Lou Diamond Phillips

Director: Louis Morneau
Screenwriter: John Logan
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Leon, Bob Gunton, Carlos Jacott
Release details: Destintation Films, USA 1999, 91mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Horror / thriller
Rating: 3 out of 10

Basically, there are two ways to go with mutant animal films - comedy thriller (Tremors, for instance) and strictly po-faced (The Swarm, Anaconda). Of those films, Tremors is arguably the only success - I'm discounting the disastrous third film and the TV series, here, - thus pointing the way to go. Clearly ignoring this irrefutable evidence, the team behind Bats have decided to go with playing it straight. This is a huge mistake. They compound this by showing the bats up close and personal. Bigger mistake. Think Critters, only uglier.

It all starts so promisingly, with the obligatory teenagers making out in a car being attacked by a couple of huge bats. Intercutting this with a train passing overhead, flashy editing, screams being drowned out by the train, never letting us see the actual bats except in very brief flashes, you get a real sense of carnage. Like Jeepers Creepers (there's two hours of my life I'm never going to get back), the rest of the film never lives up to its opening.

After this, all we get treated to are the usual stereotypes: the caring scientist (Meyer from TV's Birds of Prey, here sporting a strange blonde dye-job), her seemingly cowardly but obviously secretly quite brave sidekick (rapper Leon), the evil scientist (Gunton, reprising his evil Shawshank warden) and the implacable sheriff (Phillips). In these post-Tomb Raider days, Meyer is even kitted out in the action chick uniform - khakis, workboots, sweaty vest.

No cliché is left unturned. Inbred townsfolk ignore the dire warnings to stay indoors after dark and subsequently get sliced and diced by the mutant bats. The honourable Deputy buys the farm. The bats learn to think for themselves. The Fate of the Western World is left in the hands of our heroic trio.

Of course, you will have guessed by now that the bats have been genetically altered as part of a military plot to create the perfect weapon. We must ask ourselves: will the Pentagon and their ilk never learn that they already have plenty of conventional weapons which are more effective and less likely to turn on them in such a gruesome way? When, let's face it, was the last time you heard of a film featuring AK-47s that turned on their owners and mysteriously fired by themselves? And, more importantly, why do screenwriters still think we'll buy this kind of hackneyed guavo (that's bat crap to you and me)?

And there's absolutely no surprises here. It's uninspiring, often unintentionally funny, stuff. It's also the dumbest movie I've seen in some time, which insults its viewers by explaining everything in words of two syllables. I mean, aside form the whole issue of genetically-mutated bats actuallly acquiring cunning, never mind intelligence, there's actually a scene where one scientist explains to another that CDC stands for Centres for Disease Control.

You know, if we're watching this film, you can assume we've seen other crappy genetically-mutated animal flicks - including, but not limited to, Outbreak - and we all know what CDC stands for and that it's in Atlanta. And, more to the point, it's actually the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; they just didn't think that CDCP was as catchy a sobriquet. Also, I can't keep saying genetically-mutated without thinking of Dr Evil's sea bass with lasers from the first Austin Powers.

But poor Lou Diamond Phillips. From La Bamba to swimming in guavo. He and his two CDC sidekicks Meyer and Leon are actually not bad. Okay, they're not trying very hard, but when everyone around you is over-acting so obviously, perhaps it's for the best. But there really isn't much he - or anyone - can do with one of the dumbest movie scripts in living memory, directed with no discernible flair whatsovever.

How this film actually managed to get a cinema release in the USA will remain a bigger unsolved mystery than the Loch Ness Monster or the Bermuda Triangle.

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