A veritable meet-hook of a picture, TICKS, now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment, is an overly ambitious attempt to combine the key elements from a variety of genre movie sources. A Twitter review might best be posted as Jaws Meets The Thing Meets The Birds Meets Deliverance Meets Little Shop of Horrors Meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers Meets Cheech and Chong Meets The Jazz Singer (okay, I'm making that last one up).
Too bad – 'cause the bare bones of the story “kills,” as comedians are oft to say, and could have yielded cult gold had the dialogue been better barbed and the Barbies had better dialogue. The enticing pitch is, as indicated, a honey: city kids in a wilderness program end up in a bucolic ecological nightmare when they discover that a strain of oversized mutant ticks have evolved due to a hillbilly-induced steroid created for their illegal marijuana crops. How great is that? I mean – not only do you get nasty not-so-little creepy-crawly tenacious bastards...but they're stoners!
Unfortunately, after whetting our gross-out palettes with such primo fodder, scriptwriter Brent V. Friedman ends up being full of just so much citronella. For some unfathomable reason – he doesn't push the unique druggie-buggie aspect, and, worse, can't deliver the required accompanying inspired puns...the ponce! In short, what starts out promisingly enough, quickly degenerates into a standard idiots vs. nature battle of the half-wits. In fact, it could be said that this twenty-year-old squish-out-of-water effort might have served as the banal template for the SyFy Channel. This is especially sad when one considers not only the potential, but the talents involved both in front of and behind the camera. The director, Tony Randel, is a guy I admire simply because he helmed the only installment of the Hellraiser franchise that I could stomach (Hellbound: Hellraiser 2); of course, that was in 1988...Haven't seen it since, but I did think it cool back then (that said, the “POV ticks on the rampage” sequences display some peak inventive touches).
The cast could have likewise gone to town with choice gore-guffaws...were they available. Head grown-up in charge Peter Scolari (christened Charles Danson no less!) and super-hot trophy girlfriend Rosalind Allen lead the throngs of teen city dwellers into the woods; first and foremost is Scolari's snarky wise-ass daughter Virginya Keehne and geeky bespectacled pariah Seth Green (who is so pre-Harry Potter that you almost want to bring plagiarism charges against J.K. Rowling). Moron yokel du jour is Clint Howard, who seems to be having more fun that anyone in the audience...cranking up his Rube Goldberg cannabis cannery, screaming like a be-otch as the critters attack him above and under the skin...and roaming the forest in various stages of putrid decrepitude. His constant mouthing “I'm infected!” is an understatement, and, admittedly funny – likely an insertion that the producers hoped might rival Ah-nold's “I'll be back!” The actor's dad, Rance Howard, shows up as an ineffectual sheriff, armed with everything his role allows save the bullseye on his back. What Opie thought of this opus is not known, but we can only dream of the great-cameo-that-might-have-been moment of A Beautiful Mind’s auteur, fishing pole in hand, walking down the bucolic road whistling the Andy Griffith Show theme before being devoutly devoured.
Revulsion is personified by the bisexual Lil’ Abner coupling of Sir and Jerry (Barry Lynch and Michael Medeiros), two villainous pothead farmers – the latter the toothy recipient of what can only be regarded as a UK-approved dental plan.
Still it's the kids that provide the most kick-in-the-groan moments. The lame rainbow coalition teaming is a celebration of the cliché, encompassing the equivalent of a Farrelly Brothers Fame audition video. The girls, from the aforementioned Keehne to the sexually-hyper slumming brat (Ami Dolenz) to the inscrutable introverted Asian (Dina Dayrit), are offensive enough; but these are Noel Coward triumphs compared to the shameful male counterparts, specifically the insulting black (Alfonso Ribiero) and Hispanic (Ray Oriel) stereotypes. Suffice to say that whenever these genuinely embarrassed actors open their yaps, its screenwriting at its cringing worst…yet another example of some ill-equipped white bread dude thinking he can “write ghetto.” This, Friedman has accomplished in the former by eschewing 200 years of African-American history in preference of two words: Mr. T. The California urban latino, however, apparently proved a slightly more difficult task, being a melding of George Chakiris in West Side Story backed by Pat Boone's rendition of Speedy Gonzales. Natch, it's all for some dumb carnivorous bugs on-the-loose movie, but nevertheless had the writer pushed a bit harder on either side of the extreme, it could have been pretty outrageous.
The SFX succeed fairly well, comprising a splatter buff's fantasy of a most excellent adventure. The title characters chitter and chatter clicky sounds as they scurry in and out of their victims, and, depending upon which sequences you're accessing, either resemble slimy fugitives from a gumball vending machine or a messy Taco Bell entry come to life.
Disappointingly, for all of Green's character's blah-blah-blah save-the-day knowledge of worldly science, the most effective way to combat these hungry clawed nuggets with the chewy gooey center is by smacking 'em against a hard surface, lighting them on fire or snuffing them out with that age-old weapon known as the shoe. It is here that we commend the sound effects, which masterfully serve up appropriate disgusting appendages for the visuals. The miniature work, on the other hand, is less effective, eliciting some of the biggest laughs in the picture...like some Benny Hill “action-epic” sketch.
Steve Grass' cinematography is actually quite good – particularly for this sort of thing (with the location master shots looking really impressive in 1080p). Christopher L. Stone provides a serviceable score that, frankly, isn't helped by having been mixed in the bargain basement process of Sound Trek surround...undoubtedly the indie multi-track version of two Dixie cups and a string (speaking of audio, director Randel and costar Clint Howard provide running supplemental commentary, should you so desire).
“Don't touch it if you don't know what it is” are TICKS words of wisdom, and arguably advice in general that one should carry with him/her throughout their life’s journey. Even so, we jaded viewers can only shake our tsk-tsk-tsking heads in amusement as the pimply human misfits struggle to survive their way back to L.A....and supposed safety...not knowing what we know the future holds. And by future I mean Sharknado.
TICKS. Color. Letterboxed [1.78:1; originally 1.85; 1080p High Definition]. 2.0 DTS-HA MA stereo-surround. UPC: 887090051408. Cat #: OF514. SRP: $29.95.
Also available on widescreen DVD: 16 x 9 anamorphic; 2.0 stereo-surround. UPC: 887090051309. Cat #: OF513. SRP: $24.95.