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Man-Thing

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/18/05 21:59:36

"Because 'Thing-Man' would be a silly name."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The first thing you need to know about “Man-Thing” is that it is called “Man-Thing.” This was the title the filmmakers were contractually obligated to use, and I suppose if you had to name your movie “Man-Thing,” you’d give up, too.

The film comes to us with a backstory far more interesting than the movie itself. We’re living in a time when, following the success of such blockbusters as “Spider-Man” and “X-Men,” it seems you can’t walk two feet without tripping over a movie based on a Marvel Comics character. Which brings us to Lions Gate, who landed the rights to the short-lived 1970s character Man-Thing in a package deal that also let them make “The Punisher.” (What, no “Power Man and Iron Fist?” No “The Man Called Nova?”) From here, things get muddy: either the film was intended for a theatrical release but pulled once execs saw the damn thing, or it was built all along to be the first in a series of direct-to-video Lions Gate/Marvel productions. Either way, it was deemed unacceptable for multiplex viewing, thus landing a DTV slot, preceded by that ultimate celluloid kiss of death, a world premiere on the Sci-Fi channel.

Oh, I’m sorry, I got that last fact wrong - its world premiere was actually a dump-off theatrical run in Singapore, followed quickly by a similar treatment in Russia, and then the Sci-Fi airing. Pardon the mistake.

I can’t imagine a movie like this ever being planned for a major release; it’s got “el cheapo DTV” written all over it. It’s from the guy who directed “The Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity” - two films sure to send your career spinning into DTV hell - and the guy who wrote “The Skulls II” - a fact so sad that even I have no pithy comeback.

So here we have a movie about a comic book character nobody ever cared about, written and directed by two guys whose previous works were stuff that everybody wanted to avoid. And the funny thing? For a while, it’s not all that bad.

The first act is, in fact, pretty decent, in a low expectations, cheap fun kind of way. Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) is the new sheriff in the dunghole bayou town of Bywater (“Why do they call it Bywater?” “Because it’s by the water.”), where dozens of locals have mysteriously gone missing, including the previous sheriff. As for us, we know there’s something out there in the stinky dark swamp, since we’ve already seen a couple of sexed-up teens cross paths with what we will have to guess it the title monster.

Long story short, the swamps of Bywater have been taken over by oil tycoon/standard corporate baddie Frederic Schist (Jack Thompson), leading to protests from locals shouting about sacred lands and such. Meanwhile, dead bodies start popping up, and all fingers begin pointing at hermit/radical activist Rene LaRoque (Steve Bastoni). Of course, seeing how LaRoque isn’t a giant monster, we figure he’s just a red herring.

While not exactly great storytelling here, there is a B movie charm to the opening scenes - some decent amounts of gore, some fun (albeit generic) characters, and a decent set-up to what’s sure to be a thrilling second act. Right? Right? Hello??

Not so much. Sure enough, the second act begins to fizzle away, as it becomes clear that budget limitations are keeping us from seeing Mr. Man-Thing. Which would be OK, if the filmmakers had gone for a Spielbergian “let’s not show the creature in order to build suspense” thing. Instead, they merely avoid showing him/it because they can’t afford to, and so the screenplay simply avoids discussing him much at all. It’s clear that there’s something in the swamp doing all this brutal killing, but we’re not going to be bothered with the details.

In other words, Man-Thing, the character, got co-opted into being a run-of-the-mill movie monster, with no connection to the actual comics that first made him who he was. It’s as if Lions Gate took a blank monster flick and just added a new title, redid the CGI for the monster, and called it an adaptation.

The saddest news of all, however, is that by the third and final act, we’re so out-of-our-minds bored that this hopeless movie doesn’t even provide any unintentional laughs. By the time the Man-Thing does finally appear in his full half-assed CGI glory, we’re too asleep to notice.

And so, “Man-Thing” enters the realm of sheer disappointment, too lame to be genuinely entertaining, not stupid enough throughout to be laughable. It’s a low grade monster movie that shows promise in the first half hour but then dissolves - quickly - into apathy. Here’s a movie so hollow and unexciting that I doubt even the porn community will be bothered to riff on its title.

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