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Case Number 03695

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Rodentz

Artisan // 2001 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // December 11th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Hide the cheese…

Opening Statement

When I saw the title Rodentz and noticed the DVD was supplied by Artisan, I feared the worst: that this movie was helmed by phonetically challenged DVD Verdict darling Dale Resteghini. If that were the case, I would have to steel myself for incoherent posturing, copious amounts of cheese, interminable boredom, and an indecipherable plot. The good news is that "Rage" had nothing to do with Rodentz. The bad newz is that I failed to steel myself for the incoherent posturing, copious amounts of cheese, interminable boredom, and indecipherable plot.

You might have missed Rodentz in the theater, but perhaps not: it is also known as Altered Species. Perhaps they changed the title to divert bad press. Reviewers secretly savor movies like Rodentz because we know they will suck, and it is human nature to enjoy a good roast. But Rodentz doesn't have the decency to offer up good sport. It is bad, yes, but dull in a disingenuous manner that drains good cheer from those who watch it. When a bad movie fails to be "bad but oddly humorous in spite of itself," it is no longer a bad movie. It is worse.

Facts of the Case

In a run-down laboratory, a scientist and his protégé are conducting radical experiments on innocent lab rats. Their experimental toxin gets released into the drain pipes, and the local rodents slurp it up like it was cheeze whiz. The furry patrons gain psychic powers, uncontrollable homicidal impulses, and the remarkable ability to coordinate their attacks with one another. Unaware that the lab is run amok, the professor injects a particularly foul-tempered rat with a super dose of the serum. This causes the rat to break out of her cage and metamorphosize into a guy in a rat suit.

The timing is unfortunate, because a van full of partying teenagers decides to pay the geeky/hunky lab assistant a visit. They arrive just in time to trip over the rotting corpses of the janitor, the professor, and the cat. Will any of the teens survive to confront the rat king in a final bloody showdown?

The Evidence

To call the plot paper-thin would be an insult to processed wood pulp. Every horror cliché is employed in Rodentz. Yet somehow, writer/director Miles Feldman seems to lack proper understanding of the fundamental nature of the clichés employed. This is minutely humorous, such as when lone teens run downstairs for no apparent reason. When these unfortunate victims spy the psychorats, they invariably stand still or lie down to wait for the rats to catch up to them…whereupon the rats mill around watching CGI blood splatters emit from the victims.

The actions and words of the actorz defy explanation. People say stuff, and then other people say unrelated stuff. Then they all run around (in no discernable pattern) until they meet untimely deaths.

GUY: "Hey, let us have {pause} some…sex now. Okay?"
GAL: "Giggle! Come catch me! {kiss, fondle} No wait we can not have sex right…now?
GUY: "Darn!"
{ten seconds pass}
GAL: "So are we going. To have sex or not?"
GUY: "Whoopee!"
{Guy goes into van to look for condoms. Girl inexplicably wanders off into the bushes. Rats jump up and devour them both.}

There is a real problem with pacing. Not run-of-the-mill pacing problems, mind you, but "souped-up 200 pound rat" sized pacing problems. Much of the movie consists of the actors searching, meandering, or running back and forth screaming through empty hallways. The camera dutifully follows each actor through the hallway, as though the act of walking down the hallway is somehow important. But nothing of substance occurs in these hallway excursions. Thus, we must conclude that the director does not understand the purpose of the cut, else he believes his audience will be confused if the actors begin in the lab but magically appear somewhere else. Trust me, people will understand that the characters walked from one end of the hall to the other. You don't need to show us.

In other scenes, the time continuum is somehow accelerated. For instance, the janitor whips out a flask, drinks, walks two steps, and is drunk off his ass. Rats somehow advance entire floors in seconds. The main rat monster goes from four inches to five foot four in approximately two hours.

What makes this whole affair truly stink is the transparent craftsmanship. Let's see…they took footage of some rats crawling on pipes and cut it into five different scenes. When an attack is eminent, the rat cages shudder violently; never mind that the rats are sitting perfectly still. We can practically see the hand shaking the cages. The "serum" is simply highlighter fluid under black light. The rodentz are either rubber fakes, CGI, or man-in-a-rat-suit depending on the take.

In the climactic showdown, the Mystery Machine gets blown up in an orgy of fire and crumpled metal. They pulled the same "take footage once but use it multiple times" trick, but stuck the footage in sequence. How many roofs does that van have? The first one blew off, and then another one followed. The hulking shell of the van burned awhile, then there was another explosion and a few more van roofs somehow blew up. Was the van full of corrugated roof panels by any chance? Were six identical vans parked next to each other?

Let's talk video. The film was probably shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but here we get a cropped full screen image. If the studio offers me a chopped image, I offer a chopped video score in the review. Hence, out of a possible 50, the movie scores a 40 for visual quality. Not bad under the circumstances. There is a healthy amount of grain, moderate edge enhancement, and awful special effects. Otherwise, the colors are crisp, black levels solid. If only the cameraman hadn't developed delirium tremens during the attack scenes!

The audio is not up to par. The soundtrack contains an amusing mix of on-scene recording and overdubbing. Thus, some conversations echo dully from poor environmental acoustics, while other conversations have the artificial flatness of the sound studio (reasonably synched with what is happening onscreen). Pick one style and stick with it! The music sounds like someone randomly hitting low notes on a synthesizer.

The first line spoken in the commentary track clears up many things about Rodentz: "Hi everybody, I guess…ummm…this is Miles Feldman?" The writer/director isn't even sure of his own name, thus explaining the uncertainty that plagues the rest of the production. Seriously, this commentary track is putrid. The assembled commentators seem unaware that their role is to comment on the movie. We are treated to long periods of silence punctuated by the occasional muffled laugh. When someone makes a comment, the rest of the people say things like "yeah" or "that's cool." They even flub the self-indulgent back patting that peppers most commentary tracks: "That guy was…pretty good, I guess." The technical commentary consists of gems like: "{silence}…Here's an establishing shot…{more silence}…okay, here's another establishing shot." The main thrust of the commentary is that rats don't photograph very well. Then why did you make a freaking rat movie? It's hard to believe, but this commentary makes me wish I was watching the movie instead.

Closing Statement

There are probably elements of Rodentz that I failed to critique, but I no longer care. If only the filmmakers had followed their own tagline, "Hide the cheese…" The cheese is in full view, and it stinks to boot.

The Verdict

No rat trap can kill this wretch. Whip out the big guns and take this mother out!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 40
Audio: 45
Extras: 20
Acting: 25
Story: 9
Judgment: 17

Special Commendations

• Bottom 100 Discs: #64

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Bad
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Director (and Random Friends) Commentary Track

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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