DVDregs: Mimic

Well, here’s a surprise: a new DVDregs from the “M” section of my collection? Wasn’t my last movie from “D”? Were there really no questionable movies from E-L? Actually, there are still movies in “D” that I’m considering for this segment. It just so happens that I needed to watch Mimic for another reason, and it was one of the stronger contenders from my collection for this segment. So, you know, two birds, one stone, yadda yadda.

I remember seeing Mimic in the theater when it came out in 1997. I also remember liking it, which is why I bought it on DVD a few years later when I found it in a Halloween-themed bargain bin for $5. I also remember never watching the DVD after I bought it. So it’s been more than 10 years since the last time I saw this movie. Could it really stand up to the passage of so much time in between viewings? Or would this be another one of those impulse buys destined to migrate downstairs to the donation box?

The story begins with a scene in which we and the primary protagonist, Dr. Susan Tyler, are introduced to a room full of dying children, all suffering the final stages of a disease that is being spread by the cockroaches of New York City. Why has the CDC called in Dr. Tyler? Why, because she’s a renowned entomologist! Who else would you bring in to deal with diseased cockroaches? Orkin?

So Dr. Tyler goes about doing something that we pretty much thought was completely impossible: She eradicates the entire cockroach population of NYC. She creates an insect hybrid, which she calls the “Judas” breed, that is designed to release an enzyme that will be the kiss of death to the roaches. Hey, was that a pun made at the expense of the name Judas? And should we be concerned that something might go amiss with a bug breed named after the disciple who betrayed Christ? Hmm, I wonder if this bug is going to…I don’t know…betray anyone? Nah, that can’t happen, because Dr. Tyler has also programmed these insects to have a limited life span and an inability to breed. What could possibly go wrong with that?

The Judas bugs are successful. The roaches are all killed, the children stop getting sick, and all is well. We think. So does Dr. Tyler, who is heralded as a hero. Er, heroine. So we skip ahead 3 years. Dr. Tyler is now married to Dr. Peter Mann, the CDC dude who first brought her in on this project, they’re happy, they’re upwardly mobile, they’re attractive…all is right. For about 10 minutes. Then the shit hits the fan. Or the ceiling, actually. Yes, there is a scene in which we see poo hanging from a ceiling. We see more than one of these scenes throughout the rest of the movie. Along with a lot of blood. And sweat. And gooey, viscous white stuff.

Okay, here’s where I derail the description a little bit and go off on a famous Loba Tangent. I make no secret about the fact that I love horror movies. I’ve seen my share of all kinds of them…slasher flicks, thrillers, monster movies, sci-fi horror, psychological, etc. I know what scares me and what I view with a sense of meh-laise.

Most stuff gives me a momentary jolt and then passes into the mist of my movie memory banks. Some stuff sticks around. White gooey glop? That sticks. I don’t know why, but I find scenes in horror movies that contain some kind of milky, viscous substance to be very squeam-inducing. It’s just gross. Worse than blood. Worse than entrails. Worse than rotting flesh.

This movie is filled with this goo. It’s everywhere. People are smearing it on themselves. The bugs are oozing it. It looks glisteny and gross and there’s no escaping it.

I don’t really want to give away much else about the actual story, because it is a rather intriguing twist. Let’s just say that Dr. Tyler wasn’t very successful at programming her Judas bugs to self-terminate. And they are aptly named. How they betray is where the intriguing twist resides.

One of the things that most surprised me when I re-watched this film was the fact that it was directed by Guilermo del Toro. In fact, I think this was one of his first American movies. I adore del Toro’s style, which is definitely prevalent throughout this film, even if it is early in his career (and even if he has pretty much disowned this movie because of “artistic differences” between him and the Weinstein brothers, who produced the movie). There is an unevenness in the storytelling at times, shifts in the script that stray away from the darkness that is so obviously a del Toro trademark. It makes me wonder what a purely del Toro take on this movie could have been.

That being said, Mimic is still successful at setting a disturbing, dark atmosphere. There are pure slices of fright embedded throughout this movie. There’s also an annoying boy who plays the spoons and calls out types and sizes of shoes worn by everyone who walks by him. I have a feeling he was supposed to be a sympathetic character. I kept wishing for the white viscous glop pit for him. Sadly, it never came (and that’s the only spoiler I’m going to give you). True, the movie does show its age through some rather dated and mediocre CGI effects, especially toward the end. But there are enough traditional physical effects throughout to make up for the less impressive CGI.

The cast includes Mira Sorvino as Dr. Tyler, Jeremy Northam as Dr. Mann, Charles S. Dutton as a surly but good-hearted NYC cop, Josh Brolin as Dr. Mann’s coworker (ironically named Josh), F. Murray Abraham as Dr. Tyler’s mentor/conscience, Dr. Gates, and Giancarlo Gianini as Manny the shoe shine guy with the annoying spoon-playing kid. Not a bad cast, although I did find Sorvino to be a bit of a weak link at times.

To be honest, I have a very difficult time seeing Sorvino as anything other than either Romy or her guest role on Will & Grace (“You spun me right ’round, Will! Like a record!”). To me, she’s a brilliant comic actress, perfect at being the foil to the silliness transpiring around her. In roles like this one, she simply doesn’t bring the gravitas I expect in such characters. Whether that’s a flaw of her skills or of my expectations, I don’t know.

Dutton and Brolin, however, provided two of my favorite performances in this film. Dutton is especially likable and sympathetic, and you’re with him all the way (even if you can see where he’s heading a thousand miles away…even in the damp darkness of those underground subway tunnels).

DVD Special Features: Um. There are none. Unless you consider the theatrical trailer and “Chapter Selection” to be special features. Personally, I don’t. I’m quite surprised by the fact that there was nothing else included with this movie, not even a sunshine-pumping featurette or the standard commentary track. I guess this might have something to do with the clash between del Toro and the Weinsteins, who put up the financial backing for this film and apparently interpreted that as “We’re paying for it so screw your artistic vision and give us what we want to see.”

Of course, this makes me wonder why del Toro wouldn’t be interested in releasing his own director cut of this movie, to fix all that he felt went wrong due to Weinstein interference. Then again, he’s moved on to much more impressive things like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Frankenstein, and prep work for At the Mountains of Madness (look! A tie-in with yesterday’s BookBin2010 posting!).

Final Verdict: Even though I feel supremely let down by the fact that this DVD had absolutely no special features, I still like this movie enough to want to keep it in my collection. Though not a cinematic classic, it’s still a fun, gooey thrill ride to pop in on a dark and rainy autumn evening.