The City's rat race just got deadly
While shopping for pedal pushers at an upper crust Toronto…oops! Sorry, MANHATTAN department store, a skanky bulimic model type (no, it is not Christina Aguilera) gets an infected nibble on her finger by a super intelligent mouse. (Poor kid, she had just figured out her WonderBra™). Since the annual Cat Lover's sale is right around the corner, the manager of Not Macys decides that PR wunderkind Susan is the best person to handle massive rat slaughtering. Apparently she minored in rodentology at trade school. Perusing the Yellow Pages for possible action hero love interests, she hires Jack Carver, master of mouse espionage, who proceeds to break out the black lights and show her the huge amount of urine and feces that surrounds the store displays. And then they talk about the rat problem. While doing a little urban spelunking, our intrepid team of pestbusters discovers a hidden kingdom of super rats under the streets of Montreal…oops, sorry, downtown NYC. Apparently, a rogue research lab went bust and left the poor parasites to take turns starving. And now they're mad. Mean mad. The mixed-up meddling mice decide to take swimming lessons, torment and tease a toe headed little girl, and hop the A-train for some subway surfing. Since his original plan of using leftover roach motels now seems impractical, Jack must devise a better means of sending these unlicensed louses back to KFC where they belong. And he better hurry, because the prissy little pests are anxious to head out to Times Square and give that fancy pants Mickey what for.
Joe Bob Briggs, that demented denizen of the drive-in, uses a term in his reviews that needs to be co-opted and applied here. It accurately and fully describes the delirious dementia that makes The Rats so deliciously fromagey. When discussing any object, be it inanimate or animalistic, that is used in an aggressive manner against a film's protagonists, J.B.B. applies a simple suffix to the end. Fu. As in Kung Fu. The Rats is full to the aerosol spray cheese can nozzle with loads of unbelievable "rat fu." Indeed, this is a movie that is, for the most part, wall to wall rat fu. Rats leap, rats fight and kickbox, rats chew huge holes in metal objects, and rats bite the Welsh rarebit out of people. Now, in the cinematic pleasantry pecking order, rats and rodents are second only to monkeys for adding untold amounts of misplaced, mischievous happiness to a movie. And most meeces look like the pampered pets of people who read Anne Rice, not menacing malicious mice of hate! Try as they may, The Rats wants to make vermin vicious. But they only succeed in making them wonderfully ludicrous. It is the moments of rodent goodness that really makes this movie a big ole hunk of stinky but appetizing Roquefort. We get to see fountains of rats, rat waterfalls, mounds of rats, rats running, and trillions of CGI critters in epic Spartacus style set-ups. But the best part by far has got to be the entire sequence of rat and rodent synchronized swimming. Yep, rats see a bunch of over privileged Canadian…sorry, New York brownstone brats and decide there has been enough kids swim for one night. So it's time for the vermin version of the dead man's float as hordes of the plague players invade the pool ala Caddyshack. And they even resemble the "Jaws" from that classic film. As the mice do Marc Spitz, the breast stroking beasties look like locomotive poos. Especially in the overhead CGI shot where the pool seems inundated with hundreds of hungry, hairy bowel movements, all moving toward the terrified tots. It's been said that a public swimming pool is nothing more than a big group wading toilet, but this is taking things a bit too far.
Everything about The Rats is corny and cheesebally. Vincent Spano plays a walking encyclopedia on all manner of rat trivia, statistics, and personal behavior ("Did you know rats are permanently incontinent?"). It's like he was married to one before. Anytime someone says, "You mean rats can…" Vince is ready with a furball factoid. For example, say someone thinks out loud "You mean rats have read the collective works of Salman Rushdie?" Spano's comeback will be "Why yes, many species of the rodententia causipanicus have been known to enjoy the magic realism of Mr. Rushdie's work while they are gnawing down their teeth." Madchen Amick, wondering why David Lynch keeps forgetting her phone number, imbues her character Susan with too much misplaced professionalism. You get the idea that if she just had a few moments with the mice, she would offer them a complimentary gift basket of cologne, frilly underthings, and a playing card with peanut butter smeared on it, and our fuzzy frighteners would simple scurry away, satisfied. Even Daveigh Chase, playing Susan's daughter Amy, can't quite hide the fact that, while these miscreant mice are supposed to be the scariest thing since a bearded Brad Pitt, she thinks they're cute as a button (it's written in her wrinkled, pug nose). Let's face it, you have to appreciate a film that determines that the best way to rid Ontario…oops, sorry, New YORK of its rat problem is to stink up the sewers with ragweed perfume, and then lure the unlucky lice bags back to the scene of their swimming hijinks for a little concussion bomb frappe. Apparently, Hamelin's Pied Piper was out on a service call.
Since this was a made for TV movie from Fox, one would expect a full screen nightmare image with a transfer as compressed as a pile of rat pellets. But surprisingly, we get a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that is very good, if not a tad murky (sure, the movie takes place in some dark and dank places, but you'd swear some of the locales are underwater the light is so diffused). There is no artifacting, some really obvious edge enhancement, and a small amount of haloing, but no real other image issues. And with the massive amount of CGI used, that is a plus. Sonically, The Rats is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (apparently the extra 0.1 would put the DVD over budget), which sounds pretty good. Most of the immersion exists in the street and sewer scenes when cars and the noises of little rat feet scuttling shuffle from speaker to speaker, kind of. When Fox was filming the movie, the cable channel Animal Planet stopped by to do a piece on the new career for the next century—rat wrangling! This eight minute puff piece is included here, along with trailers for some odd offerings seemingly unrelated to a film about manic mice (From Hell? Phantom Of The Paradise?) So what if it's poorly paced at times. So what if occasionally the rats look like computer enhanced potatoes rolling across the screen. So what if Vincent Spano is turning from once-stud to bear barreled polka paunch, The Rats is hilarious, irreverent fun. Any movie featuring a rat leaping from a toilet to attack, or a sloppy building superintendent delivering a soliloquy on animal rights to his menagerie of pets, ranks up there with one of the campy creature classics of all time.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2002 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.