Artisan // 1995 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 15th, 2003
Killer bee...killer bee...don't know the difference 'tween you and me!
In the tiny California enclave of Blossom Meadows, bees are a way of life. Local farmers rely on the little pollinators for healthy harvests. High schools and businesses love to brandish the adorable yellow and black color scheme. And lovers joyfully anoint each other's genitals with jars of the regional golden goo. So you can imagine that folks get mighty flustered when they learn that the incredibly pissed off Africanized version of their beneficial bumble are present and picking apart their prized passive creepy-crawly gene pool. It's not long before these angry bugs with an agenda start stinging the stink out of the indigenous population. Even a biracial Mulder and Scully show up to prove that the truth is out there, if only the "man" would let the "peeps" in on it. Especially hard hit by all this honey glazing is the Ingram family, who moved from the mean-spirits of metropolis to the supposed solace of a small hamlet. They hoped to avoid things like traffic, crime, noise, and Biblical swarms of insects. So naturally, the Dark Continent critters target these city slickers as their primary adversaries and make their relocated life a living apiary. As worked up workers and demented drones try to buzz bomb the bungling brood, the only escape seems to be in the form of a barn-to-basement crawlspace. But will the Ingrams make it in time, or will they simply "bee" more victims of this Deadly Invasion.
For the first 45 minutes of its running time, the made for television insecticide called Deadly Invasion actually works as a quirky, totally goofy exercise in butt syrup escapism. It's a movie that touts the terror of its "potentially" true story as bravely as it plays its scenes of bee mania completely straight. As yet another attempt at making the apiarist an action hero, most of what's on screen succeeds were so many other sugar coated catastrophes have failed. This 1995 wigged out wasp extravaganza features Robert Hayes looking particularly puffy, a pre-Reese Ryan Phillippe as the NASCAR equivalent of rough trade, and Dennis "Breaking Away Was how Long Ago?" Christopher playing the only bee expert in the nation who memorized Zen and the Art of Insect Bites in its entirety. Rockne S. O'Bannon, the mastermind behind such fan faves as Farscape and SeaQuest, DSV, brings a level of super solemn sci-fi self-parody to this genre staple, enlivening that which the likes of Irwin Allen and Freddie Francis had a hard time getting their barbed stingers around. Rock knows we're dealing with felonious flower sniffers and lets his demented spin doctoring direction rewrite the book on bug bedlam.
And let's face it, in the pantheon of possible dangers, getting stung to death by a hive of honked off pollen pushers ranks right up there with being eaten by some squirrels and being raped by a squid as a less than stressful death knell. The whole notion of a band of bumbles going ballistic all up in your sorry booty just starts the smile lines forming, and before long, you are giggling and snickering to thoughts of death via an excess of royal jelly. Had it kept its hairy compound eyes on the prize, this would be a campy creature feature filled with hilarious attack scenes and one of the most bizarre onscreen scenes of exposition (Mr. Christopher multi-minute monologue on the nature of the Africanized bee) ever committed to celluloid. But just like a tasty tray of baklava, the gooey goodness just can't last.
Where Deadly Invasion takes its unfortunate U-turn is toward the end, when Phillippe goes shotgun gonzo and shoots up a bunch of hives. This really scours the swarms' scent glands and before you know it, it's a veritable snowstorm of CGI composite shots. The whole family is forced into their poorly constructed and insulated prefab home and right before your very eyes, Deadly Invasion turns into a direct rip-off of The Birds, except without Hitchcock's attention to detail (or Rod Taylor's barrel chest). All the wonderful wackiness that started, the wicked ways that both Christopher and Hayes have of stylized scenery dissipates in the ever-present hum of bee bums. The movie moves directly into standard thriller territory and grows static and annoying. And when the precocious brat daughter gets gang stung while looking for her pet rabbit, the movie has implanted its venomous barb deep in the heart of its hilarity and just slinks off to die. The child's endless wheezing is mind numbingly grating and the family's reaction to her impending respiratory failure is not dramatic, but ditzy. One minute they're an organized force, fighting Mother Nature at her ass-arrowed insect worst; the next they are a gaggle of Henny Penny's with their sanity lopped off. By the time they're deep underground trying to maneuver through a tunnel more complicated than the ones used by the Viet Cong in 'Nam, Deadly Invasion is dead. It no longer holds your attention. You no longer care who lives and who dies. And when it tries to buy back some of that deliriously demented tone it started with, you start to wish you had an anal appendage filled with poison that you could ram into someone. Deadly Invasion had it right for half its running time, but then it went and let its invention crystallize and harden.
Something is up over at Artisan. This is yet another title reviewed that features less than zero when it comes to bonus features and DVD functionality. Deadly Invasion has always been a TV movie, so the 1.33:1 full screen image is no huge crime, and since it looks fairly good, with very little grain or pixel issues, it's actually the best part of the disc. But once you get past the pedestrian Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound that offers nothing exciting in the way of channel-to-channel challenge, the digital experience is over. There is no extra content here; no documentaries or featurettes, commentaries, or creative outlines. Heck, we don't even learn very much about bees. (Where's the mating cycle? The comb cross-section? The whole bumble hierarchy?) So one has to wonder, why release this movie on DVD at all? Why make something that looks and acts like a videotape transfer from 1984 and try to pawn it off as a brand new high tech toy? About the only way this movie passes as a digital versatile disc is that it will play in that new fangled machine on your entertainment unit. But nothing, not the image or the sound or the empty extras bin, mandates this title be taken as anything other than a swindle.
Deadly Invasion may have deserved better than the Edict correct creation at the hands of those hopeless hackneyed heroes over at Artisan, but it's hard to champion a movie that only gets it half right. The only lethal nightmare you'll experience is a nagging case of buyer's remorse. And the only place you'll be stung is in the wallet.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated