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Mimic Is All About The Fear Of Cockroaches

By Zamfir Quackenbush

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  WE HAD A little roach problem at my house a while back. Seems the critters were freeloading off an unclosed bag of sugar in the cupboard. You'd open the door and see these plump, brown mini-machines madly scrambling to remove themselves from sight. What was unsettling wasn't seeing them run, though; it was the sound of their little legs scratching and scurrying to get away.

Mimic hints at themes about the Kafka-esque relationship between man and bug, evolution, and the dangers of messing with Mother Nature, but really it's about our basic revulsion of cockroaches. Early in the movie, entomologist Mira Sorvino sits in her lab opening a box filled with newspaper scraps and a genetically mutated roach specimen that will turn out to be the movie's villain. You don't see the Tonka truck-sized roach for several minutes, but you hear it scuttling about somewhere, and that's the disturbing part. Wind whooshes ominously, the lab's fluorescent lights barely illuminate the dark room, and Sorvino nonchalantly picks through the paper scraps for her new specimen. You want to scream, "Stop! Don't you hear that horrible scuttling sound?"; but she plunges right in, clearly asking for it.

These beginning scenes of Mimic are effective, but imagine them replayed over and over on an increasingly people-sized scale. At a certain point, great big cockroaches no longer inspire that skin-crawling disgust. They become bogeymen, earthly Aliens, and--despite the fake human faces they develop--very easy to spot. Years of roach warfare have taught us that to see a cockroach is a step in the right direction, because now you've got a place to aim your liquid soap (a great way to kill 'em, if you haven't heard). And years of monster movies have taught us if you've seen one giant, goo-dripping insect, you've seen them all.

Not that Mimic doesn't have its place. It's a B-movie and that's just fine, especially if you're going to rent it or see it at a second-run theater. But after reading fawning reviews in our own daily papers, I've got to take a hard line against the film. Their obsequious praise demands a rebuttal; because really, Mimic is pretty mediocre, even for a B-movie.

Mimic has camp appeal, just not enough. Some comes in the form of two tough-talking street kids who make their living as black-market "bug dealers"; and some arrives in the form of a wide-eyed autistic kid whose proficiency at playing spoons allows him to make pals with the clicking roaches.

My personal favorite is a line of dialogue delivered by F. Murray Abraham's professor. Sorvino can't believe that the specialized roaches, which she created to kill off other roaches that carried a child-killing disease, have survived and mutated. "They all died in the lab," she cries. Abraham's soft-spokenly paternal response: "But you let them out into the world. The world's a much bigger lab." Well, duh.

But most of Mimic's camp lies in its endless supply of slimy goo. Over and over, characters find huge slimy "egg things" hanging off of walls, not unlike the heaping vomit-hut "Tooms" inhabited in the X-Files. Eventually they learn that being covered in slick, rubber-cement like cockroach slime fools the insects, so the entire cast can be seen rubbing roach organs on their faces like athletes in a Gatorade commercial. The people who design goo for a living really hit the motherlode with Mimic, and are probably enjoying a comfy retirement now. It's as if in every other scene director Guillermo Del Toro said, "This isn't scary enough--bring on the goo!"

Del Toro's last movie, Chronos, involved a mechanical tick and was genuinely creepy, but he's out of his element here. He becomes overly reliant on stock scare tactics, like using the sudden loud screech of a subway to give us a jolt, or putting characters into ridiculous situations where they're trying to defend themselves with only a switchblade or straight razor. And then there's the goo; I wouldn't be surprised if Del Toro had some sort of investment in the goo market.

Covered in slime, Mira Sorvino starts taking on the stringy-haired appearance of a dirty hippie--now we know why Sigourney Weaver shaved her head for Alien3. You can hardly take Sorvino seriously when, like Weaver at the end of Aliens, she becomes powerfully maternal and has a showdown with the Big Daddy roach, who's about to attack a child. ("No you will NOT hurt him! Turn around!") I much prefer Sorvino the dingy prostitute or Sorvino the dippy high-school grad to Sorvino the action hero. Call me a wimp, but something about that combination of words gives me the willies even more than the sound of a cockroach in the cupboard.

Mimic is playing at Century Park (620-0750), Century Gateway (792-9000), Foothills (742-6174) and DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240) cinemas.

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