When I sat down to watch Locusts during its premiere as a CBS Sunday Night Movie, I little expected to be genuinely terrified. Nonetheless, to my vast surprise and horror, I found myself experiencing an inescapable fear and loathing while being bombarded with endless, unbearable images of a ravenously insatiable, gargantuan, apparently unstoppable biological mass.
I speak, of course, of Rosie O’Donnell, whose mug appeared during every single commercial break as the network incessantly flogged a telefilm of hers that was slated to appear the following week. In comparison, our subject of inquiry was able to generate comparatively little frisson.
Locusts was the second of two goofy animal-themed disaster movies the network broadcast following the success of their earlier Day of Disaster. The first was Spring Break Shark Attack, as discussed here. These films were probably designed to not only bring hopefully high ratings, but to attract a younger male demographic than most of the network’s fare. CBS was for a long time known as the network for the elderly set, with older-skewing shows like Murder She Wrote and Touched by an Angel.
In recent years, though, the network has turned much of that around, due to the success of reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race (which explains why the latter was consistently brought back despite initial low ratings-the viewer demographics were attractive), not to mention the recent slate of CSI spin-offs and knock-offs. CBS, like ABC, has of the last several years made a surge in the ratings, and now it’s the once mighty but currently Must See TV-less NBC that is taking a beating. Even Fox is beating NBC, due to American Idol and the surprise hit House.
Spring Break Shark Attack got serviceable but unspectacular ratings, so we’ll have to see how Locusts did before being able to guess how likely it will be for CBS to continue putting on such cheesy fare.
The preview before the movie of course works as a mini-version of the movie. (Although one particularly funny shot, of a farmer blasting the billion-insect swarm with a shotgun, failed to appear in the film, despite the fact that it was featured in all the commercials over the several weeks before.) If you couldn’t see the film, you could watch the preview and pretty much get a sense of where the movie would be going.
We open in a US Department of Agriculture research lab in Virginia, where an attractive college-aged female intern (or something)-a bone tossed to the WB demographic-is introduced, leading her apparent boyfriend around the facility. They enter a room, and her beau is shocked by a large observation chamber containing a huge mass of CGI locusts.
The Young Woman enters a connected chamber with a plant to feed to the locusts. For some reason (IITS, or It’s In The Script, for novice Jabootuites), the woman declines to don a nearby protective suit. “Please!” she scoffs. “They’re grasshoppers, not tarantulas.” So saying, she slides open the door to the man containment area, and places the plant inside. This set-up doesn’t really seem like it would keep at least some of the locusts from escaping-there’s nothing to keep the locusts from entering the secondary chamber when that door is open, and then escaping when the main door is used-but what do I know?
So she brings the plant in, and then stands there, and then starts freaking out when the thousands of locusts start flying around and bumping into her. This is played like a classic horror movie sequence, as she flails around while her boyfriend stands helplessly outside. (Because, you see, he doesn’t have the key code to open the outer door.)
In the end, she gets out and she’s completely unscathed, which seems like a bit of a cop-out. On the Sci-Fi Channel, where you usually see stuff like this, she’d have been stripped to the bone by the voracious insects. Here, she just seems like a big-mouthed contestant who panics during a stunt on Fear Factor. In fact, I can only imagine how annoyed Liz Kingsley will be when she sees the movie, what with the girl’s ‘Oh, icky!’ behavior and inevitable shriek of “They’re in my hair!”
Cue credits, with ominous sci-fi music and close-up shots of locusts, which really aren’t that scary looking, even for a bugophobic individual like myself. Basically, the girl was right. They are, when all is said and done, pretty much grasshoppers.
In Washington, we meet Our Heroine Maddy Rierdon, as played by Xena star Lucy Lawless. Throughout the scene we get several shots of her in her bra for a little ‘sex.’ Answering the phone, she learns that the lab we just left has been “red-flagged by the GAO.” Despite this, the work being done there is classified. An official at the USDA, Maddy decides to take a trip to the nearby facility and see what’s going on.
Keeping the clichÃˆs coming, we learn that Maddy and her beefcake husband are having-duh-relationship issues. Of course they are, because the people who make disaster movie think that such problems are what humanize the characters and keep us interested. (Which is false; we just want to see a batch of gruesome deaths and some mass destruction.) For what it’s worth, Dan’s complaint is that Maddy is more involved in her work than their marriage, blah blah. Gee, that’s fresh*.
[*The sad thing is that, given the general state of TV scripting, the writers may have thought it was daringly novel to have the careerist partner be the wife. Yeah, wow, you’re blowing my squaresville mind, dude.]
After several minutes of this, which naturally is used to provide unwieldy chucks of exposition, “We both knew what it meant when I accepted the post of Undersecretary of Agriculture” she mewls; “Right, and I could be heading up the UN famine relief services right now, but I’m not, because we’re both supposed to slow down, maybe start a family…” Dan pouts. Gee, famine relief, that plays right into the locusts thing, coincidentally enough. Rule Number One of a Disaster Movie-everyone is connected.
Soon the scene is underlined with Exaggeratedly Treacly Sad-Story-On-Oprah Music, which will be heard all too often later in the movie. Eventually, the chords start inspiring laughter rather than empathy, as they sound like the music from a Mad TV parody of A Very Special Episode of something.
Maddy meets her assistant Vivian outside the Research Lab, where they discuss the Mystery of the Classified Project. Inside, Maddy meets up with the facility’s head, Dr. Peter Axlerod, who amazingly was Maddy’s mentor (Everyone is Connected) on her field specialty, voracious insects. At her request, readily shows her the classified project, which involves bioengineering super-locusts.
You could pretty much write this scene yourself. After hearing of their various super-properties (all the standard stuff; they are immune to all known pesticides, breed incredibly quickly, live longer, fly incredibly fast, eat a whole lot, etc.) a righteous Maddy inevitably yells, “What you’ve created here is a bio-weapon!” Then, as if the ClichÃˆ-O-Meter reading wasn’t high enough, she actually says, “You screw with Nature, and Nature will screw with you!” She orders the locusts destroyed, and fires the befuddled Axelrod for working on an unauthorized side project.
None of this makes much sense. The implication is that the military was funding the covert project, but why would they have a purportedly classified, black op project conducted in a facility over which a civilian branch has operational control? Maddy just walks in an in a couple of minutes orders the locust destroyed. Wouldn’t you want to avoid that sort of situation?
Also, and I’ve noted this before when reviewing these things, in the real world military technology actually is moving towards weapons that are increasingly precise. Therefore I find it amusing that these films always posit them developing weapons that would be innately and utterly uncontrollable. “If you release these things, they could devour a continent!” Maddy notes. Exactly, and what entire continent would the military be thinking of wiping out? None of them seem to spring to mind.
And then there’s the classic question, of how would you keep the locusts from spreading once you’d presumably released them to destroy an enemy’s feed crops? This goes back at least as far as Joe Dante’s Piranha (which at least was meant as a satire), in which the issue was how do you control a killer species just dumped into a river system? Perhaps the funniest example of this was Italy’s Devil Fish, in which a scientist created a self-replicating sea monster species so that he could “control the world’s oceans.” Uh, yeah, I can see how filling the oceans with an infinite number of sea monsters would do the job.
The only thing I can give them is that Axelrod isn’t an Evil or Hubristic Mad Scientist so much as a “Man, I guess I didn’t think that through” one. I assume this means that he will die a Redemptive Death later in the movie, rather than an Ironically Killed By His Own Creation one. (By which I mean he’ll die because of the locusts, but while attempting to do something good, and not in the act or attempting to control them or something equally malign.)
Since Axelrod doesn’t have any malign intent for the locusts, you might wonder why he bothered creating them. His answer, of course, is largely, “It’s Science!”, followed by the obligatory “and what if this research [somehow-how you get all the way from here to there is never explained] on super-locusts were to be used to, uh, you know, cure all human disease and other such bad stuff.”
Hmm, I’m spending way too much time on this. Let’s go to bullets:
Maddy has the locusts destroyed. To my vast amusement, this involves sending a guy with a flamethrower into the locust chamber (!) and torching them. I know pesticides don’t kill them, but couldn’t you have sucked the air out of the chamber? I mean, they must have had an emergency protocol for destroying the locusts if they had too, you think.
Unknown to Maddy, some of the locusts are saved by a Military SpOOk who is not only Eee-vil but also laughably inept. First, he accidentally drops some of the locusts down a sink drain (!), and we see them fly out of a nearby sewer grate. Bum bum bum!
Then, later, after reaching California, the sample case with this Top Secret experiment is allowed to fall from a jeep to the ground and be run over by a cargo truck (!!!!). This occurs when the jeep driver case is hit by a locust (huh-how did one of them get all the way out there?!!). The funniest construction you can put on this is that the locust intentionally dive-bombed the guy in order to help free his imprisoned brothers. In fact, despite the fact that this is utterly retarded, it’s hard to read it any other way. What, in the entire country it just happened to fly into that one guy’s face?
Furthermore, the bottled locusts then hilariously survive the case being trampled by this multi-ton vehicle, and escape. Now locusts are loose on both coasts, setting up a Grain Belt sandwich.
Maddy returns home. Cue Treacle Music, and a several minute-long reiteration of the “Our marriage is in trouble” argument. Twice in 12 minutes, yeah, I think we get it. In the middle of this, Maddy says she has to leave to catch a plane. “I’ve got another dead pigeon with West Nile in Napa.” Man, who knew the Undersecretary of the Agriculture Department had to put out so many fires? Dan replies that he’s leaving her for a while.
We move forward a month. Maddy is still in the Napa Valley, presumably dealing with that West Nile thing, although the segue immediately cuts to her in her motel room. She’s taking a pregnancy test (yep, it’s that out of the blue), and before you can say, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, please, not this,” she learns to her dismay she’s expecting.
Cut to Dan leading some Africans-we can tell, they’re wearing dashikis-on a tour of a greenhouse as he pushes some UN approved feed seed or some other thing we couldn’t possible care about. I know I harp on this kind of thing all the time, but that’s because you keep on seeing it over and over: Why do films like this constantly show the U.S. military to be both incredible malign and stupid, while playing kissy-face with the UN? Was it our military that was taking billions in bribes from Saddam Hussein while his people starved? Whose ‘peacekeepers’ raped and prostituted children under their protection by the thousands? That set up safety zones for refugees and then stood aside and let them be slaughtered while they stood there doing nothing? Gaak.
Maddy calls Dan during this, but can’t bring herself to tell him about the baby after he immediately starts jumping down her throat. Cue both The Argument and the Treacle Music for the third time in roughly fifteen minutes. Yep, that’s what I signed on for when I sat down to watch a movie called Locusts.
Dan refuses to talk right now, although he’s the one that’s been complaining about state of their relationship, and that they haven’t seen each other for a month. Why don’t they talk? Because he’d learn about the baby, and then the situation couldn’t be used for further ‘dramatic conflict.’
Meanwhile, one African talks African to the other Africans, noting (via subtitle), “The Americans know much about farming, but they know very little about women.” The other Africans laugh. That’s probably not sexist or racist, but it’s not very funny, either.
Rebuffed, Maddy calls her Dad in Indiana with the news. He’s an old-fashioned family farmer (hmm, how could that be worked into the movie later?) played by Professional Dad Actor Mike Farrell, who naturally provides a Mike Farrell performance.
We get another Traditional Horror Scene, where a couple preparing to have sex in a tent suddenly find themselves awash in locusts. However, at this point the bugs still aren’t a direct danger to people yet, so as with the opening scene, it involves people screaming because they don’t like bugs and emerging unhurt. Man, my heart can hardly take it.
The locusts swarm for the first time, attacking a Napa Valley farm, allowing for the first CGI swarm effect. Luckily, and I mean luckily, Maddy is running down that West Nile thing from a nearby mobile VORACIOUS INSECT MOBILE RESEARCH LAB, i.e., a mobile home with magical TV science gear.
More soap opera stuff with the disillusioned, unemployed Axlerod yet lazing about his house, to the dismay of his wife, who’s loving but worried about money. Oh, and they also have (uh oh) a beautiful young daughter named Sofia, who’s maybe ten or twelve.
Axelrod is driving in his car when he comes across the East Coast swarm. (Amazing that he and Maddy, three thousand miles apart, just happen to drive right by the two insect masses, discovering each of them before anyone else. That’s quite a coincidence, I’d say.) I guess the continent-divided bug hoards have decided to launch their first public attacks right on the same morning.
Having discovered the swarm in a field, Axelrod returns to his car and follows them when they fly off. In a rather glaring continuity error, his windshield here is covered with locust guts, despite the fact that he hasn’t driven through them yet.
The locusts swarm Sofia’s school bus (everyone’s connected), although I’m not sure why, as they are still fields of plants everywhere about. The bus driver orders the windows closed, but he forgets the ceiling vents, and the marauding (well, not really) bugs get in. Again, there’s a lot of screaming, although again the locusts are not actually hurting anyone. However, pathos is assured when a panicking Sofia smacks her head while flailing about and falls unconscious to the floor. For what it’s worth, the CGI effects here are pretty decent.
Meanwhile, Axelrod arrives, and we notice that his windshield is at first clean, because it’s here that it supposedly gets sullied. He grabs that all-purpose sci-fi movie tool, the fire extinguisher (if you have one of those and a flare gun, you’re all set), since he just happened to have a full-sized model in his station wagon [!!], and repels the insects. Well, a couple of dozen of them, anyway. He enters the bus and cradles his inert daughter. Way to shake her spine all over the place, Brainiac.
Back in Napa, Maddy is investigating a devastated grape farm, or whatever you call them. Oddly, the presumably voracious bugs failed to munch on the tall grass and other plants that are all over the place. Choosy eaters, I guess.
Meanwhile, Dan has noticed a Locust Infestation Advisory and calls Maddy. He takes the opportunity to apologize, but then Maddy has to hang up to take a call from “the Secretary of Agriculture.” Wouldn’t her staff call whoever this is by their name? It’s not like the guy (or gal, as may be) is the President. Anyway, this timely phone interruption serves to keep the couple from getting their issues resolved too early in the proceedings.
Cut to Sofia in the hospital, where we learn she’s in a coma. Meanwhile, Axelrod is calling the National Weather Service in Oklahoma, trying to get info to predict where the locusts will be heading.
I’ll give the film this; Maddy approves the use of the standard pesticides, noting that the alternative use of fire to burn the locusts out “could get of hand.” Considering that most movies like this find chemicals all yucky and stuff, this was actually sort of unexpected.
Maddy calls the Weather Service, too, and learns that her contact there had just spoken to Axelrod. (Everyone is connected.) I guess there are fewer people at the Weather Service than I might have imagined.
We cut to a small town Citrus Festival. “There’s enough for everyone,” Stereotypical Farmer notes as he hands out fresh orange juice. “Bumper crop this year.” Gee, what could this be setting up?
Lots of families are there, including a schmo who has his kids for the weekend and ‘comically’ badmouths their step-dad. Ha, he’s divorced and hates having another man assume responsibility for his children. There’s the stuff of comedy.
Axelrod calls Maddy, confirms that the locusts are his breed, and offers his help. Maddy shoots him down and tells him to stay out of it. I get that she’s all morally pure and stuff, but this guy created these insects. She should be begging for his assistance. There’s enough time to beat on the guy after the situation is dealt with. Frankly, I didn’t think this made her look all that good.
As she blows Axelrod off, the driver of the Mobile Lab points out *gasp* the Citrus Festival, which they are just now driving past. (Everyone is connected.) Since it’s proximity to her, one of the film’s main characters, indicates that something will soon be happening there, she orders the lab to pull over.
She orders her team to evacuate the festival, apparently under her authority as a member of the Department of Agriculture. She flashes a badge at the Farmer and he complies with her orders. Does every federal official wield that sort of power? Damn, I’m not sure I like that.
Loser Dad is on a ladder picking oranges, which he tosses down to his sons, when the locusts hit. He falls and later is seen in a neck brace. It’s ‘funny.’
Maddy tries to organize the panicked attendees after the locusts hit. “They’re in my air,” one lady screams. Oh, the humanity.
There’s a whole boring subplot about two women who work in a Pittsburgh office building and talk about guys and stuff. “He is all that!” one drools about a coworker. “And a bag of chips!” the other agrees. Isn’t that slang like five years out of date? Later, one accuses the other of dressing like a “hoochie mama.” If this keeps up, they might begin tossing around zingers referencing the Lincoln/Douglas debates.
Anyway, their office will eventually be besieged when the locusts attack the city. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on their scenes, but they’re pretty much just filler.
Axelrod calls his buddy at the National Weather Service, only to learn that Maddy has apparently ordered the guy not to talk to him. Uh, can an official at the USDA order someone at the National Weather Service not to provide weather information? Isn’t that their job? Do you need clearance to get weather updates? And again, exactly what is Maddy achieving by sticking her thumb in Axelrod’s eye this way?
Cut to two pilots approaching a cargo plane and exchanging some painfully written ‘jocular’ banter with the grounds crew. Gee, I wonder where this could be going.
In the office, the staff notices the huge swarm of locusts approaching the city. Again, the special effects aren’t bad. Soon the bugs hit the city. One office guy quotes the Bible about the plague of locusts in Egypt. I could buy this, but several times during the remaining part of the movie, somebody will quote the Bible or mention God in an unconvincing manner. It’s kind of weird.
Axelrod calls the airport control tower, but the supervisor unsurprisingly doesn’t buy his story about locusts. The aforementioned plane takes off, flies into the swarm, and sucks several thousand bugs into the engines and crashes. Ooops!
The bugs invade the office. Again, there’s lot of yelling, but no actual danger.
Axelrod goes back to the hospital, and confesses to his wife that he created the marauding locusts. She’s a little pissed off, especially given that their daughter is in a coma and everything. Then federal agents come and take Axelrod away.
Soon a taskforce is meeting at the Department of Homeland Security Headquarters in Washington. Maddy is part of it, and there are members of the military there, of course. These are portrayed throughout as madmen who lust to kill the locusts (which were secretly created at their behest, remember) with a powerful nerve agent that would also kill 10% of the U.S. population. (!!) Of course, in the end only Maddy will stand against them.
There’s also a lady there who is clumsy. Why do they cut to her for no apparent reason? More on that later.
The Main Military Guy, the Eee-vil General Miller, uses the meeting to cast blame at Maddy and the USDA for the locust problem, obviously attempting to cover up the actual guilt of, that’s right, the Eee-vil Military.
Suddenly Dan enters the meeting, presumably as a UN liaison. (Yeah, that fills me with confidence.) What a coincidence. Everyone is connected. Despite the fact that they are still married, the two seek to hide their personal connection (?) from the rest of the taskforce. Uhm, OK.
Maddy notes that if the two swarms meet in the nation’s heartland, they will devour the grain belt and “become unstoppable.” One committee member, a Senator, starts quoting the Bible about the Apocalypse. I guess that’s because people in show business know that everyone who works with or for the Bush administration is a crazy-eyed Bible freak.
Dan advises having the American Farmer bring in their crops now, before the locusts hit. “We’ll loose billions,” Senator Bible Freak objects. “What will we loose if we don’t bring in the crops early?” he coolly replies. Oh, yeah. The locusts. Right.
Cut to Mrs. Axelrod in Sofia’s hospital room. “According to one observer,” a news report blares, “it was as if the hand of God had blotted out the sky.” Would you really be listening to that while your daughter was in a coma? Meanwhile, apparently real news footage of mammoth multi-car crashes and tornado damage is used to illustrate the locusts’ effect. Man, that’s just distasteful.
Since danger to much of the world’s food supply might seem a little abstract as a dramatic device, the swarm is now seen attacking a heart of sheep. (In a field surrounded by grass and trees. Hmm, that’s weird.) Learning of this, Maddy explains that when lacking food-which these bugs weren’t-locusts can turn cannibalistic. From this I guess they didn’t think there was much of a leap to the bugs attacking other species instead. Obviously now people will be directly endangered.
The politicians and the military start tossing blame around. Maddy, of course, is above it all. “Isn’t this bigger than your job or mine,” she sniffs. When a solution is demanded of her, she says, “The answer lies with Peter Axelrod.” Gee, too bad you didn’t think of that when he called you begging to be of assistance and you blew him off. Now, however, Axelrod is being held by the FBI and/or the Military (the film doesn’t seem to know the difference) and being interrogated.
Maddy, sensing the truth about Axelrod’s plight, calls her assistant Vivian over and secretly tells her to check with “your friends in Security” about whether and where Axelrod is being held. Who would have thought that an assistant to an USDA undersecretary would have that kind of pull, or that people in the “Security” branches would blab to buddies so easily?
Out in the hall, Maddy finally tells Dan about the baby. “I’m pregnant,” she tells him, and they immediately cue the Treacle Music. Boy, I hope those two make it work. I’m all on pins and needles about it.
In interrogation, Axelrod notes his opinion that killing the locusts without killing half the U.S. population is “impossible.” (!!) Cue the entrance of the same Eee-vil Military SpOOk who stole the locusts from the lab. (You know, the one who dropped some of them down the sink. Everyone is connected.) “What about if only 10% of the population died?” he asks. Because, you see, he’s an Eee-vil Military SpOOk.
The SpOOk’s plan is to use a powerful nerve agent to kill the locusts, with the attendant casualties he mentioned. “We can’t let the Press know about this,” he warns. Yes, because they’ll never notice the millions of dead people after the job is done.
Maddy calls Dan, or vice versa, and he says he wants to move back in with her. Cue Treacle Music. Man, I’m really starting to hate that tune.
However, Maddy tells him not to move home if it’s only because of the baby. “I’m not some helpless teenager,” she declares. “Move back [only] because you want to be with me.” You know, that sort of thinking just pisses me off. Why would it be wrong to put their child’s interests first, and isn’t it increasingly difficult to argue with a straight face that it really doesn’t matter if a kid has one parent or two? It’s not all about you, Maddy, and whether her husband thinks you’re ‘helpless.’ Get over yourself.
Even here, they keep dragging this crap out. “I guess we both have some things to figure out,” Dan says, for like the tenth time so far. Ugh, that means the Treacle Music will be returning yet again. Oh, joy.
General Miller and the SpOOk will eventually get permission from the President to deploy the nerve agent, which, we are told, is “the same stuff Saddam Hussein used on his own people.” Get the parallel? Boy, that President Bush, huh?
Maddy, after a big show stopping opportunity to Lecture Against the Madness-You go, girl, speaking Truth to Power and all that [yawn!!!]-shows up at the last moment and insists on coming on the helicopter flight that will deploy the stuff. General Miller agrees, which is obviously ludicrous. Before they leave, though, she secretly calls the “GNN” news network and spills the beans.
Then, when they are in the air, she threatens to down the helicopter by rupturing the nerve gas feed and killing everyone on board. “I am pregnant and hormonal and you don’t want to cross this mother!” she warns. I can’t believe they kept that line in the script. Yeesh. Meanwhile, Miller, a military man who outweighs her by a good 50 pounds of muscle, doesn’t even attempt to stop her from endangering their lives.
As this is going in, Miller learns that the press is reporting the mission and so scrubs it. Again, why would they fear this when, if the plan works the way they themselves think it will, it will kill millions of Americans? Wouldn’t that tip the press off?
I think her actions here are meant to show how heroic Maddy is, although several of them are obviously illegal and, at best, of dubious morality. Of course, she not only doesn’t go to jail when all is said and done, she doesn’t get fired, despite interfering with a Presidentially-authorized mission. In fact, once they land, Miller just seems to shrug the whole thing off. (!!) Good thing she later comes up with an out-of-left-field solution, though, or her actions would also have resulted in additional hundreds of millions of lives lost.
Having landed in Indiana, Maddy decides to take off in the middle of the crisis-the one that she just made sure is an ongoing one-to make sure her dad’s farm is OK. She also calls Dan, and he agrees to stop what he’s doing and join her there. Glad there’s nothing big enough going on to interfere with her personal concerns.
Axelrod goes with her, and as they head towards the farm, gets a call from his wife. Sophia is OK, so get those hankies out.
Dad stops bringing in the corn to round up some errant cows just before the locusts show up. Maddy arrives and gives him a hand, and it’s all supposed to be suspenseful and stuff.
Dan also shows up, followed quickly by the bugs. They all run and seek shelter inside a huge silo, which is soon covered with bugs. (Despite the full plentiful plant life all around them.) They come up with a crazy plan, which is to start the convenient portable generator inside the silo and run jumper cables to the metal walls and fry the bugs. Since the silo floor is concrete, they themselves should be OK. MacGyver would be proud.
However, of course, there’s a snag. The generator is out of petrol, and the fuel pump is outside. Axelrod, recognizing his Redemptive Death Opportunity, runs out to fetch the stuff. The now carnivorous locusts (remember?) attack him-although largely because he shrugs off for no good reason a heavy protective tarp he was wearing-and he makes it back just in time to say “Tell Terry and Sophia that I love them” before he croaks. Yeah, that’s heartwarming.
Anyway, the plan works, and the locusts on the silo are fried. I then laughed out loud when the camera inadvertently showed a pre-existing rent in the silo wall that would have filled the place with bugs.
The director of Homeland Security appears on TV and announces that, with no other solution available, the nerve agent will be deployed. (You know, I’d think the President himself would have to announce something of that magnitude.)
Luckily, Maddy now has an alternate solution. You know, the electricity thing. However, she and Dan stop for their 80th Personal Moment so far. Because, you know, you have to stop and smell the roses sometimes.
You’d think the Military would actually like to find an alternative to dropping nerve gas on the American people. Oh, wait, you wouldn’t, because that’s just the sort of thing people in the Military love to do! Therefore Miller is angry when Maddy enters and offers an alternative solution. Damn your casualty-less schemes, tree-hugger!
Unfortunately, Maddy’s electricity idea hasn’t gone much past, well, “Let’s kill the locusts with electricity.” Remember that clumsy woman we saw for fifteen seconds quite a ways back? Time for her to make a second entrance from the sidelines. It turns out that she’s with the Department of Energy. (Could they motivate her being in the room less? There’s no reason for her to be on the locust taskforce, and indeed, she doesn’t seem to be. She’s just working at a computer at the side of the room. Wouldn’t these meetings be classified? Don’t they have a meeting room where other people aren’t just sitting around doing stuff in the Homeland Security Headquarters?! Man, that’s lame.)
Not only is she with the DOE, but she just happens to have a really thought out plan of how you could run massively increased amounts of electricity through the national power grids, and even has handy, preexisting computer graphics to illustrate it. Well, that’s convenient.
Apparently this wouldn’t burn the entire system down, but instead surround the grids with a powerful electrical field that would destroy anything coming into contact with it. Man, that’s just so silly I don’t even know where to start.
This plan (because we need an ‘epic’ ending) requires everybody in the country pretty much to not use power during this period. Thus we see…a TV broadcast asking people not to use electricity. Uhh….
Meanwhile, we get lots more pouting from the Military about how they don’t get to drop deadly nerve gas on the American people. Boo! Hiss!
There’s some further stuff about getting the bugs into the electrical field, which involves Maddy thinking to string shiny weather balloons in front of the grids to attract the swarms. Because, you know, she’s the heroine, so she’s got to go something personally. (Although you’d think it would take a lot of balloons given the scale of the problem, and that she thinks up this scheme like a few hours before the locusts will reach the grids.) In fact, when she arrives onsite, the balloons aren’t stationed close enough to the lines and she has to order them to be moved further in. Good thing our Maddy is so hands on, eh?
Obviously, because this is a TV movie, the entire preposterous plan works (oops, sorry). The short shots of the bugs getting fried are fairly impressive, although I couldn’t help but notice that the scene is pretty much an exact recreation of the giant bunny menace getting similarly electrocuted in the infamous laffriot The Night of the Lepus.
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, didn’t two escaped locusts result in billions more in the space of a single month? And surely all those billions of locusts weren’t destroyed? So wouldn’t this problem quickly arise again?” Well, no, due to one of the most laughable Deus ex Machinas I’ve seen in a while. We hear the obligatory Expository Newscast, which includes this eye-popper: “As a result of their bioengineering, the surviving locusts are apparently sterile.” What now?!!
Cut to Dan and Maddy and Baby, living the American Dream in their bucolic fashion. Only-ho ho!-there’s another phone call, and Maddy is off to save the world again! Stay-at-Home Dad Dan can only raise his eyebrows to the Baby and knowingly sigh. Oh, that Maddy!
First off, let me announce that I’m coming into this with a lot of bad movies under my belt (not literally, mind you, the plastic cases would be uncomfortable and sweaty). I’ve used the term “Manosian” (as in “is this as bad as the un-MSTied Manos: The Hands of Fate?). I’ve got a lot, a lot a lot, of those ten movies for $15 DVD collections from Brentwood.
The reason I’m pointing this out is that, contrary to many bad movie aficionados, my experiences tend to make me a bit more generous towards films with any originality or sense of fun to them. I can overlook stiff acting if there’s an unusual plot or creature. I can often see past the limits of microbudgets if the cast appears to be really into the experience and enjoying making a freakin’ movie. So long as it isn’t boring, I can handle just about anything.
Thus I settled down to watch “Locusts” and, well, I think my capsule review would be “Huh. So. Locusts then.”
The film begins with the absolutely now necessary beeping green type (thank you, X-Files) announcing our location, a USDA research lab in Virginia. Two young folk, a pink and well scrubbed lad and his girl counterpart are here to feed the bugs that are being researched. Well, she is anyway. He’s around to flirt with her, make bad jokes and get on my nerves in a major way (although I doubt that was the original intent). Still, I have high hopes that these two will be the catalyst that starts an entomological rampage and that they will be eaten. Not necessarily in that order.
Sure enough, she’s hauling a tree into the locust chamber (so the locusts can eat it, not decorate it or hold tiny, wee picnics under it) while scoffing at the very idea of the protective suit hanging just outside the door. This is always promising in any sort of monster film. The errant Brady Bunch boy looks on fretfully until, as if on cue, the locusts –
Well, I think attack is a rather strong word.
Mostly the locusts just seem to continue to do what they were already doing – fly around. The girl just happened to wander in the middle and the bugs really can’t be blamed for landing on her. Brady Boy manages to get her out (without himself being “attacked” I’ll note) and they brush the locusts off of her in a panic. Nope. She’s not even evidencing a scratch.
They both lived. In fact, he lived long enough to crack another joke. A bad sign indeed.
But, enough about them! We have credits to roll! In fact, that’s one of the strong motifs of “Locusts” – never stay with any set of characters too long or the audience may start asking uncomfortable questions. (I’m not saying it worked, it was just what they were striving for.)
Cut to a nice house in Georgetown where we find Lucy Lawless in her underwear. (My male viewing companion thought this was a wise move on the film’s part.) She receives a phone call from her assistant telling her that there’s trouble at a string of government acronyms and that someone from her past, someone with the rather pornish name of Peter Axelrod, is in charge of the trouble spot. Also, at this point, the film democratically introduces a male model in a towel while Lucy gets dressed.
The male model, Dan, is rather pouty. As it turns out he is married to Lucy and she has to go check on Dr. Peter instead of frolicking in the shower with him. He sticks out his lower lip and tinkly piano music tells us that an Emotional Moment is arriving. It seems that Lucy is always running off to do her job and well (pout) he passed up a promotion so they could spend time together.
Perhaps he has a point, but his general whininess really makes me think he should just hop back into whatever underwear catalog he came out of. Besides, as my companion pointed out, “If I were married to super scientist Lucy Lawless, I don’t think I’d complain. I think I’d just wander around grinning with my pants around my ankles non-stop!”
Off to the research lab to see Dr. Rod, who’s supposed to be studying honeybees, but well, everyone has to have a hobby. Axelrod, who in a completely unforeseen twist of fate was a teacher of Lucy’s, is played by a fellow who I had to keep reminding myself was not William Shatner huffing helium and sniffing like a schoolmarm.
Dr. A (who can apparently move about the locusts at will) explains that he’s created a hybrid locust that’s faster, stronger, more bionic, etc. than any other locust before. Now, I know he’s a mad scientist and all, but I still have to ask, what were you thinking there, doc? Hmmm, unpoisonable, reproduces like crazy, why not make them telepathic wine snobs while you’re at it? Lucy points out that these locusts could “eat a continent” and easily become bio-weapons (hmmm, ah, I don’t know that – never mind.) A the Rod goes on weakly about genetic research and helping kids, but I think he’s really just fronting for his all locust army. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Lucy has decided that Dr. Peter is fired and the locusts should be set on fire.
(Maybe he should just be happy it wasn’t the other way around.) We are treated to the tiny, tinny shrieks of the locusts who protest their immolation in scary little gremlin voices while Lucy and the Doc pose for some hell imagery.
But wouldn’t you know it, the guy wielding the flamethrower turns out to be some sort of spy and is trying to smuggle some of the locusts out! I say “trying,” because he’s crap at it. While putting the bugs in a carrying case, he bobbles the container and a couple of them go down a sink drain, only to reemerge from a sewer grate and fly off, laughing menacingly and rubbing their forelegs together. I suppose it’s lucky for our movie that it wasn’t two male locusts, although I guess they could have their way with our peaceful locust women.
Uh oh, more tinkly piano and pouting! Dan is in super pout mode now, mysteriously protesting that “I’m sick and tired of feeling like I’m married to myself!” (Dude, try using a hand puppet if you’re that lonely.) He’s moving out because she’s never there and he doesn’t want to raise a kid like this. Once again, likely valid points, but his delivery makes me think of Dan standing over the crib, pouting at the baby, “It’s all about you, isn’t it? What about my needs?”
But, the Enough of That motif begins to pick up and we start intercutting with our spy from earlier getting into a military chopper. The piano music is still going, so the helicopter boarding seems rather poignant. (Actually, at this point, there’s some nice “Princess Bride” style guitar on the soundtrack as well.) We abandon Lucy for the spy and assorted soldiers who are transporting the bugs – well, we don’t know where, or why for that matter. They just are, dammit!
The locusts will have none of this, though, and a brave wild locust comes to the aid of his fellows, throwing himself into the eye of the jeep driver ferrying the captive locusts. The jeep swerves! The locust prison is bobbled and falls to the pavement! A troop truck runs over the box and their perfect insect plan leads to freedom! (Except for the locusts crushed by the truck tires. When the segmented revolution comes, tiny statues shall be erected in their memory.)
Me, I’m hoping that this means we will be getting some locust attacks soon, because, quite honestly, it’s about time.
The movie jeers at me and careens ahead to a month from then and Lucy, who’s apparently been spending enough time with whiny Dan to get pregnant. She tries to call him, but he’s showing some Africans around a farming project (Oh! He’s an agriculture guy! Yeah. Sure. He’s a 4-H farm boy from way back.) and he’s feeling just too snippy to let her get much of a word in edgewise. The Africans mock his ways with women, and I wish them well for it.
Since she can’t tell Danny boy he knocked her up, she calls her dad, who happens to be Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicutt from M*A*S*H!). Dad is everything Dan is not, i.e. he is congratulatory then, after intuiting that something is wrong, comforting. Also, Dad is played by an actual actor, so when Lucy emotes on one end of the phone, Dad emotes on the other and we actually get a bit of nice acting here between the two.
Dad is also a farmer. I’m sure this will have no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the film.
Okay, enough drama, Enough of That. We cut now to a tent at a campground, which in most monster type movies is usually quite promising. To highlight the promise, a pan down into the earth reveals many locusts, just hanging out. The couple inside the tent is getting into some made for TV foreplay, which also usually means they are up for the chop. (They also happen to be African-American, but I’m hoping that’s no longer an automatic “red shirt” situation.) [My future self would say in retrospect, the movie proved to be fairly multicultural in general, so no.]
There are some gags that are so hoary I’m no longer sure, when they pop up, if a movie is being satirical or not. Such is the “Stop tickling me, honey!” gag. Off the top of my head, I can recall it being used as least as far back as the angry earthworm movie Squirm in the 70’s. The gag is that while a couple is making out, the woman protests about the tickling, the guy says “I’m not!” and it’s revealed that there are worms/locusts/Chihuahuas/whatever crawling up her legs, in her blouse, etc. In this case, the locusts are in her sleeping bag.
I’m always amazed with this gag that the woman hasn’t noticed whatever it is before that point. I mean, you have what appears to be bucketfuls of locusts in your sleeping bag with you, all the way up to your waist. How hard do you sleep? How hormone blinded are you? Wait. Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. Especially in the case of the floozy and the sleazy sheriff in Squirm.
Anyhoo, the smallish locusts are hurled about by the now not-so-amorous couple as they scream and flail. (I’ll accept that the locusts are small because they are juveniles. It’s probably what they were doing peeping at that couple anyway.) The couple scampers away in their underwear and one locust gets a close-up as if to say, “Yes! I know! We’re working up to it! It was our first attack!”
After the commercial, we’re in Napa Valley, overlooking a vineyard where the workers spy a whole heapin’ helpin’ of CGI bugs about to swarm down on them and make trouble for the cast of Sideways. Lucy also happens to be in the area, riding around in her tricked out Voracious Insect Mobile Research Lab. (Wouldn’t it be great to have a magnetic decal that said that for the side of your car? Put a few plastic bugs in jars and I bet someone would think twice before breaking in and stealing your iPod!)
But Enough of That. Whiplash over to Virginia where Doctor Peter the A-Rod is busy being unemployed while his wife and daughter go off to work and school respectively. He’s mopey AND whiney, while his wife gives acting concerned a go and the daughter is just sugar squishy sweet. Apparently Petey was offered a defense job, but turned it down. (Ba-ba-bummmmmm!)
So, he sees the daughter off on the bus and then drives after it on his way to the gym. The precious child makes I Wuv Oo signs in the back window. He smiles. I wonder what she wants.
But wait, Doc is craning his head around, looking out the window! What is it, boy? Did Dan fall down a well? No such luck. He stops the car and wanders into a field where the locusts are at play. He flails at them, although they aren’t attacking. Perhaps they think of him as their god and they are trying to tell him that they will claim the earth in his honor. Why else would they be hanging around outside of his house? I choose to believe this as it makes the movie more interesting.
The kids are mucking about on the bus, unaware that they are in the path of insect doom. When the driver spots the swarm ahead, he doesn’t turn the bus around, but stops and orders the windows shut. Unfortunately, he forgets about the roof vent and the locusts pile into the bus, attracted by the peanut butter sandwiches in the kid’s lunches. Or something. Just go with it.
After a gratuitous ichor shot of locusts squished by Peterboy’s windshield wipers, the daughter trips and hits her head on… something… in the bus. I can’t really tell what, but it’s apparently enough to knock her out cold. Axelrod stops and gets a fire extinguisher out of his trunk, blasting a path through rather thin cloud of insects. He finds his daughter and while cradling her, picks up a locust in his palm, recognizing his own handiwork. The locust regards him as if to say, “Though you are our maker, remember that we can destroy those you love! Cross us at your peril, giant, pink god!”
Meanwhile, in Napa Valley, Lucy and Team Voracious Insect are inspecting the damage to the vineyard. The locusts appear to have been picky enough just to go for the merlot vines and not the grass. She gets a call from Dan, who was apparently reading some sort of joke email about a failed marriage when he got a Locust Alert. She thinks it’s nothing, after all her father’s farm was attacked by locusts when she was a kid (so now it’s personal?).
Dan, probably having been jibed by the Africans all that one day, apologizes for being a jerk, but is interrupted when Lucy has to take a call from the Secretary of Agriculture. He doesn’t say it, but you know Dan is thinking “Well, why didn’t you just marry him instead!?”
But Enough of That. We cut to The Peter Family in the hospital where the daughter lies unconscious, breathing on a respirator. Boy, the locusts really did a job on her with that two by four, I guess! Peter has been on the phone with Wyatt, who my future self would inform me can also be known as SeÃ’or Plot Point.
Enough of THAT. Back to Lucy, who’s checking out “Locust Case Scenario” which recommends fire and a poison dangerous to livestock. Perhaps she best be sure and mix the two. Instead she also calls Wyatt, who it turns out works for the U.S. Weather Service. She’s looking to find weather patterns favorable to locusts and Wyatt’s all too happy to tell her Doctor Rod just called about that very thing. A suspicious Lucy has her assistant go get Peter on the line. She then frowns in a way that makes me think she’s about to go skewer Ares or Julius Caesar, but that’s just a wistful flashback on my part.
Now, we all know that nothing spells trouble like a Citrus Carnival. (A Citrus CarnivalÃˆ would have Nick Stahl and Clancy Brown hurling apocalyptic fruit at one another, but I digress.) A bitter, divorced father is promising his kids they’ll have lots of fun picking fruit, and “there will be other birthdays.” Man. That’s harsh.
It is here we glimpse what isn’t exactly a Nut O’ Fun but rather what I call the Fruit of Fright – scary oversized citrus fruit, about four feet tall. The Orange has a doped out, perverted grin and a person stuffed up the bottom so it can run around. The Lemon is more stationary, but possesses clenched shut eyes and an open-mouthed squeal of either delight or pain, maybe both. I cannot emphasize how disturbing they are. I mean, some farmer probably spent long winter hours lovingly molding and painting these things, murmuring to them as they were his only company. Sometimes they told him things too. Sometimes.
In the Mystery Mandible Machine, Lucy has gotten hold of Peter and she’s not happy. She knows these are his locusts and demands he turn over all of his notes and then get out of the way. He weakly protests that he can help, but well, he’s not exactly been a beacon of efficiency so far. At least the two plots are interacting.
Out of the van window, Lucy spies the carnival and asks if Peter’s locusts eat citrus. He answers that they eat everything. Deciding that she’s bored too, this gives our heroine enough reason to barge into the carnival and start ordering people to evacuate. The Citrus Carny is skeptical at first (most authority figures don’t bounce around in kicky, apricot tops) but a badge brings him around.
Divorced Dad is up in a tree, picking fruit and telling the kids that it’s much more fun to be laboring in the fields, rather than at home with mom and “what’s his face”, but he’s interrupted by another cloud of computer effects. The pattern is well established by now. The locusts swarm, the people run and flail. Hell, Divorced Dad manages to Jerry Lewis himself all the way to the ground. The Lemon Fruit of Fright silently screams. A dropped camcorder provides an arty shot within a shot. The fairgoers jog unhurriedly to their cars and Lucy pulls off a locust that had been taped to her shirt. The larger locusts seem to be the ones who get all of the close-ups, so I’m assuming they must be the leaders.
Ever ready to spray some poison, (Where was he keeping that canister? Maybe you folks shouldn’t finish those cups of juice.) Citrus Carny notes that the bugs aren’t instantly melting, as apparently would happen to chrome if he sprayed this stuff on a bumper. What does he get up to at night anyway?
Uh oh. We’ve been making far too much linear sense of the plot, so it’s time to hear from our old friend But Enough of That.
Pittsburgh, PA. Scene of a park, people dancing, people laughing, a man selling hot dogs, singing Italian songs. Okay maybe not, but you get the drift. There are also big shiny temples of business and commerce all around, glinting with menacing sound effects. Inside one of the buildings, a couple of TV actresses drool over a Wil Wheatonish fellow from their cubes. We have never seen them before, but once again, I am hoping that the movie will come through with some death. They kid one another about dressing like a “hootchie mama” to get Wil’s attention. I can just picture them getting drunk at Friday’s and shrieking with laughter loud enough pierce eardrums. Please, locusts, just do this one for me.
But Enough of That goes into overdrive, flashing scenes of Wyatt telling Peter he can’t play with him anymore, airplane pilots walking the tarmac, the annoying office people giving a surprise birthday party to the hootchie mama, a flippin’ big cloud of locusts heading toward the city, the airport control tower, and office workers distracted by locusts walking away from the cake (which NEVER happens at an office, now the movie’s just silly).
Locusts are bashing into office windows! People run willy nilly! One upping the Bitter Divorced Dad, Hot Dog Man launches himself into his own hot dog cart! (Either that or the locusts learned that cartoon trick of gathering together in the shape of a baseball bat and smacked him into it.) People fall down for no reason! Wil Wheatonish quotes Revelations! Unnecessary hot dog carnage! Locusts start cracking the window pane!
In this whole mess, one shot confused the hell out of me. It showed a structure that appeared to be a parking garage across the street from the office. Only, there appeared to be NINE FOOT LONG locusts crawling into it! Okay, it seemed a bit Beginning of the End-ish (although that was grasshoppers on a postcard of Chicago), but could it be we were finally seeing some real monsters?
Nope, it was a badly shot A/C unit on the roof, and the locusts make like John McClane down the airshafts to bother the annoying office people by flying around, crawling on their sammiches and getting in their laser printer. In the ensuing chaos, Wheatonish protests how much he hates bugs and freaks out. His former admirers comment that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” What? I couldn’t tell if the movie was trying to imply that he was a coward or gay, which made me frown at the movie in a stern way, regardless of what it meant.
Meanwhile, Doctor Rod has been trying to convince Air Traffic Control that he’s a real scientist with a real job and that they should ground the plane that just happens to be taking off right… now! When told about the locusts, the controller jokes that they’re looking out for flying monkeys too. I wish. That would be pretty cool. Hey, Doc! Why didn’t you make some hybrid monkeys instead? Jerk.
Sure enough, because jet engines are rated to withstand everything but computer graphics, both of the plane’s engines flame out and BOOM! With a hard, fiery landing, the locusts have actually claimed two whole casualties. I must say, their campaign to conquer the earth has been going rather slowly and I’m starting to lose faith.
Peter bows his head in slow motion grief. What have his children wrought?
But Enough of That. Lucy is surveying the Citrus aftermath and calls her dad, who’s just hanging around his front porch being as prosaic and peaceful as all get out. She frets. He says “There, there.” I think they just wanted to remind us that he existed, so he could be imperiled later, but perhaps I’m just getting cynical. [Future me says I’m not.]
But Enough of That. The arty dropped camcorder footage winds up on the news (still lingering on the Fruit of Fright – man, I wish this movie had been about them going on a rampage, menacing townsfolk, chasing down those office people…uh. Right!)
The news is on in Daughter Axelrod’s hospital room where Mom is reading the riot act to Peter about his tampering in God’s domain. Daughter is apparently now in a coma. I think she’s just faking until both of her parents go away. She gets part of her wish as the FBI shows up to escort Roddy away. About freakin’ time.
BEoT. Now we cut to a nosferatu in an underground bunker. No, it’s really just a senator in the Homeland Security meeting room. Dammit. Because it’s 2005, they must quickly bring up and then rule out that the bugs are the work of terrorists. (Fifty years ago, it would have been Communists, but the effect is much the same.) A nerdy lady in glasses drops something nervously for no reason. No one cares.
It seems that there are two swarms of locusts, one from each coast, and they’re both heading inland towards America’s Breadbasket. You know, I’d make an America’s Writer’s Cramp or America’s Wrenched Ankle Operation! joke, but I’m becoming increasingly bitter at the ineptitude the locusts have inherited from their patriarch.
The assorted generals and bureaucrats ask a few questions and generally make Lucy sad that she didn’t notice the evil bug experiments going on during her watch. The General cracks wise to Lucy’s boss about her losing her job. He is a merry fellow, that General.
BEoT decides that maybe it should help us out and flips back and forth, sometimes in mid sentence, between Lucy lecturing the Homeland Security bunch, and Peter Rod, who’s being interrogated by the FBI and military. (Jeans to a government meeting, Lucy? Really!) They tell us many purportedly interesting facts about the locusts, even getting Wyatt back in the act (who looks like he’s going to try and pitch me long distance service). Realizing that our eyes are starting to glaze over, BEoT runs over to the Axelrod residence where FBI agents are making off with his research notes. At least I think it’s his house.
Maybe they’re just stealing stuff. Maybe they’ll get into a fistfight. We can only hope.
Dan (Remember Dan? Whiny? Runs around in a towel? Mocked by Africans?) comes to the meeting to explain that since America provides a great deal of the world’s grain, having locusts eat all of it would be a bad thing. He suggests that all of the farmers of America bring in their crops early. The nosferatu senator protests “We’ll lose billions!”, but the mournful trumpet on the soundtrack backs up Dan’s question of “What will we lose if we don’t?” It’s the same trumpet note that Patton got before his big flag speech. Said trumpet note is just whoring itself out now.
I’m thinking that this far into a monster/disaster movie, I should be tensely watching the proceedings, not trying to get my ferrets to both crawl into a single shoe. I ask the ferrets if they’d be willing to sit down and ride the rest of this thing out with me, but they just laugh and run away, bumping into furniture. I watch them enviously, but I have a job to do. With resolve, I turn back towards the screen.
Just in time – for sheep. The locust cam amid the swarm shows us a flock of sheep huddling in a green field. The locusts swoop down on them and –
Nooooo! Not the damn meeting room again! No-o-o-ooo!
The General is back to inform us that the military is going to do something military to the locusts, unless anyone has a better idea. No one really does, but they protest anyway. Actually, they don’t really protest so much as make several tenuously connected statements about keeping civilians safe. Bureaucrat Man takes a phone call informing him that those sheep we saw earlier? Well, let’s just say that the locusts might have enough left over to make themselves cute little sweaters.
Dan notes that in times of food shortage, locusts have been known to become cannibalistic. No one bothers to point out to him that if cannibalism were the problem, the locusts would be eating each other and we could all go home. Nope, the obvious logical broad jump is that the locusts are going to eat Lucy’s dad. Well, perhaps not specifically, or not at first. They’ll probably need to snack on a hitchhiker or something as well.
The Secretary of Agriculture has had enough of these shenanigans and calls Lucy out into the hallway like a bad Catholic schoolgirl. Viewing companion aside, even I’m starting to think that would be a better tangent for this thing to take. He’s “Not Gonna Take the Fall” among other clichÃˆs, and she “better come up with a solution”. Lucy thinks that if she can just get a hold of Peter, they can get a grip on it. Her conveniently passing assistant, who exists largely to find Peter it seems, goes in search.
Oh, great, here comes Dan. He’s just all aflutter about how gosh darn professional she was in there and it’s almost like she’s, I don’t know, trained for her job or something! Lucy’s winded and a bit nauseous, which is understandable in his presence, but she finally gets to tell him that he’s passed his pout onto a new generation. Of course, this sets off the tinkly piano again.
Dan is just thrilled! Now that she carries his belly fruit, he’s all about the Lucy! They even pretend to be talking business when their bosses walk by, just like love struck teens! (I would assume that they weren’t keeping their marriage a secret, it’s not like it’s against the Agricultural Order’s Code or anything. Is it? It’s been a while since I’ve read that. I’ll look it up later.)
BEoT again. Dr. Axelrod is protesting that well, he’s getting pretty bored and would like to see another set, which comes out as “You can’t kill them without killing 50% of the population.” Our spy from what seems like several years ago shows up on the scene and makes a counter offer of 10% of the population. Peter decides he really doesn’t care, and I feel the first burst of empathy I’ve felt for him during this whole drawn out affair.
Switch over to Lucy for thirty seconds as Our Lady of Convenient Assistance tells her that Axey’s at the Fort Douglas Bioweapons facility.
Switch back to Petey in a gas mask doing the hula! No! Dammit! I’ve got to stop imagining a more interesting movie! Petey is watching the spy set up a mini locust death camp as he sprays some test locusts with VX gas. Yes, THAT VX gas. Oh, it kills them alright. A thousand utterly tasteless variations of the “Kills Bugs Dead” slogan go through my mind. The ferrets shake their heads at me. They know… They know.
BEoT. Dan is standing around in an Ohio field (no puns please) watching people actually work when he gets a call from Lucy. The piano tinkles all over the scene as he promises to move back in, but Lucy checks him by asking him to do it because he wants to be with her. That stopped him cold! He hangs up and she considers selling his motorcycle to buy baby furniture.
Lucy then manages to corner The General and insists on seeing the hidden
Peter. He’s shy at first, dissembling about the FBI and whatnot, but she manages to coax it out.
Of course, once she’s there and finds out about the Let’s Gas America plan, she’s not as charming. Oh sure, on the ground it kills people, the spy avers. But if we spread it in the air, it should dissipate by the time it comes back down. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Well, I mean aside from that whole killing 5-10% of the population thing. There is that.
With a “you never know until you try” savior faire, The General shows up and takes charge, saying they’ll be testing the gas over Ohio. The President said it would be okay. He’s sick of hearing about Ohio anyhow.
Hey, Dan’s in Ohio! Well, there you go!
Lucy follows the General and Peter out to the helicopter that’s going to distribute the gas, but sneaks off for a quick leak. To the news! The news! Geez, you people! Not that it matters. By the time they’re in the air, the locusts have stopped for directions and have realized that Lucy’s father lives in Indiana, not Ohio.
Before the chopper can change course and gas a much more populated, and therefore fun, area Lucy take a wrench to the gas ducts (was it wise to have them run THROUGH the cockpit?) and threatens to kill them all unless they abort the mission. All the men sigh because, you know, women! But they set the chopper down and scrub the mission anyway. I keep hoping Lucy is going to then let loose with a war cry and throw the wrench through someone’s head, but I know it’s past it now.
Instead she tries to call her dad, but he’s not answering, so she calls Dan and asks him to drive over and check on Dad. Really it’s just a way to get both of them together in one place. Perhaps on some level, Lucy knows what the locusts have in mind and wants to cash in Dan’s life insurance policy to start a college fund for the kid.
Much like a Japanese schoolboy in a Gamera film, Lucy is now just ordering the military around. She wants a car. She wants to drive to Indiana ahead of the swarm. She wants Axelrod to come with her. She wants them to admit that Gamera is a friend to all children. I think the General is just sick of her at this point and thinks a car is a small price to pay to get rid of the woman who almost gassed him earlier.
Besides, he makes the salient point that no one else has thought of a plan to get rid of the locusts. Perhaps if you can get all of the American farmers to hurl their shoes in the air at once…
As our principals rush to all be in one convenient location, Petey receives a telephone call. Why, it’s his daughter and she’s no longer in a coma! He loves her and he’s sorry! She loves him and she’s heavily medicated! He promises to see her soon. I hear the drums of cinematic karma begin to beat in the background.
Everyone arrives at Dad’s farm to find him trying to herd two small cows inside. I can’t help but like Dad, as he hasn’t been on-screen long enough to bore me. Sure enough the locusts are hot on their heels and veritably chase our heroes into a silo, or barn or barn attached to a silo. It’s not all that clear. Let’s all just be happy something is happening.
It’s made quite clear that there is a bug zapper over the door of the building. Irony or foreshadowing? [Future me is silently shaking her head. What’s up with that?]
The locusts proceed to settle on the twin silos, trying to get in and feast on whatever they can get their mandibles around. The humans bicker about what to do. Everyone is baffled because the locusts just can’t be killed, except – aha!
Lucy remembers the bug zapper she just saw twenty seconds ago! You know, Dad says, I have a generator in here, we could –
(No. Nope. No. Uh uh.)
– hook the contacts up to the steel silo and make a giant bug zapper!
At this point, I pause the tape. I access a time machine and go back four hundred years and find a wise scholar of the period. After sorting out the language issues, I present him with the idea of the “electrical fluid” generating machine hooked up to the metal building to destroy locusts. The scholar is skeptical of the idea, given the relatively low amount of power created by the generator, the resistance level of a building’s worth of metal and the hardiness of the locusts.
I also run some of the scenes and dialogue by him. He found them a bit hackneyed and telegraphed. Before returning home, I thank him with plans for a combustion engine, a copy of History’s Timeline and a disposable lighter.
Hurm. The movie is still here. Dammit. Guess I’ll have to finish it.
Of course, the fuel for the generator isn’t kept anywhere near it. It’s outside, in locust territory. The drums of karma beat loudly now, meaning that only one man can go out there and spill gasoline all over himself before immolating.
Well, that’s not really the plan, but what else can you expect from Dr. Peter at this point?
So, they give him a fuel container and a heavy tarp to hide under and say “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” Petey makes it to the fuel pump and starts to fill the container, but gets frustrated with all of his creations buzzing around him asking “Did you see? Did you see what we did to the sheep? Pretty cool, huh?”
Inside the barn/silo, the men hook up the generator to the walls of the building while Lucy has a locust fly into her mouth. Seriously. I can’t help but wonder if that was in the script.
The locusts have discovered that Dr. Axelrod is not the god they thought him to be, nor is he even an adequate father figure for their people. The locusts are shamed by their former devotion and desire to please such fallible figure. In their rage and sadness, they begin to attack him in earnest, biting him about the face and neck. I suspect that his sensible long sleeves and heavy slacks will pose a problem for them, but at the same time I know that they’re not thinking straight. Losing your religion is a hard turn.
Peter makes it back to the relative safety of the building and hands over the gas. He’s sporting a swollen eye and a lot of facial lacerations, but all in all many people have survived far worse. As Dan and Dad start to fuel the generator, Peter lays down heavily in the straw with Lucy kneeling beside him.
He croaks out to her “Tell Carrie and Sophia that I love them, please!” (Well, sure, but what about your wife and daughter! Ba-da-ching!) He puffs and wheezes some more. Uh oh.
The generator is powered up, Dan gives the building a good jolt, and wouldn’t you know it! The locusts shower off of the silos like dandruff in a Head and Shoulder’s commercial! Hooray! Huzzah! Let’s dance a whizzy jig, eh, Peter?
Peter whispers “I’m sorry” and that just seals his doom. He has officially entered the Repentant Mad Scientist’s Final Lap. All I can figure, though, is that the locusts must have had tiny syringes of poison, because I just don’t buy dying of facial lacerations. Maybe he’s dying of shock. Maybe he’s having a heart attack. All I know is that this means that there are a lot of locusts hurting out there and they felt they had to lash out.
But Enough of That, I quite agree.
Bureaucrat Man has gone on television to announce to the country that the only way to save the world’s food supply is to spray nerve gas all over it and they’re gonna do just that. Lucy and Dan are back in Washington rushing to present their plan to erect steel silos all over the country and electrify them, when Lucy has a mild bout of exhaustion.
Dan urges her to take better care of herself and their baby, but she tells him (with a look that borders on contemptuous, it seemed to me) that’s what he’s for. Feeling back in the driver’s seat of their relationship, Dan grins and expresses his love for her. Lucy says she’s glad, despite looking a bit like she’s trying not to flinch.
In they barge to the Homeland Security Meeting Room, which I had hoped not to see again in this or any other lifetime, the General is going on about the nerve gas. He seems to do that a lot.
Our Beautiful Couple insists that there’s another way, if they can just figure out how to create an electrical field big enough to wipe out the two swarms. Lucy pleads that they must give it a chance before taking the road more poisoned. The Secretary of Agriculture tells her to just sit down, you- you woman!
Remember the nerdy redhead from earlier who dropped something? Turns out she did that to announce her character’s existence so we could pretend she already existed in the continuity. Apparently, she’s from the Energy Department and she thinks that if they use the power grid to overload the power lines along the Mississippi and Rockies, causing electricity to overflow from the wires, it will kill the locusts. The only catch is that everyone in America must act in concert by turning off all of their electrical appliances at once. Given many of the Americans I know, I think they’d rather get eaten by locusts, but hey, I’ll go with the premise. My viewing companion was delighted to get to use the word “Cockamamie.”
The General really hates doing something that doesn’t involve nerve gas, but he gets overruled by the nosferatu and the bureaucrat. If it doesn’t work, then Mr. Baby General can drop his precious nerve gas. He seems just a bit over insistent about gassing 10% of the population to death and you can tell from the other faces in the room that they’re trying to figure out just how they can get this guy decommissioned.
Now we’re kicking it 50’s style! News reports flash urging all citizens to turn off their appliances! The planes loaded with VX gas take to the air! Just replace the gas with atom bombs and the locusts with tiny, flying communists and viola! You have a Peter Graves vehicle from 1957!
Just as I was asking the ferrets, “But can’t they just fly over the power lines?” Lucy comes up with a solution, of sorts, and finds a way to make Wyatt useful one last time. See, weather balloons are reflective and they’d reflect sunlight and attract the locusts and if you strung them under the power lines…. The ferrets said “Feh!” and I really couldn’t argue with that.
At this point, as we’re intercutting with the planes, Lucy and Dan, the General, the Energy lady, computer screens and so on, the music is insisting that I be filled with tension. I just can’t accommodate. Strings percussively blare at me, but I’m sorry, I just can’t get worked up at this point.
I miss the Fruit of Fright.
The big moment arrives. The locusts, now despondent over having killed their own god, figure they have nothing to live for. Their plan for conquering the world in his name is no longer valid and to tell the truth, it wasn’t going all that well anyway. They hurl themselves into the electrical field, opting to leave this world in a blaze of glory.
Around the country, various minor characters react with elation – the nerdy lady kisses the General, Wyatt laughs it up, the nosferatu claps and bears her teeth. The Secretary of Agriculture, now that it’s safe to do so, parrots the General’s threat to Lucy’s job right back at him! Lucy and Dan kiss in their car, surrounded by a gentle rain of dead bugs. Let no clichÃˆ go unused and let freedom from locusts ring!
But wait, isn’t there an excellent chance that one or two or a thousand out of the millions of locusts were only stunned or avoided the electricity all together? Won’t they just breed and start all over again? Well, as the helpful newscaster tells us over scenes of America’s Green and Plentiful Fields, a quirk in their bioengineering has rendered the remaining locusts sterile.
(That sound you hear is me, making a confused Scooby Doo noise.)
At last, it’s a year later and our Beautiful Couple has given birth to a baby with a dent in its head. They seem to be staying with Dad on the farm now, and Dan is wearing his baseball cap backwards, the international sign of being one relaxed dude. Of course, we have to have one last moment of wackiness, so Lucy (who’s now going by Mrs. Dryer instead of Dr. Reardon, just to show she’s down with the traditional heartland program now) gets a call about checking on an “outbreak” of some sort. Oh ho ho! There she goes again!
Ahhhh… credits. As the film begins to fade from my memory (and without this written record, I think it would fade pretty fast), I wonder where the locusts went wrong. Maybe it was their poor choice of god. Perhaps they should have ditched those big locusts that seemed to hog the spotlight. Maybe they should have tried to get in touch with Pazuzu, see what he’s up to these days. Now, there was a guy who knew how to lead locusts! Yeah, Pazuzu and the Fruit of Fright vs. Lucy Lawless! It might be cheap, it might be stupid, but I’m willing to bet you’d watch that over and over again before watching… um… what was this about again?
We open with a tracking shot of the floor of the USDA Research Lab of the Virginia Institute of Agriculture. (The location is helpfully explicated by one of those green typed-out captions at the bottom left of the screen. This effect was pioneered by The X-Files and has been beaten into the ground by every lame TV series/movie to come down the pike since. Not one minute into the flick and already its lack of imagination is showing! This Does Not Bode Well).
Spooky X-Filish music plays on the soundtrack as a couple I will henceforth refer to as Horny Teenage Couple enters the lab. The female half of this duo (henceforth referred to as Horny Female, or HF) is clad in a pink belly-shirt and low-slung jeans, while the male half (Horny Male, or HM) is rigged out in stereotypical ‘slacker’ attire. The two are in the process of making out as they enter the lab, obviously whatever they intend to do there is a mere pit stop on the way to the more important activity of getting their groove on.
“Feeding bugs. It’s good work if you can get it,” HM says, then promptly glances over and freaks at the sight of… a glassed-in room full of bugs. Gee Louise, what did he expect was going to be there, pink flamingoes? HF explains that the ugly critters are Coricideas Terminaphera, or the “Australian Plague Locust”. Hmmm, nasty-sounding bugs. In a government laboratory. Taking bets right now that some EEVIL gubmint type has genetically experimented on them to turn them into flesh-eating nasties because otherwise all we’d have is a movie about a bunch of grasshoppers munching down crops and who would want to watch THAT?!?! [Future Me: Well I was kinda sorta right about this…]
So anyway, HF’s job is to put a ficus in the room so the locusts can have something to chow on. She grabs the plant as HM avers that NO WAY is he going into that room with her. HF laughs (Ah, men! So easily frightened by mere INSECTS!) and traipses on into the Locust Room. Well, not exactly – first she has to unlock the security lock on the outer door of a set of double doors. Then, when she is in the “secure area”, she sneeringly disdains to put on the bio-suit hanging in that area. “Oh, please” she sneers. “They’re grasshoppers, not tarantulas.”
Hmmm. A “secure area”. A bio-suit. If these don’t turn out to be genetically modified locusts, I’ll eat my own foot. [Future Me: My foot is safe! For the nonce.] But then, if they are, then how stupid is this lab for hiring some dimwit college student to feed the critters without impressing upon her the importance of donning a bio-suit before entering the Locust Room? And how stupid is said college student for seeing a bio-suit hanging prominently in what is obviously some sort of safe zone/decontamination area and figuring she won’t need it because bio-suits are only for wimpy cowards who are afraid of bugs? The Great Jabootu has GOT to be licking his chops right about now.
So anyway, HF goes into the Locust Room bearing the ficus. There’s some byplay involving her blowing a kiss to HM on the other side of the glass, then suddenly one, two, a dozen and even more locusts are landing on HF. But that shouldn’t bother her at all, because locusts are just big ol’ grasshoppers and only big male weenies get all creeped out by bugs, and her not being a big male weenie, she would just shrug and…
HF has a hysterical fit. I repeat, Miss I – Don’t – Need – A – Biosuit – They’re – Locusts – Not -Tarantulas goes into full out screaming, swatting, hysterical “GET THEM OFF ME!!!” mode. Well, geez, dumbass, maybe there was a REASON they had a bio-suit hanging out in the clean room, yuh think?
So HM runs over the door, punches in the security code, runs through the clean area, and begins to try to swat the locusts off HF. In a room full of swarming locusts. Assuming the locusts are harmless (a safe assumption, unless you are two dim-bulbs at the beginning of a bad disaster movie), wouldn’t it make more sense to drag Miss Hissy-Fit to the clean area, seal it off from the Locust Room, and then swat off the locusts that are crawling on her? I mean, if you do it in the middle of the Locust Room, wouldn’t more locusts just land on her to replace the ones swatted off?
Apparently not, because HM gets all the locusts of HF and gets her out of the Locust Room. (I kind of like the ring of that – Locust Room. Kinda sounds like a smoke-filled nightclub in a noir film. But I digress.) The two stare in disbelieve as buzzing locusts (Do locusts buzz? If they are like crickets or grasshoppers, wouldn’t they chirp? These locusts sound like African Killer Bee Locusts) swarm around on the glass wall of the Locust Room.
HM grins like a big doofus. “Still wanna get somethin’ to eat?” he inquires cheerfully. Oh, gawd, NO!!! He’s the Odious Comic Relief!!! [Future Me: Actually, not. Thankfully, this is the last we see of him. Which is kind of too bad, because this film sure could have used some comedy relief, odious or not]. HF gives him a disgusted look and stomps out of the lab. Hey, if I was her I’d be counting my blessings about my boyfriend not razzing me for the rest of the evening by endlessly repeating, “They’re locusts, not tarantulas.” And then doing imitations of the screaming fit that ensued when a bunch of Not-Tarantulas landed on me.
Cue opening credits, so we can see which actors will be embarrassing themselves over the next 2 hours.
And then, CBS goes straight for the Money Shot (at least if you’re a horny teenage boy). Here comes Lucy Lawless, excuse me, “Dr. Rierdon”, traipsing onscreen in a silk shortie bathrobe, bra & panties to answer the phone. Later, she – hold on to your hats here, boys – REMOVES THE BATHROBE. This is a TV movie that certainly has it’s priorities in order. I can just hear the pitch meeting now – “We get her in her undies right off, it will be a sure-fire hit!”
Anyway, there’s a bunch of exposition here, the gist of which is that there’s some information that’s classified that shouldn’t be classified, and a “PETER AXELROD!” is involved. I’m not joking here – when the Doc hears the name on the phone, she repeats it just like that – “PETER AXELROD!”
Ooooh, and here’s Dylan Neal, fresh from THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL, flexing his pecs with towel at half-mast. Nice to see some exploitation thrown in for the ladies to enjoy. Sauce for the gander, sauce for the goose, that’s what I always say. Whoops, I somehow managed to type straight through Mr. Neal’s dialogue. I’ll just have to rewind… and pause… and rewind… and pause… and rewind… and pause… to make sure I get the dialogue ABSOLUTELY ACCURATE, of course. After all, gentle reader, you wouldn’t want me to shortchange you on important points of exposition, now would you?
Mr. Neal is pouty because the Doc is flying off again on business instead of spending quality time with him. Apparently, he turned down some big promotion on the promise that they would have a family, but no babies have been forthcoming. Ah, Hollywood’s favorite stereotype – the Driven But Childless Career Woman Who Gets In Touch With Her Maternal Side As Result Of Ensuing Events. (Right up there with the Driven Career Man Who Must Discover The Importance Of Family. Apparently men are so dense they have to wait until their spawnlings are like in their late teens before their parental instincts kick in. Or something).
Dr. Reardon meets with her colleague, Vivian, to be filled in on the doings of the nefarious PETER AXELROD! Apparently Mr. Axelrod has been studying the, and I quote, “hive characteristics of European vs. African honey bees.” OH MY GAWD!!! THEY ARE AFRICAN KILLER BEE LOCUSTS! [Future Me: Actually, no. More’s the pity.] “Why all the secrecy?” asks the inquisitive Doc. “Well, because…” says Vivian, and then the scene cuts away. BECAUSE HE’S BREEDING A STRAIN OF AFRICAN KILLER BEE LOCUSTS, THAT’S WHY!!!
Cut to a laboratory where John Heard (who is apparently PETER AXELROD!) is studiously taking notes as a bunch of bees buzz around a container. He looks up as the Doc enters, and the two greet each other by first names – obviously they are either
a) old friends (oh, PLEASE) or
b) ex-lovers who split because She Couldn’t Handle His Propensity To Cut Corners. [Future Me: Actually, no. More’s the pity.]
They exchange some dialogue, the point of which seems to be she’s vamping him like crazy. I’m not joking here. Dr. Reardon’s voice goes all smoky Lauren Bacall-ish and she starts batting her eyes and I honestly for a moment thought she was going to say, “You know how to whistle, don’t you? Just pucker your lips… and blow.” But no, instead she asks about what’s going on in “Lab C-12” and he goes to show it off to her because “she might find it interesting.”
Wait. A. Minute. Here. Isn’t this the lab from which all information has been classified? And she just traipses right in without any sort of security clearance whatsoever? Of course, this is the same crew that hired horny college students to feed their bugs while neglecting to inform them to don bio-suits to enter the Locust Room, so I guess the fact that they are letting every Tom, Dick and Lucy Lawless waltz into area where CLASSIFIED RESEARCH is being conducted shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
[Future Me: Actually, after making a big deal about how Dr. Reardon is motivated to go check out what’s going on in the laboratory because of information that got mysteriously classified, the movie just drops this angle completely. I’ve seen some pretty blatant plot-point oriented writing in my time, but this pretty much takes the cake.]
So, PETER AXELROD! escorts the Doc into the room where the locusts are merrily buzzing away – and HE doesn’t put on bio-suit. So, if nobody is supposed to wear the things, why are they hanging around being prominently displayed.? Is this some new trend in decorating that has somehow passed me by? “The Bio-suit. It’s the new black!”. Excuse me, I have to rush right out and stock up on bio-suits before I fall COMPLETELY off the cutting edge.
Anyway, PETER AXELROD! peels a locust of the wall, then takes it out and plops it on a table. Then he douses the poor little thing with DDT and proudly shows it off as it doesn’t die. He’s happy to explain he’s created a locust resistant to “all new pesticides” and also that his new hybrid apparently breeds like Tribbles, are longer-lived than regular locusts and also are incredibly fast. So he’s made a locust that can’t be killed, breeds like crazy, covers vast amounts of territory in short amounts of time, and lives to be a thousand in locust years. Where could all this be leading?
And more to the point: WHY?!?! What earthly purpose is served by doing this? About the only reason I can think of to design a DDT resistant strain of any critter is to study ways to prevent and treat DDT poisoning in people. But I would presume that such a study would center on a creature that has a bit more in common with human beings. You know, like mammals. “Because I can” does not seem to me to be a sound reason for the government to spend millions of dollars on this kind of research.
And we’re off to the races! Dr Reardon goes off on PETER AXELROD! Spitting out great big gobs of exposition and statistics, she points out that locusts aren’t exactly Friends of Man – they destroy crops and cause famine. PETER AXELROD! offers the usual mealy-mouthed “it’s science” explanation – “What if we could find a way to make people immune to diseases? Leukemia? Asthma”, to which Dr. Reardon offers up the obvious riposte, “You’re working with BUGS.” (Not to mention the fact that DDT isn’t a disease, it’s a poison). To which PETER AXELROD! replies, in a speech that I’m sure gladdened the heart of Lyz and any other real scientists watching this:
“I’m talking about the SCIENCE! And the SCIENCE could still apply!”
Oh, now I get it. We are not dealing with an EVIIIL gubmint agent here, we are dealing with a stereotype almost as beloved by Hollywood – the Theory-Bound Scientist Who Does Not Understand The Harm He Has Done Until Too Late. PETER AXELROD!, you are so dead. But you will most likely die nobly, Trying To Set Right The Wrong You Have Caused, rather than the other way you were sure to die – by Having Your Own Creation Turn Against You.
I’m still holding out for the Flesh-Eating Locust plot twist, though – although now I believe it will be an unintended side effect of the experiments. [Future Me: Actually, the moviemakers, having apparently watched one too many showings of JURASSIC PARK, go for an explanation even dumber than this.] Like creating a superfast, superbreeding, superlifespanned, unkillable breed of locust wasn’t enough.
You know, at this point I am almost wishing that the moviemakers here decided to go with the Evil Gubmint Plot trope. At least that would make some smidgen of sense. What other reason to genetically engineer a breed of Unkillable Super-Locusts except as a means of unconventional warfare? That would also explain all the security precautions in the lab and all the secrecy surrounding the data from the experiments – don’t want knowledge of THIS little bio-weapon leaking out!
The only things that would need to be changed here is to have the locusts be bred to have a SHORTER lifespan than usual and not to propagate quite so enthusiastically – you would want the bugs to decimate the OTHER GUYS crops, not ours. But then the locusts are somehow released from the lab, and then…
But, to paraphrase what a rather prominent government official once said, you review the movie you see before you, not the one you want or wish you might have. So back to the show.
Dr. Reardon gets stung by a locust. (HOW?!?!). [Future Me: I’m not kidding here. The movie is almost Ã¦’s over with before anybody in the cast thinks to proffer up an explanation as to why locusts, which are basically known for chewing up crops, would attack people. This leads to all sorts of confusion later on.]
She accuses PETER AXELROD! of creating a “bioweapon”, an accusation he refutes with conviction. (Dare I hope he has been used by Evil Gubmint types who perverted his selfless, noble (cough) research to their own evil ends?). Nevertheless, she announces she is going to “shut him down”. She wants the locusts destroyed, like yesterday. PETER AXELROD! protests that his work is not a threat in any, shape or form – “it’s all self-contained”. Well, except for priapic lab assistants who drag their boyfriends along when they feed the locusts and people with no security clearance being allowed to stroll right in.
You know, I really have to give John Heard credit here. He’s playing a character who is frankly ridiculous – someone who is simultaneously enormously smart and incredibly dumb – and yet he pulls it off well. You really get the feeling that he is a good-hearted, well-intentioned fellow who just hasn’t thought through the implications of his actions. The problem comes when you realize that his actions are BUTT STUPID.
“We can’t afford for even ONE of these things to get out!”, continues Dr. Reardon. Ummm, didn’t you just leave one FLYING AROUND OUTSIDE THE LOCUST ROOM? If you are so concerned about the danger of “even one” of the locusts escaping, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to ensure that the one you just observed was safely returned to the Locust Room?
But never mind, because Lucy Lawless has just intoned, “I want them… DESTROYED” in her best Xena Warrior Princess voice and all of a sudden I’m getting images of her yelling, “KI YI YI YI YI!!!”, whipping out a broadsword and getting all medieval on the locusts butts. Now, THAT would be something completely different.
Next scene: workers in fire suits wielding blowtorches and making Locust FlambÃˆ. PETER AXELROD! watches, tears in his eyes, as his pet bugs are incinerated. Meanwhile, Dr. Reardon , still all Xena-like, says, “You left me no choice, Peter – you’re fired.” I’m not quite sure whether or not this was the scriptwriter’s lame attempt at a pun or what. Crestfallen, PETER AXELROD! turns and leaves.
Meanwhile, one of the guys in the fire suit steps out into another room, removes his headgear, and looks around furtively. He picks up a silver briefcase and prepares to place a jar full of locusts into it. But wait! Klutz that he is, he manages to knock the UNSEALED JAR (nice move there, brainiac) into the sink and knock two of the creepy-crawlies down the drain! From which, moments later, they emerge from a sewer grating and merrily fly off through the city streets.
But have no fear. I’m sure that this turn of events will not hazard any ill effects whatsoever, or affect the plot in any way (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Although, at this point, I was envisioning a big production number with the locusts flying through the city streets while warbling “Wonderful Town”. Hey, it would be something completely different.
So, after a long day of shutting down idiotic locust experiments, having guys in bio-suits make Locust FlambÃˆ, and breaking poor idiotic PETER AXELROD!’s heart, Dr. Reardon returns home, where All Is Not Well. Former B&B Guy is all in a snit because the Doc was out all day doing her job instead of staying home spending quality time with him.
You know, as refreshing as it is to see a male character for once being given the “you – don’t – really – care – about – me – your – priorities – are – out – of – whack – I – can’t – compete – with – your – career – I – gave – up – everything – for – you – and -you – won’t – even – take – out – the – garbage” speech, it doesn’t make the whine any tastier. For one thing, it makes the character delivering the lines look like a self-absorbed twit. Sorry, Mr. Former B&B Guy, you’re a tasty dish with your shirt off, but you are a SELF-ABSORBED TWIT.
Anyway, Mr. Self Absorbed Twit proclaims that it’s not working out. Of course, Dr. Reardon has to rush off to deal with a West Nile outbreak, so she can’t stay and resolve the issue. Former B&B Guy decides to take that moment to drop the bombshell – he won’t be there when she gets back, he wants a separation. At that, Xena, fed up with this twit, whips out her Frisbee of Death and proceeds to slice to ribbons Former B&B Guy with it – oh, no, wait. Instead she gathers her luggage and trudges off, crushed. Former B&B Guy watches her go, pouting and flexing.
Meanwhile, a large plane lands at Andrews Air Force base and its single passenger passes off the jar with locusts inside it, this time encased in a stylish black case, to some guy in a beret. A helicopter lifts off. Cut back to Former B&B guy, pouting and flexing.
Cut to Dr. Reardon, looking all sad as she rides in a car. A plane lifts off. Cut to PETER AXELROD!, looking all sad as he surveys the carbonized remains of his locusts. It’s as if the movie has suddenly morphed into one of those romantic comedies where at some point everybody walks around all depressed and heartbroken while Mariah Carey caterwauls “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” on the soundtrack. I half expected to see Male Locust in a bar somewhere drowning his sorrows because Female Locust has dumped him for some Dragonfly. Seriously.
At another military base, Beret Guy hands over the briefcase to some guy in cammos, who climbs into a jeep and begins driving to somewhere or another. But then suddenly, a locust flies straight into cammo guys eye! He drops the briefcase and loses control of the car! A truck runs over the briefcase, releasing the other locusts! It’s like THE GREAT ESCAPE, except with locusts! Well, except that it isn’t.
Apparently, time passes, because suddenly we’re in Napa Valley and Dr. Reardon is trying to figure out a Pregnancy test. Here’s a hint for you, Doc – the word in the little window is “Pregnant”, so I think it’s safe to assume that the result of the test is positive. I could be just making wild speculations on no empirical evidence whatsoever, though. But, hey, I’m just sayin’…
Meanwhile, Former B&B Guy has apparently become a tour guide for the Living With the Land ride at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Oh, wait, he’s giving a tour of the United Nations Experimental Farm Facility in Virginia. His cell phone rings. It’s the Doc, bubbling over with the news that she’s expecting. Of course, she doesn’t come right out and SAY it (we’ve got almost an hour of movie left to go) – no, instead she gets all coy about it.
Former B&B Guy reacts to the fact that his now-separated wife decided to call him out of a clear blue sky all the way from California about a “hypothetical” pregnancy by launching into a diatribe about how she never spends any quality time with him, I-sacrificed-for-you-and-you-won’t-even-quit-your-job-for-me, yada yada yada blah blah blah. Dr. Reardon hangs up in tears. Next week on AS THE WORLD TURNS: Maddy tries to tell Dan she is pregnant, but will Female Locusts evil schemes interfere? Tune in tomorrow!
Oh, wait, the movie is still running. Dr. Reardon calls her grandpa in Indiana, who, judging from the fact he is clad in overalls and astride a tractor, appears to be a farmer. Hmmm. Granddad a farmer. Unkillable flesh-eating (I am sticking with this) super locusts on the loose. Where could this all be leading? I just don’t know, it’s a mystery. [Future Me: I am prepared to swear that when I saw this scene, Dr. Reardon distinctly referred to this guy as “Grandpa”. To swear. On a bible.]
Anyway, Grandpa, obviously the possessor of psychic abilities, manages to intuit that Dr. Reardon is knocked up. I am not kidding about this. He asks if she “feels sick”, then three seconds later, having gotten no answer, proudly proclaims, “You’re pregnant!”. I suspect that originally there was supposed to be another line of dialogue in there from Dr. Reardon explaining her delicate condition, but it didn’t make it to the final cut for whatever reason. At any rate, this demonstration of ESP on the part of ol’ Grandpa was hilarious, albeit unintentionally.
Cut to a shot of a campground. Ominous music broods on the soundtrack. Finally, we’re gonna get some Unkillable Flesh-Eating Locust Action! A black couple inside the tent is having a disagreement – hubby wants to canoodle but wifey wants to sleep. Hubby wins that little disagreement, sealing the couples doom. (Because you know, in these movies, getting horny ALWAYS means that seconds later you will set upon by Unkillable Flesh Eating Locusts).
Sure enough, the nasty buggers show up INSIDE THE SLEEPING BAG (apparently they teleported there), and we are treated to a scene of deeply embarrassed actors running around screaming and flailing their arms frantically before running off. The scene ends with a horrific (cough) close-up of a locust chewing on a leaf. OHMYGAWD, its eating vegetative matter! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
Back from commercial (Dear Gawd, we went through all this stupidity and we’ve only now made it to the FIRST COMMERCIAL BREAK? Help Me Rhonda, Yeah!). A swarm of locusts descends on a vineyard in California. I suppose here we’re going to get a “terrifying” scene of locusts munching on grape leaves or something. But wait! It’s Dr. Reardon and the Voracious Insect Mobile Research Lab racing to the rescue! We see Dr. Reardon spewing out a bunch of ER-type science jargon and then –
We cut to the kitchen of a suburban family dwelling in Leesburg, Virginia. I gotta tell you, the pulse-pounding suspense is KILLING me. [Future Me: Not to mention the incessant cross-cutting this movie employs. This technique is used throughout the movie from here on in, and, frankly, it’s ANNOYING.]
Mom, Dad & Cute Daughter are having breakfast. So, if it’s – what – 7 a.m. in Virginia, it’s got to be like 3-4 in the morning in California. And they had people out working in the vineyards? I knew that immigrant labor is horribly exploited, but this is RIDICULOUS. (It reminds of PEARL HARBOR, where Japanese zeroes come roaring in over Little League games being held at 5 in the morning). It turns out to be the abode of PETER AXELROD!, where there is some tension over the fact that he is unemployed. Wifey urges a Department of Defense job on ol’ Pete, but he is unenthusiastic.
Meanwhile, in California, a black cloud of locusts fills the sky. Dr. Reardon and her crew stare at it like slack-jawed yokels. Cut to PETER AXELROD! having a playful moment with his daughter at her bus stop. A touching moment ensues when he happens to follow her bus on the way to school and she draws a heart on the back window to show him she loves him. Awwwwww, isn’t that sweet. (She’s soooooo dead).
He continues on, than suddenly pulls over as a buzzing noise fills the sky. What could it be? It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s SUPERLOCUST! He walks into a field and… the locusts fly around him (more arm flapping). Cut to the School Bus of Impending Doom. The kids hear a buzzing noise. Cut to PETER AXELROD! frantically driving along (apparently tracking the locusts). Back to the school bus, which screeches to a halt for no apparent reason. The driver sees a swarm of locusts headed their way. He has the kids shut all the windows. Children scream in terror as the locusts swarm all around them. They gain egress to the bus and –
ALL THE CHILDREN ARE TRAUMATIZED AS THE BUS DRIVER IS CONSUMED BEFORE THEIR HORRIFIED EYES!!!
As if. No, instead, we’re treated to more screaming and flapping as the locusts basically fly around inside the bus and occasionally land on a kid. “I want my daddy”, screams PETER AXELROD!’S Cute Daughter as she flails away. And sure enough, it’s PETER AXELROD! to the rescue! He drives the swarming locusts away from his daughter (apparently the other kids can be left to their fate) with the exhaust from a fire extinguisher, then cradles the prostate body of his daughter in his arms as he stares at the strangely familiar locust…
And once again, I really gotta give John Heard credit. I mean, this scene is dumb as all get out, but dang if he doesn’t sell it. There really should be an Academy Award for Actors Who Do Exemplary Jobs In Otherwise Sucky Movies. I mean, let’s face it – it would be all too easy and understandable for any actor to sink to the level of dreck like this. For someone to step up to the plate and really try to put forth a really good performance goes above and beyond the call.
Meanwhile, in California, Dr. Reardon is picking up locust corpses after apparently having driven off the rest of the swarm by dint of heroically Staring Like a Slack-Jawed Yokel. The vineyard has been completely decimated. Meanwhile, Former B&B Guy studies a Locust Infestation Advisory on his computer. Just so, you know, we don’t forget he’s in the movie.
Meanwhile, its Gobs of Exposition time again as Dr. Reardon explains that there is no connection between the locust attacks in California & Virginia. (Hah!) Former B&B Guy calls her up to ask if the Locust Infestation Advisory is something he should worry about. (Oh, I dunno, one of the swarms occurred in VIRGINIA and you’re in VIRIGNIA with a farm full of nice tasty locust treats…). Dr. Reardon assures him there’s nothing to worry about. (Because she’s an idiot). “
You know, when I was young we lost a crop to locusts”, Dr. Reardon continues. “AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S IT LIKE FOR THEM MISS THIS HOUSE AND THAT HOUSE AND COME AFTER YOU!!!” Oh, wait, that’s “Twister”. You know, flying cows would liven up the proceedings right now quite a bit. Former B&B Guy is suddenly all apologetic about his diatribe earlier, because IITS. The conversation is interrupted when Dr. Reardon has to take call from the Secretary of Agriculture. (There she goes again, throwing over important Quality Time for silly stupid things like the Secretary of Agriculture).
Meanwhile, back in Virginia, PETER AXELROD!’s Cute Daughter lies in the hospital near death. From WHAT?!?! Excessive ooked-outedness? Could this movie PLEASE bother to explain how it is that vegetation-eating locusts could possibly be a danger to the life and limb of human beings? Unless, of course, they are FLESH-EATING LOCUSTS, in which case they better get to chomping some flesh and establish themselves as a credible threat.
[Future Me: Actually, it DOES turn out that they are flesh-eating locusts. However, the movie is incredibly coy about this – the Cute Daughter doesn’t have a single bite mark on her, nor any of the other victims of the locust attacks until we get to poor PETER AXELROD!, who gets turned in PETER AXELROD! Tartare (oops, hope I didn’t spoil anything there). I could speculate as to why the moviemakers felt it would be too “over the top” for cute little kids or comely female lab assistants to be shown bleeding from numerous locust bites, but felt free to go to town on the somewhat portly middle-aged guy, but instead I’ll just put it down to a limited effects budget and move on.]
More “horrifying” shots of locusts eating vegetation. Cut to Dr. Reardon’s team discussing ways to try and get rid of the locusts. Dr. Reardon orders up pesticide (FOOL! Don’t you know these are UNKILLABLE SUPER LOCUSTS?), then calls up a weatherman to ask where the locusts are headed. The weather guy responds quite reasonably that he predicts weather, not bug movements, but later avers that the locusts could be headed towards Pittsburgh or Cleveland, then mentions he also shared this information with PETER AXELROD! Dr. Reardon is immediately suspicious and orders her underling to contact PETER AXELROD!
Cut to a neighborhood carnival being attended by dad and two sons. What could possibly happen to them? Cut to the VIMRL racing down the highway as Dr. Reardon talks on the phone with PETER AXELROD! He offers to help with locust infestations, from which Dr. Reardon immediately figures out the locusts are the ones he invented (psychic abilities apparently run in her family). I mean, after all, there’s absolutely NO OTHER REASON a noted entomologist who has studied and worked with locusts for years would want to help contain a locust infestation. None at all.
Anyway, much blame-casting and finger-pointing ensues as the two scientists snark back and forth about how the locusts got out of the lab, and Dr. Reardon launches into yet another Gob of Exposition about the danger posed by unkillable superlocusts who don’t eat flesh but somehow manage to put people in the hospital anyway.
Dr. Reardon demands all of PETER AXELROD!’s research, which he is totally willing to turn over, but refuses his offer of help. This is not only moral posturing of the worst sort but also stupid as well. This guy is the world’s leading expert on this particular strain of locusts – he CREATED the things, for Pete’s sakes – so if he offers his help she should TAKE IT and leave the soapbox speeches for later.
Anyway, Dr. Reardon notices a sign that says “Citrus Festival” and a swarm of locusts buzzing over a town and asks PETER AXELROD! “Do locusts eat fruit?” Yeah, you don’t need his help at all, you can’t even figure out what locusts eat. Dimwit. PETER AXELROD! replies by saying, “Locusts eat everything”, which is hardly helpful information. Suddenly brain cells are leaking out of everybody’s ears in this flick – worse than usual, I mean.
Dr. Reardon’s crack team roars into the Citrus Festival to take the situation in hand. In one of the more realistic scenes of the movie, when Dr. Reardon tells the owner of the citrus grove about the need to evacuate immediately because of a swarm of deadly locusts heading his way, he replies, ‘Yeah, right”.
Meanwhile, the Dad & two sons we saw earlier, deep within the bowels of the orchard and so ignorant of the approaching danger, are set upon by the locusts. The two sons run to safety, but Dad is trapped in orange tree, swatting away. Pandemonium erupts at the not-evacuated festival, as summer bathers flee in panic before the approaching shark – oops, I mean, festival attendees attempt to escape from the swarming locusts. Dr. Reardon personally rescues a child because otherwise she’d just be a big bogus doof. She runs to safety cradling the tot in her arms. Then two seconds later she emerges in power suit, screaming, “GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH!” Oh, wait, wrong flick – again.
Now comes an actually somewhat affecting shot – the owner of the orchard is running amongst the trees, futilely spraying pesticide about in an effort to save his livelihood. “It’s not doing anything!”, he cries. Cut to a close-up of Dr. Reardon. “Nothing will” she mutters, dolefully. I’d suggest a buttload of seagulls get imported in, but I’m just a stupid layperson who’s dumb enough to think that actually taking help from the pre-eminent expert in the field about this strain of locusts might do some good. Obviously, I’d be no good at all in a situation like this.
Cut to Pittsburgh. It’s a lovely sunny day, kids are buying hot dogs from a vendor in the park. In the offices of an outbound telemarketer, two co-workers flirt, then the female flirtee dishes with her friend about the male flirtee. Meanwhile, PETER AXELROD!, approaching the outskirts of the city in his car, calls the Weather Guy for some information, only to be told that Weather Guy can’t tell him anything anymore. What, now you need a security clearance to get the WEATHER REPORT? Who knew?
Back to the office. The two females are STILL dishing about Male Flirtee. I’m really starting to wish my flesh-eating locusts scenario had come to pass, because these two slutty chicks deserve to become bug food, stat. Meanwhile, at the airport, two pilots walk out to a plane (once again, the suspense is killing me).
Back at the office, it turns out that Female Flirtee is being given a surprise party. One of her male coworkers (not Male Flirtee), gazes at her, lovelorn, but unable to speak of how he truly feels. That, or else he has gas. Mariah Carey caterwauls on the soundtrack. Okay, not really, but at this point it wouldn’t hurt. A swarm of locusts heads towards the building. (Thank GAWD! EAT THEM ALL!!!) Meanwhile, at the airport, the traffic controllers order as flight to divert “for weather”.
The locusts descend on downtown Pittsburgh! Pandemonium erupts! (Am I evil for laughing out loud at the shot of the locusts buzzing around the spilled hot dogs from the upturned vendor’s cart?) In the office building, Male Flirtee starts quoting Scripture as he gazes upon the swarming locusts. Little does he know, as he invokes the power of the Lord, that the locusts at that very moment are making their ingress into the building via the ventilation ducts!
Meanwhile, PETER AXELROD! is calling the airport to warn them that what they think is a cloud formation is actually a swarm of locusts headed their way, something Miss I – Don’t – Need – Your – Stinkin’ – Help Reardon singularly neglected to do. But of course, the snitty Air Traffic Controller refuses to believe him and her partner clears an aircraft for takeoff.
Back in the office building, more pandemonium erupts when it is realized the locusts are inside the building. (More evil laughter erupts from me as the bugs are seen crawling all over Female Flirtees birthday cake). Male Flirtee proves himself a weenie of the first order when he has hysterics from having a bunch of bugs land on him.
At the airport, the plane takes off… right into the swarm of locusts. The locusts befoul the engines, causing the plane to crash. Both the Air Traffic Controller who had been giving PETER AXELROD! a hard time and PETER AXELROD! react with horror to the sight. (And once again, John Heard takes the acting honors. And once again his talents are wasted).
After the commercial, we see the remains of the fruit orchard in the aftermath of the locust attack. The trees have been stripped bare. Meanwhile, Dr. Reardon has called the farm in Indiana and –
WAIT A MINUTE! She is referring to this guy as “Daddy”. But in her earlier conversation he was “Grandpa’! What gives? My ears or the continuity guy? Well, I’m NOT rewinding to double check this (it would be too painful), I’ll leave it for Dear Reader to make up his/her mind as to who goofed here.
Anyway, Dr. Reardon apparently called her Now-Dad to inform him that she has no idea on how to get rid of the locusts. We see a news report recapping what we’ve already seen, then segue to PETER AXELROD! in the hospital (daughter got nearly terminally ooked-out by the bugs, remember?) explaining to his wife that he is responsible for the locust infestations. Wifey is less than understanding, and then PETER AXELROD! is approached by an FBI agent and taken off .
Meanwhile, a special Homeland Security Task Force has been convened to discuss the locust threat, which Dr. Reardon is sitting in on. She explains that the locusts are not a terrorist threat, which should have ended the meeting right there, but no, she keeps on going on about how these are super-duper unkillable locusts.
During all this, PETER AXELROD! is being questioned by the FBI. [Future Me: Actually, it turns out he’s being held by the military, but the people who took them away were wearing jackets that said “FBI” on them, which is how I made the assumption.] Most of this is stuff we already know, gussied up to sound all official and important. Guess the filmmakers wanted to give all the folks switching over from The Contender a recap before plunging on with the rest of the plot, such as it is.
The FBI is more or less looting PETER AXELROD!’s house (so much for him sharing his notes), and meanwhile, in response to a particular question he reveals the Department of Defense was in on his research. (Bum bum BUUMMMM!!!).
Meanwhile, an hour into the movie, we are finally informed that Former B&B guy has a name- Dr. Dan Dryer. Bah. I’m still calling him Former B&B Guy. He makes a presentation to the Task Force, proffering a short term solution to the problem – get farmers to bring in their crops early, thus protecting them from the ravages of the locusts. (Given that the locusts have already been shown to be able to enter buildings, I’m not so sure this will help. But hey, at least the guy is thinking at least somewhat proactively and not sitting around nattering about Biblical-level plagues and then shrugging his shoulders when it comes time to cough up some ideas for taking care of the mess. He may be a self-absorbed twit but at least he’s a smart self-absorbed twit).
Anyway, a news report says that the locusts caused a multi-car pileup outside of Lodi. Next up, a locusts-eye view of a locust attack on a herd of sheep. (“Baaa! Baaa!” the sheep mewl piteously, which translated from Sheepese, means, “Call my agent and get me out of this dumb movie!”).
Back to more Task Force blabbing. The Big Military Poobah announces that his people will take care of everything , because as we all know Big Military Poobahs are all about blowing up stuff real good and not sharing. Dr. Reardon (she of the “They’re unstoppable! There’s nothing we can do!” gloom-and-doom pronouncements just minutes earlier), recommends advising people to stay inside as much as possible (WHY?!?! The locusts have already shown they can get inside buildings) and a halt to all international travel (WHY?!?! Again – these are locusts we are talking about, not an infectious disease).
A call comes in – a swarm of locusts has killed a herd of sheep (“That’ll learn ’em for trying to call their agents – if WE’RE stuck in this crapfest, than so are you!”). And here the flick proceeds to go right off the rails. “It’s possible they may have turned carnivorous” intones Dr. Reardon., and Former B&B Guy chimes in with a concurrence, “In Africa & Australia when food sources become depleted locusts become cannibalistic.”
Where to start with this idiocy? Well, first of all, the field that the sheep were in when the locusts attacked them was lush & green, so it’s clear their food source was nowhere near depleted. Not to mention that earlier when the locusts attacked people they zoomed right by plenty of perfectly good natural food supply to do so.
Secondly, if the locusts were to become “cannibalistic” that means they would start eating EACH OTHER, not other animals. And finally, I know I have been arguing all along for flesh-eating locusts, but I was thinking along the lines of genetically designed flesh eating locusts – that way, there’s a pseudo-scientific explanation available to elide issues like how the jaw structure of the locusts and their digestive systems can adapt from being designed to process vegetation to being designed to process meat. The idea that they could just wake up one day and decide to be meat-eaters is just DUMB.
More blabbage. Basically, politics demands that a scapegoat be found for the disaster, and it looks like it’s going to be Dr. Reardon. She decides (finally) to get ahold of PETER AXELROD! and see what he can do to help. Then Former B&B Guy comes over to talk to her and she blurts out that she’s preggers. He, of course, is thrilled, because nothing solves a troubled marriage like an unexpected pregnancy. Yeah, right.
Meanwhile, the questioning of PETER AXELROD! has been veering off into X-Files territory. He says there’s no way to stop the locusts without killing 50% of the population. His questioners think a 10% breakage rate is acceptable. I say split the difference at 30% and call it a day. Hey, it’s no dumber than what we’ve been asked to accept in this movie.
Later, his captors demonstrate a super-pesticide [Future Me: Actually, it turns out to be a nerve gas] that kills the locusts. “It’s the same stuff Saddam used on his own people”, says the guy demonstrating the substance cheerfully. It works, but… PETER AXELROD! avers that he’s not sure they should be using this stuff to kill the locusts. No kidding. Hey, if the dang things turn carnivorous at the blink of an eye, why not just set out a bunch of poisoned steaks to get rid of them?
Meanwhile, Former B&B Guy oversees a farmer racing to get his crops in before the locusts hit. The suspense here is pulse-pounding. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Dr. Reardon calls so they can waste some screen time discussing their relationship, then schmoozes Big Military Poobah into coughing up PETER AXELROD! to help her out.
She reacts as one would expect to the prospect of spraying half the USA with nerve gas to kill the locusts, ‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!?!” For once, her propensity to launch into strident, self-righteous speeches seems justified – this is the most butt-stupid idea I ever heard, aside from genetically creating unkillable flesh-eating super-locusts, that is.
On the other hand, she hasn’t been too forthcoming with any ideas of her own, which, not surprisingly, absolutely no one points out to her. Anyway, the military scientist guy explains that they plan to release the nerve gas at high altitude so that by the time it hits the ground it will be strong enough to kill the locusts but not strong enough to harm human beings. Sounds like a reasonable idea to me.
What sounds even more reasonable is evacuating the areas in the path of the locusts (what Dr. Reardon has been passionately advocating for the last fifteen minutes of boring exposition scenes), dropping the nerve gas at altitude as suggested, then allowing people back in when it is safe.
But of course, that would deny Dr. Reardon a chance to fulminate righteously about 20% of the population dying and the cold-eyed military guy saying “only 5 to 10 percent” and Dr. Reardon yelling and PETER AXELROD! saying it’s all they’ve got blah blah blah blah… (Although there is an amusing moment when Dr. Reardon asks what kind of tests have been performed on this substance and PETER AXELROD! replies, ‘It killed the locusts in the lab!”. How did the guy get to be a scientist again?).
Big Military Poobah cuts all conversation short by announcing that they will test out the nerve gas on the swarm over Ohio (hmmmm… where Former B&B guy is…. Hmmmm….), leaving Dr. Reardon to look all tragic as she contemplates, “all the kids down there.” Yup, those maternal instincts are bubbling the fore right and left now that the good Doctor has got in touch with them.
More locust attacks. Meanwhile, in Indiana, Dr. Reardon’s grandpa/dad is rushing to get his crops in. Meanwhile, the military prepares to drop the nerve gas. Meanwhile, I catch up on my sleep. PETER AXELROD!, Cold-Eyed Military Scientist Guy, and Big Military Poobah board a helicopter to observe the spraying, and Dr. Reardon bulls her way on. So much for the fiery helicopter crash I had anticipated would liven up the proceedings. Back at the Task Force headquarters news comes in… the swarm is shifting! It’s headed for Indiana! Where could this all be leading? More to the point, why should I care?
In case you were wondering, there’s approximately 33 Ω minutes of this to go… (Groan…).
Anyway, Cold-Eyed Military Scientist Guy announces they will spray over southern Indiana, bringing a protest from Dr. Reardon: “That’s a populated area!”. PETER AXELROD! sides with Dr. Reardon, reminding the military guys that they said they would spray over remote areas. Oh, you silly fool, don’t you realize yet that military people in bad disaster flicks always lie like Persian rugs? The two doctors realize they’ve been royally hosed.
But not so fast… Dr. Maddy Xena Warrior Princess Reardon is not going to take this sort of thing lying down! Realizing that there is a container of the deadly gas right there inside the helicopter with them (Military types. Go fig.)., she grabs a handy wrench that was just lying around and starts whacking the container. KLANG!!! “I would rather the four of us die right here than innocent people lose their lives!” KLANG!!! “I’m pregnant and I’m hormonal and you don’t want to cross this mother!” KLANG!!! “KI YI YI YI YI YI!!!” (Okay, I made up that last line, but not the first two).
PETER AXELROD!, realizing that in a situation like this ’tis better to be Joxer than be dead, side with Dr. Reardon. Just when things look like they are really about to spin out of control, Big Military Poobah receives a communiquÃˆ from HQ – the mission has been scrubbed. Somehow, “GNN” got hold of a scoop about the plans to spray Indiana. At this very moment they are broadcasting the news far & wide, while over on “Box News” announcers are stridently defending the right of the government to gas its own people, and “NSMBC” struggles to keep up. Ah, the gritty realism of the bad disaster movie!
Crisis safely averted, Dr. Reardon calls Former B&B Guy – the swarm is over Indiana and she can’t get in touch with her dad. Former B&B Guy, now that all their marital problems have been solved by dint of her getting knocked up, is more than willing to drop everything he is doing and drive to Indiana to check in on him. The tension (snooooooore) mounts…
Back to Indiana. Granddaddy/Daddy is driving a wagonload full of corn into the barn when a warning comes in over the radio – all people and animals should take shelter. Glancing over, he sees two cude widdle calves that somehow managed to wander outside. What geniuses the people who made these movies are! Other filmmakers, hacks all, would have been content with endangering a dog or a kitten, these people take it to next level and put baby cows in the line of attack! (Insert your own “Milk-Fed Veal On the Locust Menu” joke here).
Back at the military base, Dr. Reardon is giving Big Military Poobah her best “I’m – Xena – Don’t – Mess – With – Me – Or – I’ll – Slice – Your – Throat – With – My – Cheekbones” look as she announces that she is going to Indiana “to oversee things””(yeah, RIGHT), and taking PETER AXELROD! with her. Big Military Poobah gives her the “I’m – the – US – Military – Don’t – Mess – With – Me – Or – I’ll – Nuke – Your – Butt” staredown in return before replying that PETER AXELROD! is in military custody. PETER AXELROD! intervenes and obtains Big Military Poobah’s assent to Dr. Reardon’s demand by use of the radical technique known as “asking nicely”. He’s going to go to the front of the swarm and take some samples (in other words, his end is nigh).
So, all our main characters converge on Indiana for the last big showdown with the locusts. While he is driving there with Dr. Reardon, PETER AXELROD! gets a phone call – his little girl has come out of her coma and is all better now. (I’ll say. The kid was positively glowing with health. She’s the most vigorously alive recently-in-a-coma patient I’ve ever seen. What are they putting in hospital food these days?). Once again, John Heard redeems a bit of this hokum with his performance here. You know, they really ought to have an Oscar for… oh, wait, I already said that.
Cut to a shot of silos looming ominously against an overcast sky. Yup, ya gotta know, when the silos start looming ominously, bad things are sure to come. Dr. Reardon pulls up and leaps out of the car as she sees her father trying to lead two calves at once across the meadow. Ahhhhhhh, cude widdle itty-bitty baby cows! They are in such danger! Of course, we must save them! PETER AXELROD!, meanwhile, pulls a sample box back end of the car. (Why we needed to see this, I’ll never know). Anyway, as Granddad/Dad and Dr. Reardon hustle the calves into the barn, and PETER AXELROD! takes samples, and Former B&B Guy comes roaring up the driveway…
The swarm descends! (Finally! All this ominous looming was getting on my nerves). Granddad/Dad, Former B&B guy, and Dr. Reardon dash towards the barn, while PETER AXELROD! gazes up at the cloud of locusts and intones, “What have I done?” (And dang if John Heard doesn’t make that moment darn near Shakespearean). And then dashes towards the barn.
So our leads sit inside the barn and yak as the locusts swarm all over the outside of it. Suddenly, Dr. Reardon gets an idea – ELECTRICITY! They will turn the silo they are in into a giant bug zapper by dint of electrifying the walls. (I still think importing a bunch of seagulls would work better). All they have to do is fire up the generator and –
Ooops! One teensy tiny problem… there’s no gas to run the generator. Somebody has to go out and fetch more. PETER AXELROD! (of course) volunteers (of course) to do so while Dr. Reardon (of course) blurts out words to the effect of “It’s suicide!” He throws a blanket over himself and out he goes. A few moments later, he returns bearing the gas, almost completely chomped up by the locusts (of course) and dying (of course).
Granddad/Dad and Former B&B Guy electrify the silo while PETER AXELROD! gasps out some final words to Dr. Reardon, asking her to tell his wife and daughter he loves them. The electrification scheme works and thousands of dead locusts fall off the silo as PETER AXELROD! breathes his last breaths. The Gods of the Disaster Movie are Harsh Gods, it doesn’t matter that this guy was just about the only interesting character in the entire film, he has Transgressed Against Nature and so therefore must Pay The Ultimate Price. PETER AXELROD!, we hardly knew ye. A moment of silence please.
Okay, now where was I? Oh, yeah. A government official makes a speech on television, the gist of which is that the two swarms are still on the move and that the government is going to commence the spraying program since it is The Only Way to stop the locusts. (SEAGULLS, you nincompoops! Import SEAGULLS!).
Meanwhile, Dr. Reardon and Former B&B guy have a bonding moment, then crash the Task Force meeting with their “Electricity!” solution. Everyone pooh-poohs her idea until Lorelei Wentworth from the Department of Energy pipes up and says it could work. It just so happens that along the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River are structures called the Continental Power Grid (and the locusts are due to cross the Rockies and the Mississippi… what a coinkydink, no?).
Increasing the current in the grids would make them into a giant electric fence. One little catch – everybody in the nation would have to stop using electricity so they could get enough power to supercharge the grids. Big Military Poobah still holds out for the nerve gas solution, but is outvoted. He announces, however, that the nerve gas will still be held in reserve as a Plan B. Yeah, yeah, people, just get to the big bug-zapping scene already, you’ve already killed off the only character that made the movie watchable, I’m no longer cutting you any slack. I take these things hard.
So Dr. Reardon and Former B&B guy take off in a jet to oversee things while preparations are being made for Operation Megazap or whatever they are calling it. (Operation Rolling Blackout? Operation Enduring Citronella Candle?) Suddenly, Former B&B Guy poses another question – what if the locusts don’t fly close enough to the grid? (A fairly obvious ploy to chew up some more running time).
Dr. Reardon remembers the silos glinting in the sun, and realizes the locusts are attracted to bright reflective light. (But…but… when the locusts attacked the silos it was gloomy and overcast. How could she… Oh, never mind. Anything to get to the end of this picture). She makes a call to the local weather service and – voila! Bazillions of weather balloons coming on line! Swell. Now get to the big locust vs. people showdown already.
The power gets diverted. The plane lands and Dr. Reardon and Former B&B guy get out. Locusts fly around. Big Military Poobah snarks at the Task Force. The weather balloons go up. Dr. Reardon yells instructions on how to place them. She & Former B&B Guy are about to kiss when the locusts make the scene. Everybody holds their breath…
And the locusts get fried. Did you doubt for a second that they wouldn’t?
Cheers break out at Task Force HQ. There’s a nice moment when Lorelei Wentworth of the Department of Energy ecstatically hugs Big Military Poobah and he even manages to crack a smile. The smile lasts until a nasty Congressperson sneeringly reminds him that, “If I were the general who authorized gassing the American people, I’d be worried about my job.” Because Lord forefend that a military type be happy it didn’t have to come to that. And heaven knows that the Congressperson who actually signed on to such a plan would never face any electoral consequences of any kind.
Out by the power grid, Dr. Reardon and Former B&B guy have a big long romantic kiss in their car while scorched locust corpses fall about them. Look, I don’t care how much luuurv two people have just fallen or how relieved they are that they have saved the world, I can think of nothing that would dampen the romantic urge more than the smell of deep-fried bug wafting through the air. Then, later, a newscaster announces that all is now well over shots of lush fields.
In a final coda, Dr. Reardon (now “Mrs. Dryer”) and Dan are shown billing and cooing over their young one at Granddad/Dad’s farm in Indiana. She gets a phone call – there’s been an outbreak. But wait! She’s not so eager to rush off and save the world. She has Other Priorities now. Maternal instincts and all that.
Oh, goody, I can go to bed now.
What to say about Locusts? First of all, credit where credit is due – the film did manage to do some things right. The first half moved along at a nice pace, especially the Twister-inspired middle section featuring people in cars zipping about after the swarm as it attacked one area after another. The special effects were well-done, and the acting was fairly credible. (I have been fulsome in my praise of John Heard here, but his co-stars also did good work. Saddled with the usual boatload of morally posturing speeches, Lucy Lawless worked hard to keep her character from becoming a self-righteous shrew, while Dylan Neal finesses his transformation from Pouty Estranged Husband to Deeply In Love Daddy-to-Be so well you almost forget it occurs within the blink of an eye).
But the stuff Locusts did wrong, it REALLY did wrong. First of all, the stated explanation for why the locusts were brought into being is patently absurd. Secondly, the film doesn’t bother to come up with an explanation as to why locusts, which are primarily known for consuming crops, would suddenly start attacking people, until almost the end of the film – and when they do, it’s a patently ridiculous explanation couched in a throwaway line.
The possibility that locusts might have natural predators which keep their numbers in line – my running “use seagulls!” joke is a reference to a historical incident in the 1800’s in which the Mormon settlement at Salt Lake City was saved from a locust infestation by the timely appearance of some hungry gulls – is not even mentioned, even to be dismissed. (How hard would it have been to put in a line that said, “Well, the birds are eating them, but they’re breeding too fast for it to make an appreciable difference”?).
And, after a first half that moves along at a smart pace, the second half of the movie bogs down terribly. It’s scene after scene of people sitting around a conference table talking. The filmmakers would have done a lot better for themselves if they had spread the “locust attack” scenes they frontloaded into the movie throughout, as punctuation to all the talky scenes. Not only that, but what is supposed to be the movies climactic set piece – The Bugs Get Fried – is decidedly not. I was honestly surprised to discover, after what truly came off as the climactic scene – the swarm attacking the silo – that there was still fifteen minutes of running time left in the movie!
In the end, Locusts isn’t really good enough to merit serious consideration and isn’t really bad enough to give the dedicated Jabootuian the schadenfreude-y thrill of eviscerating every misbegotten frame. It just kind of lays there, lifeless and inert and completely forgettable, towards the low end of the bell curve. A D-minus on the grade scale. A couple of months from now, I will probably have to reference this review just to remember what the movie was about.