I thought it might be cute to review Big Ass Spider! in character as my 5-year-old terrier Dublin.
Because it is a movie named Big Ass Spider! And because Dublin has a peculiar fascination with all things creepy - sometimes we catch her in the yard closely examining some crawling critter. She puts her paw down in front of a bug and then rapidly withdraws it when the creature moves. Then she’ll cant her head and turn it toward us with this precious look of mortification mingled with an abiding awe at the strangeness of the universe. Ewe. Look at this ugly sucker, she seems to say. It’s wonderful.
And that is, I believe, the proper mindset to take toward Big Ass Spider!, which is about a large arachnoid that grows larger over the course of the film. It’s obviously a tongue-in-cheek project, a loving homage to the low budget mega creature movies of the ’50s (as well as a sly nod to Tremors, the 1990 schlockfest that sort of established the template for smart stupid indie movies that operated as both enjoyable horror comedies and heartfelt tributes). But it can also be enjoyed on its own nonmeta merits. On one hand, it’s a schlocky movie about a big spider. On the other hand, it really is kind of wonderful.
So I dropped the idea of having Dublin review it (though I reserve the right to let the dogs out whenever I feel the device is warranted; Paris is standing by with her pink pony stickers), because Big Ass Spider! is a more subtle movie than the name implies. It’s not great in any particular area. The acting is uneven, a lot of the jokes are groaners and the special effects - by Asif Iqbal and Ice Animations - aren’t quite state-of-the-art Weta Workshop-level, although they’re more than serviceable given the movie’s aspirations (and a lot better than those of some similar sci-fi movies).
Basically the plot is pretty direct. A giant alien spider - which starts out as a just-a-little-larger-than-credible spider - escapes from a secret military facility and rampages across Los Angeles. And it’s left to two unlikely heroes, exterminator Alex (Greg Grunberg) and hospital security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar), analogues to the Tremors handymen of Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), to do what the U.S. Army (personified here by the reliable character Ray Wise, who plays a hard-nosed major) can’t.
Most of the characters are based on familiar tropes, and all of the actors are definitely in on the joke, as director Mike Mendez navigates the narrow channel between inspired and insipid, and while he occasionally bumps up against each side, he never runs aground. Grunberg and Boyar - neither of whom I know anything about - have a wonderful chemistry that leads me to suspect they’ve worked together before (IMDB says they appeared in Group Sex, a 2010 short that Grunberg co-wrote). A lot of their dialogue feels improvised, and both actors inject some real personality and humanity into what could have been stock characters.
I’m sure that - given a little more time - Dublin could have fashioned a fine review for Big Ass Spider!, but, as unfair as it may be, attaching a dog’s byline to a review might send the wrong signal to some moviegoers. Big Ass Spider! doesn’t deserve to be treated as one of those awful, misbegotten projects that can only be enjoyed ironically. It’s a genuinely nice little movie and the people involved with it ought to have the opportunity to make more movies.
Big Ass Spider!
87 Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, Ray Wise, Clare Kramer, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau Director: Mike Mendez Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence and gore Running time: 80 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 10/18/2013
Print Headline: Big Ass Spider!