The manticore is a legendary creature of persian (300 villains) origin. Half man, half bear, half pig I believe. Or is it half pig, half man, half bear? Wait, I just looked it up. It's half lion, half man, half dragon, and half scorpion. The Sci-fi channel, in 2005's Manticore, has chosen to address this legend in a scathing treatise on the war in Iraq. Of course, based on this picture, the manticore is actually about 75% lion, 20 % dragon, and 5 % scorpion or actually, what I might consider to be stingray. So, not quite half and half and half. Thankfully, they didn't even attempt the "man" part, even though it's in the fucking title. That would have looked even more ridiculous. Believe me, this thing didn't need any more help in that department.
The first thing I noticed was "wow, I know this scene." What Manticore has managed to do, brilliantly I might add, is rip off several other far superior movies. Like most Sci-fi originals, there is a galling bankruptcy of imagination. Here's the formula. Take a creature (either mythological or genetically altered), come up with a basic plot involving a group of characters isolated from the rest of society, rip off scenes from classic movies within the genre, mix in a few C-list (and below) actors, and Voila! You've made yourself a Sci-fi original. Manticore is a part of the "essential" collection, so I can only imagine what crap is considered non-essential. God, this movie stinks
Here's the basic plot. We're a few years into the debacle known as the war in Iraq. Apparently, the terrorists must think we're winning the war because they wake up a manticore to help fight their battle. However, the manticore just holes up in an isolated town called Al Kumar and feeds on the villagers instead. That's ok, they can just blame it on the United States later. For some reason, an american journalist for GNN named Ashley Pierce, played terribly by Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and her cameraman come to this town because they heard some WMDs might be hidden there. What they find instead is a "living, breathing WMD". The United States Army stationed in the area, under the command of Major Spense (Jeff Fahey from Body Parts and Planet Terror), sends in a squad of soldiers led by Seargent Baxter (I swear it's George Lopez) and Corporal Kinky played by Heather Donohue (she was in Blair Witch Project, not The Bare Wench Project) to retrieve Pierce. I guess these are the C-listers. Actually, Fahey is more of a B- lister. No one else is really worth mentioning. So, the soldiers get to the town and are immediately under attack from the manticore. Can they hold out until support arrives? Oh, also one of the terrorists is in the town as well (played by Faran Tahir and looking like Mola Ram). There's also an Iraqi boy, with a heart of Saddam's missing bullion, to show us that not all Iraqi's want to blow us up.
The initial scene, the one where the beast is unleashed, is stolen directly from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom AND Conan the Destroyer. I guess the filmmakers need to be given credit for that small coup. The slaughter that follows, in this scene, is not quite as good as Conan, however. The red stuff flies certainly, but we don't get to see much detail. Wisely, the creature is shown sparingly. Unwisely, this was not the case later on. Typical of Sci-fi, they employed Playstation 2 CGI. My favorite line came in this opening scene when Mola Ram says "for 2,000 years they have slept, waiting paitently to be called to rid us of our enemies". George Bush? If you're listening, I think it's time we left Iraq. Do you really want to take the chance that terrorists have access to such a weapon?
Baxter's squad is introduced to us during a stone fight that escalates into a firefight. Think Saving Private Ryan meets Brotherhood of the Wolf, which in turn, says "hi" to The A-Team. It didn't really work. They're a rag tag bunch of loveable guys though that truly enjoy each others company. Baxter is under the impression that their job is to help these people (the Iraqis), but his commanding officer (Fahey) has other ideas. A potential conflict that isn't really dealt with once there is a monster to deal with.
Once the squad reaches Al Kumar everything goes to shit, including the movie. The jokester of the bunch, Mickey is torn to shreds because he's been labeled "the boy who cried manticore". The Sarge radioes in that they "are under attack from an unknown entity that can't be categorized". There's an attempted helicopter rescue that shamelessy lifts the attempted rescue scene verbatim from Aliens, a film I'm pretty sure is infinitely superior. The guy named Busey (not to be confused with Gary or Jake) I believe is taken out during the "spectacular" crash. One soldier tapes a goodbye message to his wife, so we can only guess what happens to him seconds later. Yeah, he gets impaled by manticore's barbed tale. One thing struck me as odd though. Apparently, there was no medic in this squad or perhaps he was killed early on and I didn't notice. As one soldier lies dying, All Baxter can do is tell him to "hang in there"? No morphine, no gauze, no impromptu surgery. This film might be the greatest deterrent to military service that I have ever seen.
This particular picture ends, as they all do, with the calling in of a strategic air strike. Is that going to destroy the manticore?
Are you kidding? Look at that thing! Clearly, the only way to defeat it is to rip off The Clash of the Titans and use a mirror. Then, the filmmakers can rape The Terminator and have it's glowing red eyes fade to black. By the way, the beast looked exactly like the image above, except it had the head of a lion and the wings of a dragon. Other than that, same thing.
If you're a Jeff Fahey fan, as I am, don't bother with this one unless you're a completist. I think he's halfway through his 50 picture deal with the Sci-fi channel, a contract he must be regretting. Why else would half his roles consist of throwaway parts filmed in the span of an hour? A quick word on the setting. This was apparently filmed in Bulgaria, a place I will not soon be visiting because it looks exactly like Iraq. A quicker note on Heather Donahue. Porn. It's in your future. How many times have I used that line before?