A pleasant surprise
By Lady Liberty
** 1/2 out of ****
This wasn't a particularly good weekend for movies. I had no desire to see Sharon Stone take her clothes off, nor did sitting in a theatre filled with small children for a showing of Ice Age: The Meltdown thrill me. But at the last minute, I got some information that put a date at the theatre back into my schedule: Nathan Fillion had a new movie opening.
Like every other red-blooded pro-freedom woman, I fell just a little in love with Fillion who starred as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in the wonderful (and sadly defunct) Firefly TV series as well as the strongly libertarian (and very good) movie, Serenity. If Fillion was in it, I was going to go see it, dammit, even if it was a really stupid horror movie! (I say "stupid" based on the stupid trailers and the stupid posters advertising the film.) Imagine, then, my surprise when I started hearing some decent reviews. And imagine my even greater surprise to find that I agreed with those reviews!
Billed as a science fiction horror comedy movie, Slither starts with a few minutes of all three. Wheelsy, West Virginia police Chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) is at a local speed trap with one of his officers when a meteor flames overhead. Too busy discussing other "important" things, the pair don't see it streaking across the sky, nor do they notice it crash landing nearby. The rest of us, however, are right on top of the smoking meteorite when it splits open and begins to disgorge its slimy contents.
Meanwhile, pretty school teacher Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks) is fending off advances from her much older husband, Grant Grant (Michael Rooker — and yes, the character has the same first and last name). In a fit of pique, Grant leaves his wife alone in their bed as he heads in to town to have a drink. At the bar, he runs into local bad girl, Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James) who confesses she's always had a crush on him. Tipsy, the two leave together and head into the woods.
It doesn't require any psychic abilities to guess what happens next. Grant and Brenda find the cooled meteorite and, just sober enough to be curious, Grant follows the trail of slime that leads away from the site. Unfortunately, his curiosity is satisfied, and he ends up going home just a little the worse for wear.
In a matter of days, Starla learns things about her husband she never could have imagined, and Brenda gets far more from Grant than she ever considered in her wildest dreams — or nightmares. Meanwhile, Chief Pardy is looking in Grant's direction as he rapidly becomes the prime suspect in a series of local crimes.
All of the action is set in small town West Virginia amidst all of the excitement of the opening of deer hunting season. Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry) is right in the thick of things where deer hunting season is concerned, and he's bound and determined to be there for any kind of hunt for anything else as well. Given the quality of the rest of Pardy's police force (and support staff), it's sad to say, but MacReady is going to fit right in...
For those who are enamored with Serenity's Captain Reynolds, Nathan Fillion's character here has some of the Captain in him. Pardy is perhaps less skilled in a fight than Reynolds, but is surely just as blithely cavalier about doing whatever it is he has to do despite the odds (something I'm beginning to think probably has almost as much to do with Fillion is it does with the script). Elizabeth Banks does a fine job of being a pretty blonde girl who might be just a little bit stronger than people might have believed and, as her onscreen husband, Michael Rooker offers up a portrayal of a man we'd really like to dislike, but who shows just enough of a hint of heart that he's impossible to wholly condemn. Meanwhile Tania Saulnier, Jennifer Copping, and Jenna Fisher are fine in supporting roles.
It's impossible not to make special mention of Gregg Henry's Mayor MacReady who is, in simple terms, a hoot thanks to some excellent one-liners written for him and a terrific ability to deliver them with wild-eyed conviction. That, of course, brings us to the screenplay which was written by the movie's director, James Gunn (who incidentally is Fisher's husband). In the wrong hands, this idea could have become slapstick or stupid. Instead, it's often suspenseful, occasionally startling, and almost non-stop funny. Good for him!
Some movies take themselves far too seriously and, as a result, can be unintentionally laughable. Slither, on the other hand, includes good acting, quality cinematography, decent special effects, and effective direction. Thanks to that clever script (which is loaded with inside jokes and references to other films, by the way), the fact that it does take itself maybe just a little seriously actually adds to the overall effect of the film.
Yes, Slither was a last-minute last resort decision. That doesn't make it a bad one. I had a great time, and while the friend I saw the movie with didn't like it quite as much as I did, it probably says something that we were quoting lines from the film and laughing ourselves silly long after we'd left the theatre for other venues. (Incidentally, for all of her not liking it as much as I did, my movie "date" was on the phone and recommending it to others in short order after we left.) I find myself willing to recommend Slither wholeheartedly for any and all comers who like to see a movie on occasion that demands absolutely nothing from the audience but that it be entertained. It will, at the very least, do that much.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Slither is rated R for "strong horror violence and gore, and language." While far from suitable to the littlest children, I think the R-rating is a bit harsh especially since there's plenty here to amuse the average teen, none of which includes overt sex or any nudity. I'd suggest that, as long as the child in question isn't particularly squeamish, 14 or 15 is plenty old enough to see and enjoy Slither. Meanwhile, grown-ups who aren't afraid to kick back and laugh should be able to do so here. While some in the audience seemed more bemused than amused, that wasn't true for me and my friend. In fact, I'm already planning on buying the movie when it comes out on DVD so that I can watch it again and again in a search for all of the fun — and funny — things I missed because I was laughing the first time around!
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at email@example.com.