Sony // 2004 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // December 8th, 2004
Welcome to the bottom of the food chain.
What could be worse than African killer bees? How about Chinese snakehead fish? Evidence of the need for stricter import laws, Frankenfish chronicles what might happen if a voracious new species is deliberately mutated simply for sport. This SciFi Channel original motion picture offers plenty of mutant mayhem and a few scaly scares, all set in the backdrop of a bloody Louisiana bayou.
Medical examiner Sam Rivers (Tory Kittles) is summoned to the Louisiana swamps to investigate a homicide. During his visit, he's also asked to examine the remains of a fisherman who's been reduced to a bobbing torso. While the local sheriff thinks it could have been the work of a crocodile, Rivers disagrees, noting the remarkable depth of the bites. He teams up with biologist Mary Callahan (China Chow), and the two skiff their way to the fisherman's watery grave. They meet up with Elmer (Muse Watson), who knew the deceased and who leads the two investigators back to a makeshift houseboat community. After meeting locals, Rivers and Callahan also meet up with a super-sized mutant snakehead fish with big teeth and an even bigger appetite for humans. Where did it come from, though? How can it be stopped? And are there any others loose in the Louisiana waters?
The premise of Frankenfish is pretty good, though it certainly utilizes a plotted road well traveled. Knowing this, the production team needed to determine whether they would attempt to inject a new twist on the "marauding man-eater" formula or simply retread a well-worn tire to ensure a level of audience acceptance. They chose the latter. While we might, therefore, be generally satisfied with a parade of characters, some of whom will prevail and others who'll be sloshed into the waters like a bucket of chum, the pacing in this film is so uneven that it summarily sinks this barely buoyant thriller. The opening kill seems intriguing enough, and the graphic remains that are spilled across the screen certainly promise a picture with visceral bite. Unfortunately, we then get caught in an eddy of "character development and motivation" that elicits impatient drumming of the fingertips. When the carnage kicks into high gear (and there's really quite a bit of graphic goings-on here), it all comes so rapid-fire that we're left not really caring too much, largely because the on-screen characters seem to reconcile themselves to the vicious deaths of loved ones with confounding ease. If they don't seem to care, why should we? Frankenfish, then, emerges as yet another formulaic and flawed effort from the folks at the SciFi Channel. They attempt to boost this one by promoting the presence of Spawn director Mark Dippé at the helm of this fish tale -- but that really doesn't have much bearing on the final analysis.
The folks at Columbia Tristar hooked this sucker of a fish story and have presented it in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Technically, it looks pretty good, with decent contrast and detail, especially during the numerous night sequences. The color seemed a tad washed out, the blood not being as red as I'd prefer. There's a bit of noticeable edge enhancement that afflicts the early daylight sequences, too. The audio really gets into the spirit here -- in the wrong way -- by coming across as very murky. That is, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is big on score and sound effects, flooding and sinking much of the dialogue, most of which I had to strain to discern. The extras on the disc are a catch of trailers for other Columbia Tristar scare features, most of which have already bellied-up on DVD. (Just say "no" to Boa vs. Python.)
In regards to production value, there's plenty to look at that looks pretty good. Director of Photography Elliot Rockett provides some graceful and sweeping shots of the swamplands, and also manages to keep much of the nighttime and underwater sequences visually discernible. As for the mutant fish itself -- well, it's a CGI creation, of course. Thanks to some above-average lighting setups, it doesn't look as bad as the amateur graphics you may have seen in those deplorable Python pictures and, whether intentional or accidental, it's given a uniquely jerky gait that almost mimics a stop-motion effect. It's weird but also weirdly satisfying...sort of.
I mentioned gore, and the picture's R rating calls out such content; it doesn't disappoint. You'll see plenty of limb-ripping, head-chomping, and torso-tearing here. It's a mix of practical effects and some CGI bites and blood spills. It's graphic, that's for sure, so don't think this is a safe "TV movie" that you can spin for the youngsters. Oh, and there are several overdeveloped boobies bouncing around, bearing some of the biggest areolae I've seen in a long time. Put the kids to bed.
While you won't recognize any of the actors in the film, I found I had a bit of fun trying to determine which better-known celebrities this second-rate thespians might be doubles for. Tory Kittles looks strangely like the love child of Denzel Washington and Kobe Bryant (any female host would suffice). Donna Biscoe, as Gloria Crankton, resembles Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols. Matthew Raunch is the spitting image of a much younger Joe Piscopo, with a bit of Tim Curry around the corners of the mouth. Oh, and the fish seems to resemble a cross-breed between the prehistoric coelacanth from 1958's Monster on the Campus and the illustrated piranha seen on the one-sheet for Joe Dante's Piranha.
If you expect to see the same creature-on-the-loose chiller that's been done hundreds of time before, but done with much less impact as some of the better films of the sub-genre, you might find something entertaining here. If you're looking for much more than that, you should find yourself a different swamp for trolling.
This court sensed trouble at the mere mention of the title, Frankenfish. The folks at SciFi Channel are charged with contributing to the delinquency of the filmmakers, who were likely duped into believing this could become a satisfying monster movie. The effects team of Robert Hall's Almost Human, Inc. is free to go for giving us some decent, although poorly paced, chew-'em-up sequences. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R