Sunday, January 14, 2007

REVIEW: Primeval

WARNING: BIGGEST SPOILER OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE IN FIRST LINE OF REVIEW!

It's about a crocodile, okay?

Sorry, but there's no way to get to a critique of "Primeval" without giving that away. Dropped unceremoniously into the middle of the January movie doldrums and then rocketed to release a scant month after it's trailers started popping up, "Primeval's" handlers concocted one of the more amusing advertising ploys of recent: A return to the sideshow-barker style of half-cleverly/half-deceptively promoting B-movies.

In this case, the ads have been teasing an Africa-set "true story" of "Gustave... the world's most-prolific serial-killer!," while only vaugely alluding to the fact that "Gustave" is, in fact, a giant crocodile that supposedly terrorized an African marshland toward the tail end of the Rwandan genoicide. Given the moved-up release date, it's entirely possible that a good deal of people who turn out for "Primeval" won't initially realize they're getting an old-fashioned creature-feature, a prospect which is (expectedly) more fun to contemplate than the film actually is to watch.

Best-described (pardon my morbidity) as "Hotel Rwanda" meets "Anaconda," the nominal story concerns a newsman (Dominic Purcell, aka "that guy from "Prison Break") and his cameraman (Orlando Jones, aka "the most criminally underused character-actor in America) who get shipped down to war-torn Burundi to help an animal issues journalist (Brooke Langton) cover the attempt by an Aussie animal trapper (Gideon Emery in what now feels like a really, really mis-timed ribbing of Steve Irwin) to caputre Gustave, who when eventually seen is about the size of two SUVs. Jurgen Prochnow is also on hand, since no self-respecting monster movie can go trudging off into the wilderness without a celebrate character actor hamming it up in the Jon Voigt role.

There's really nothing going on thats as much fun as the initial "oh, it's a crocodile? Nifty!" probably is (I knew beforehand) but despite the ease-of-creation now afforded by CGI we just don't get enough old-school monster movies in theatres these days... so it's almost enough to reccomend "Primeval" just on the basis of it being the only entry in the genre fans can get right now. It's also at least got the nominal interest provided by it's African setting, and the matter-of-factness with which it weaves the factual humanitarian tragedy of the region into the "something in the water" forumla.

Raised, but left largely unexplored, is the intriquing notion of "Gustave" as a living consequence of the genocide around him, implying that the constant supply of freshly-dead corpses choking the country's waterways is cheifly responsible for turning the creature into a maneater and a giant. A better and possibly great genre film could be made from that notion, but "Primeval" is content to stay right about where it is: A decently-mounted B-movie with a clever marketing hook. You can do a lot worse, I promise you. After all, "Dreamgirls" is still playing...

FINAL RATING: 6/10