Sunday, July 26, 2009

King of the Ants (2003)

Turns out that title is a metaphor or something. This isn't a Willard style Ant story like I had hoped. Shit, what I got might not be what I hoped for but sometimes its good when they throw you a curveball.

What we got here is the story of Sean Crawley, a grade-A nobody. Kid's not really good at anything. He paints houses for a living but even George Wendt can tell he's not a professional. Wendt is the electrician working on the same house. Wendt's named "Duke" Wayne, not sure why. They get to talking, have a few beers, few laughs, really buddy type shit. Duke takes Crawley's number, maybe he'll call him, his boss might have some work for him down the road. Wouldn't it be weird if Duke was calling just as Crawley got home. Sorta weird I guess. Maybe not weird at all.

Anyway, Duke's boss has a job for Crawley. Duke's boss is also a Baldwin, Daniel Baldwin. Looks and talks just like Alec, only something's off, can't really place what it is. Baldwin wants Crawley to spy on this guy played by Ron Livingston (Swingers and Office Space). If Livingston takes a piss, Baldwin wants to know the color. Crawley takes the job which helps to satiate his James Bond fantasy. He follows Livingston to work (he's a city hall accountant), on the train, home. He's pretty terrible at it. I think at one point he was taking surveillance photos with a polaroid. Not exactly a certified private dick. At Livingston's home he sees, and falls in love with, his wife played by Kari Wuhrer. They have a kid, live in a nice suburban neighborhood, etc. Crawley falls asleep across the street propped up against the curb, wakes up the next morning, tries to act nondescript, does a shitty job but still goes unnoticed (he was pretending to change his bicycle tire). The fact the guy's no good is a pretty obvious fact.

Well, I had the picture figured out by this point. Crawley is the rube, right. The patsy. They're setting him up for something because no criminal mastermind (I guess that's Baldwin) would hire this guy to run surveillance. Then Crawley runs into Baldwin waiting outside his apartment with a bottle of nearly empty Jack Daniels (it was full when he got there). They have an odd discussion, the subject of murder comes up and suddenly it appears that Crawley's been offered thirteen grand to kill Livingston. Why would they want to kill the guy? He seems nice enough. He kisses his wife goodbye on her way to work and says "go save the world" (she works at a homeless mission). He gardens. He's good with kids. When Crawley shows up at his door wearing the strangest hit man getup since Nail Gun Massacre, Livingston's still friendly to him. After Crawley bashes him in the head with a valuable sculpture he kinda simply just asks "what are you doing?" Nice guy. Then Crawley drops the fridge on his head. And this is the guy we are supposed to pull for I guess.

The movie takes an unexpected turn when Crawley tries to blackmail Baldwin and his men (including a normal looking Vernon Wells, not so normal looking in The Road Warrior and Commando). Well, maybe blackmail is the wrong term. He tries to get them to pay the money that they owe him. He claims to have documents linking them to the crime, etc. Then they drag Crawley off into the desert, lock him in a shed, and the movie gets weird.

I'm not sure what I think about this one. Baldwin, Wendt, and a guy named Carl have plans for Crawley. They bind him to a chair, tie part of a mattress around his head, and then whack him with a golf club. This shit gets pretty brutal. Their plan is to make him a vegetable so he can't implicate them I guess...or maybe he'll spill the beans on the alleged documents. Between each vicious whack Crawley is left alone to his fantasies, all involving Wuhrer. First she's naked, then she's naked with a power drill, then she has a dick, and finally she's a blob type creature eating her own shit. Yeah, it's a little weird.

Fuck it though, you gotta love Stuart Gordon for doing shit like this. I mean, he made Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, and other Lovecraft type shit. Maybe Castle Freak? On the other hand, he made stuff like Edmond, Stuck, and this....weird shit to be sure, but also daring, funny, and more grounded in reality. Stuck was even based on a true story. Even if this shit ain't working it's still impressive.

I couldn't figure out where this movie was going after those scenes in the shed. Crawley develops a welt the size of a softball on his head. How is he even alive? He becomes more animal-like, simple, drools a whole lot, shits himself, etc. Is it an act? The picture is full of ambiguity in my opinion. I kept thinking of that picture, Brazil. You know how that shit ends? With the hero about to be tortured or lobotomized or something and at the last second he's rescued and escapes to the countryside with his beautiful girlfriend only at the end we realize he never left his torture chair. I kept figuring that's where this thing was going. I won't spoil the surprise on that one. Let's just say it didn't happen the way I figured. Whoops.

My only problem with the movie is the main character. I didn't think Chris McKenna was a very compelling lead. I didn't like him, too raw I guess. I mean, he made Daniel Baldwin look like Alec Baldwin. His scenes sorta had that verite (reminded me a little of Slacker at first, must have been some of the "unscripted" conversations) thing going on and then I realized it's just because he's not very good, but then I realized maybe that's the point. You don't want a star in that part, you want some average shlub, a nobody. If you got someone more experienced he probably wouldn't convince us he's a rotten painter or a terrible snoop. Also, the scene where he murders Ron Livingston is near perfection. Shit, I didn't expect him to go through with it. Just seemed like it kinda happened against his will. I guess I take it back, Mckenna was a good choice. Still, kind of a douche.

To sum up, we got a strange little picture here with some weird directional shit going on, some terrific gore moments, sledge hammer violence, Kari Wuhrer with a penis, etc. I guess you're still wondering about the ants? At first, I thought that Baldwin was the king and the rest of us were ants. However, Wendt pointed out to Crawley that he's an ant which, I guess, makes Wendt his king. I still don't have a fucking clue what it all means but I do know this one is probably worth checking out. I think Wuhrer's penis was likely a prosthetic.


elmo said...

Actually, the fact that I haven't seen everything by Stuart Gordon is kinda shameful. From Beyond had such a brilliant ambience. The excessive smuttiness helped, too.

brian said...

Yeah, I have From Beyond, love the shit out of it. I'll need to watch it again soon so I can do a proper review.

As much as I love Re-animator, I've still only seen the first one. I'm curious to whether or not the others are any good?

elmo said...

I remember being satisfied by "Bride" but that was years ago. Time for a revisit.

Anonymous said...

'Bride' is good and 'Beyond' is just silly (for a re-animator flick, anyway)but both are worth checking out.

I will have to check this one out since I'm a fan of both Edmond (very F'ed up) and Stuck (wouldn't believe it could happen if it weren't already a true story).