other than the chance to see Crites again is the return of genre icon Dee Wallace to the Critters franchise, but fans of the original film shouldn't expect too much out of her character. While Wallace had it in mind that she was playing her character from the first movie, Helen Brown, there's no indication of that being the case within the film itself. She is called Aunt Dee and is this movie's version of the traditional Critters bounty hunters - she even refers to herself as a bounty hunter. Wallace's presence here is purely fan service, as her character would be forgettable if it were played by anyone else. She isn't given much to do except stalk around carrying a big gun and use her Crite knowledge to provide some exposition. Some of that exposition could have been handled by the Crites themselves, but Critters Attack! doesn't have them speaking to each other in their own subtitled language. A New Binge had them speaking constantly, and this one takes the opposite approach.

While Wallace gets a glorified cameo, the film's focus is on Drea and the kids, and the actors all did fine work bringing their characters to life even if they don't all look the right age. The standout for me was Tashiana Washington as Drea. She's funny and has a likeable screen presence, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if she goes on to have a solid career. Alex Jeaven earns her first screen acting credit as Drea's friend Mandy, and also made a positive impression.

One questionable thing about the acting is how subdued the characters' reactions are to the horror going on around them, and I don't think the cast is to blame for that. This must have been a choice made by director Bobby Miller, as everyone is surprisingly chill across the board.

This leads into the biggest problem with Critters Attack!, which is that it lacks energy. It's a movie that always feels like it's falling just short of its potential. It has cool scenes involving the Crites, but it feels flat, there's no life to these moments. Everything is very low-key, like the movie is holding back. Every time there's a moment that should get the viewer hyped up - Crite vs. Crite, or a sushi chef taking on Crites with his blades - it quickly sputters out. I don't know if that's a sign of the budgetary limitations, if it's the way the movie was shot and cut together, or both. Most of the Crite action isn't exciting.

Because of that, the movie sometimes feels like it's just plodding along, and I end up feeling underwhelmed even though it tells a serviceable story, strikes the right tone, and features terrific Crite puppets. There's so much right about this, I'm conflicted. It's not a bad entry in the Critters franchise, but it's just sort of there on the screen. I'm glad to have another movie with Crites in it. Maybe next time they can liven things up a bit and we can get another awesome movie with Crites in it.

This review originally appeared on

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