Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Leviathan (1989)

1989's Leviathan borrows so much from Alien, The Thing, and similar futurey-horror blockbusters of its age that if you've seen a couple of them, you can safely skip Leviathan, because it adds pretty much nothing to your personal catalogue of filmwatching experiences—except possibly the ability to link Daniel Stern directly with Richard Crenna for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon purposes. But then, I just told you that, so you don't have to see it after all…unless your rules variant requires you to have actually seen the movies you reference, which, wow man, let me into THAT game.

The setting this time is an undersea mining outpost, staffed with a bunch of losers led by the one likeable loser, geologist Steven "Becky" Beck (Peter Weller, giving one of his characteristic laid-back yet off-kilter performances). After a pointless tension scene involving loser miner Dejesus (whom it seems somebody fucks with after all), and an incident involving a red herring facehugger critter, the story actually begins with the discovery of a sunken Russian ship named (whatever's Russian for) Leviathan.

Heedless of the peculiar circumstances surrounding this discovery, the losers bring a bunch of Leviathan's cargo aboard, including some booze that Obviously Marked for First Death Loser "Six-Pack" (Stern) imbibes and shares with another loser. The booze, alas, is discovered to have been tainted with a mysterious mutagen by loser doctor "Doc" (Crenna). One by one, other loser miners start dying off—"Skippy," "Tiny," "Elvis," "Wreckin' Ball," "Jo-Jo," and "Stinky-Pants" being just a few of the nicknames this colorful crew could have had—as the monster adds flesh to itself and grows in size a la Slither.

The few genuine strengths of Leviathan are the understated charisma of Weller and fairly convincing environments and gore—you certainly can't call it low-budget. And yet, much of the design, even the monsters', is kind of bland, lacking the undefinable something that provokes the imagination in the same way as, say, the xenomorph. It probably doesn't help that far too many shots are far too well-lit.

Awkward, unsuspenseful pacing feels like the fundamental problem with Leviathan—apart from the obvious one: extreme been-there-done-that-itude. This cast has several proven actors, and this concept (while fanciful) could have been used to great effect. But so much time is spent on setting up the tired backstory and predictable characterizations that the full horror of the antagonist never has a chance to make itself clear. Then, when the freakiness reaches its full intensity, it feels less like the heroes are in a hurry to escape the monster and more like the movie is in a hurry to get to the next standard actiony scene. And these don't redeem anything either, because literally nothing in Leviathan that comes close to being scary wasn't done better in other movies.

Like Aliens, there's an Evil Corporation, and the Carter Burke analog here is played by Meg Foster (the guest star in one of the worst fourth season DS9 episodes) in hair obviously borrowed from a Robert Palmer video. Her character exemplifies this pattern of Leviathan attempting to imitate successful elements of similar films and seemingly missing the point about why they succeeded before. For one thing, she's almost completely unnecessary to the story, and seems to live in the same Dimension of the Perpetually Desk-Bound as Robby Benson in City Limits; contrast with Burke, who actually furthered the plot in a hands-on fashion. Moreover, Foster's performance is so obviously, and implausibly, nefarious that the audience can't feel that sense of betrayal and unease elicited by Reiser's more relatable corporate-villain-next-door.

I give Leviathan two rather than one and a half stars because I have a certain fondness for this genre, and it does objectively have its moments—the implosion scene was pretty neat, for example. But Leviathan is overall surprisingly disposable, and definitely suited to sitting on your Instant queue for awhile and gathering metaphorical dust. I guess it'd be a decent "home sick and prescribed codeine" movie.

Star Score: 2 out of 5

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