SXSW 2013: BIG ASS SPIDER! Review

     March 12, 2013

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There are two ways to go about creating a movie that’s so-bad-it’s-good (or “good-bad” as I’ll refer to them from here on).  In its pure form, a filmmaker lacks the competence, awareness, and funds to create a good movie.  A good-bad movie can also be created if the filmmaker knowingly sets out to create schlock but has the talent and ambition to surprise the audience with the outlandishness of the premise despite the limited resources.  Big Ass Spider! attempts to be the latter, but director Mike Mendez lacks the requisite ability and drive to push his movie past the promise of its B-movie title.  The result is the worst kind of good-bad movie where the filmmaker cynically creates a proposition where he thinks he can’t lose.

The movie begins with an excellent opening where pest exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) awakens off the ground to see mayhem all around him.  Set to Storm Large‘s cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”, Alex walks through slow-motion chaos to eventually look up and see the eponymous arachnid attacking a giant building.  Big Ass Spider! then cuts back 12 hours to see the hapless hero come across the large bug, which is also being hunted down by the military.  The spider continues to grow exponentially as it runs across L.A., killing citizens by eating them or occasionally spraying them with acid.  Accompanied by security guard and Hispanic stereotype Jose (Lombardo Boyar), Alex must use his bug-hunting knowledge to stop the spider.

After the intro, Big Ass Spider! gets lazy remarkably fast.  Greg Grunberg has proven himself an endearing supporting cast member on shows such as Alias and Heroes, but he can’t carry a picture.  To be fair, few actors could do anything with such a flat hero, and Grunberg tries valiantly to bring his likability to the underwhelming Alex.  The picture is further drained by the irritating Jose who is meant to serve as comic relief, but few of the jokes ever land.

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Instead, most of the burden falls on the spider terrorizing L.A.  The CGI is atrocious, which isn’t necessarily a strike against the film.  It’s the modern-day equivalent of the stop-motion creatures or guys-in-suits from old monster movies, and perhaps we’ll find the CGI beasts just as charming fifty years from now.  What’s important is how to use the creature, and this is where Mendez’ lack of imagination and daring shines through.  The spider impales or devours most of its victims, and that’s all it does.  There’s nothing remotely clever about its behavior or memorable in its appearance.

The moment I knew Big Ass Spider! wouldn’t deliver on its promise is when the spider has a chance to devour a little girl, and Mendez lets her get away.  I don’t wish harm on children, but it would be funny to see a little girl get eaten by a giant CGI spider.  Granted, that’s not pushing the envelope, but the fact that Mendez would rather play it safe, and have his beastie only chew through adults and soldiers speaks to the underlying cowardice and cold calculation of his movie.  If you call the movie good, it wins.  If you call it bad, then it was “supposed” to be bad.  What almost all good-bad movies need is a level of sincerity.  All Bad Ass Spider! has is sneering self-satisfaction.

Rating: D-

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