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Wednesday, August 27, 1997

A world bugging out

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 1997 at 12:00 AM

Mimic is a picture that makes us ask the big questions -- at least two. Question No. 1: Why did Guillermo Del Toro (who previously made Cronos) bother making this film? Does the world really need another genre-hopping pastiche? A kind of don't-look-in-the-basement-alien-thing-meets-the-body-snatchers-swarm sort of story, as told by Gregor Samsa? (Remember Gregor, the guy Kafka turns into a roach?) Presuming we are in such need, why (question one and a half) waste a cast like this on a film that can't make up its mind whether to get serious about a stupid story, or whether to go all the way over the top and into camp?

Mira Sorvino is a big-think scientist who saves Manhattan from Strickler's Disease, which has been killing all the kids. She engineers the DNA of the common cockroach to create a "Judas breed"; it stomps out all the evil roaches that have been carrying the disease. Applause, applause. Three years pass and the Judas breedlings (supposedly incapable of reproducing) are not only multiplying, they've gotten huge and also developed the ability to mimic (get the title?) the shape of their only predator -- human beings! F. Murray Abraham is a wise older scientist; Giancarlo Giannini (trying apparently for a comeback) is a Geppetto-like shoeshine guy. Charles Dutton is a tough talking, cliché-driven NYPD cop.

So, we're down in the subway, with lots of creepy-crawlies, lots of gooey roach guts, lots of atmosphere. But not a lot else -- intelligence, for example. Makes you wonder (back to question one) why Del Toro bothered creating a setup like this, including a fine cast, if he didn't intend to do anything with it, campy or otherwise. Like maybe pose some questions about science (beyond the tired old Frankenstein clichés) or maybe give the roaches a few lines, maybe look into "insect politics," as Jeff Goldblum says (when he begins to metamorphose in The Fly). But there's none of that; the plotting (or plodding) is us-against-the-roaches commonplace. You guess who wins.

Which brings up question No. 2: Why give this picture three stars? Because it's extraordinary to look at, that's why. Thanks to Dan Laustsen, director of photography, there's not one false move with the camera, not a moment when you aren't inside a visual drama that is as arresting, sophisticated and nuanced as the rest of the film -- writing, directing and acting is commonplace and cliché-ridden. Check it out? Well, maybe. This questionable film might add up to more than the dumb of its parts.

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