King of the Ants Stuart Gordon 2003

"With or Without Hillbilly Teeth"
Every now and then a film comes along that is so uneven, so pathalogically schizophrenic in tone, genre, and presentation, that it makes you furrow your brow and say, "I don't quite know what to make of that film, but I'm sure a Makers and soda would help". Usually these films star Cuba Gooding, Jr. or one of the Tilly sisters.

In this case, said incomprehensible film comes from one of our genre heroes, Stuart Gordon. Known far and wide for his wacky gorefest "Re-Animator" (as well as the creepy "Dolls" and the borderline-incomprehensible "From Beyond"), Gordon has a cherished seat at the great horror Round Table, and passes the buns and sweetpeas to the likes of Tobe Hooper, Bruce Campbell, Wes Craven, and many more. But if membership to this table were like the Diner's Club -- and therefore revokable -- I would vote that we dispatch a snooty liveried waiter to take Mr. Gordon's card and snip it to bits in front of his piggy little eyes.

Of course, I kid. Although not much. Considering the great films that this man was able to create in the past, it is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE that he put out amateurish piffle like the movies he's made of late. Take "Dagon" -- yes, Stu -- we know you have a hardon for Lovecraft, we all do. So do us all a favor and don't turn several of his best stories into a fish-filled movie-of-the-week. "Castle Freak"? More like "Castle Shit". And I won't even address "Space Truckers" because it's out of my genre and features Debbie Mazar, who is so creepy I get khaka just thinking about her.

You see, I'm being hard on the guy because I've seen what he can do. It's like the Kate Capshaw-Lea Thompson relationship in "Spacecamp", only I'm not married to Steven Spielberg. Yet. Were "King of the Ants" the work of a first-time director, I'd let a lot slide -- the cliched shots, the shoddy acting and staging, the uneven tone. But come on, Stu -- you didn't just fall off the turnip truck, and it's not my first time at the rodeo.

So on to the film. Chris McKenna -- okay, let's take a minute to talk about Chris. Why is this kid not a star? He's adorable, he's got some acting chops, and he has no problem getting naked. Like, getting naked a LOT. This is star-making material, in my book. Anyway, Chris McKenna plays Sean, who -- did I mention that Chris has a great smile? And big, beautiful, soulful eyes? A quick background check shows he appeared in "In and Out" and played best friend to Ryan Phillipe's gay teen character on "One Life to Live". I wonder if he and Ryan still hang out... if maybe Chris comes over to visit Ryan and Reese and their kids on Sundays, and they all play in the back yard and grill burgers and stuff. I bet Chris wears a funny apron.

Where was I...

Oh yeah. So Sean is a loser who paints metaphors white. I mean, houses. His life is therefore devoid of color. He meets Norm from "Cheers" on a job and Norm pegs him as a patsy, and gets him to follow Eric Gatley (Ron Livingston) around all day. It seems Norm's boss Ray (Daniel Baldwin) has it out for Eric, and since Eric is an accountant or an attorney or something and Ray is in construction, we bet it has to do with property. Speaking of the collective Baldwin, has anyone noticed that they seem to pass their puffiness around like a tattered paperback? One minute Alec is the puffy one, then it's Stephen. Then Stephen slims up and gives the puffy to Daniel, who just went through a dry spell. I think the only one who hasn't gone through a serious puffy period is Billy, and if he keeps eating at Fred's on 83rd Street, his number's up soon. If not, they could always adopt Matthew Perry and match cycles with him.

So a drunk and puffy Ray asks Sean to kill Eric for him. And Sean is scared, see. But he's a tough Irishman -- you can see it in his big brown eyes. Big puppy-dog eyes, really -- all sweet and soft and kind.

...but not when he's killing Eric with a refrigerator! Which is what he does. But not until after we have had Inappropriate Phallic Moment #1: The Stone Penis Bludgeoning. See, Sean talks Eric into letting him into his house, and when scrambling desperately for something to smack him with, picks up a big phallic thingie from the shelf, which he uses to crack Eric's skull. I honestly don't know what use Eric and his family had for this object d'art -- let's hope for deleted scenes on the DVD. But Eric is still kicking, so Sean tips the fridge onto the poor guy, in one of the first groan-inducing comic moments of the film. Sean leaves, all is well.

But it's not well! See, Ray was DRUNK when he offered Sean $13K to off Eric, and now he's pissed that he went through with it! In a turn of events not dissimilar to a "Three's Company" "misunderstanding", now Sean is being hounded by the contractors, who are furious about the murder. When Sean won't simply "disappear", the thugs kidnap him and take him to the desert, where they keep him in a shed, hit him nightly in the head with a golf club, and make him listen to AM radio. See, since they can't kill him, they figure that they can make him forget what he knows and render him a useless vegetable.

At the end of the week Sean looks like the Toxic Avenger (but with *perfect teeth*!) and hobbles around mumbling and drooling -- kind of like a bludgeon-induced K-hole. At night he beats off to magazines of bikini girls with powertools, and has nightmares about women brandishing enormous drills from their crotches, Kari Wuhrer with a penis, and a fat green pile of greasy flesh that eats its own poop.

Back at the -- wait a minute, WHAT?! Kari Wuhrer with a WHO?! Yes, folks, the homo undertones have rapidly reached the Gaypex. Yes, we've seen Sean bludgeoning Eric with a big penis-rock. Yes, we've seen Sean fully naked (very progressive for a film not directed by Danny Boyle), tossing in his bed. But nothing could have prepared us for the downright "Sleepaway Camp"-ian sight of Kari Wuhrer with a schlong screaming bloody murder in a woodshed. Powerdrill penises aside, wee Sean has got some issues. It's not overtly queer, to be sure -- he's hot for Kari, and the imagery is supposed to be feminizing, not gay. But nonetheless, it crosses sexual boundaries not generally passed in your standard hyper-violent horror action thriller, and for that it deserves note.

Needless to say, all this pushes Sean too far, and he finally attacks Norm and almost literally bites his head off. He runs outside, laughing and drooling and running around in his shit-stained whities, and it occurs to me, "Hey -- doesn't 'Radio' open today?" 'Cause it did. And I decided that this was the REAL "Radio" -- where Cuba Gooding takes out his 25-cent hillbilly teeth and snaps Ed Harris in two over a bleacher. This is truth, people -- the mentally handicapped are DANGEROUS and should be RESTRAINED and KEPT IN PENS LIKE RABID VEAL.

Sean gets away, and the rest of the film plays out like an inverse-"Vertigo"-cum-revenge-saga, with Sean finally balling Kari (no penis this time), accidentally killing her (in one of the most laughable death scenes of the year), and returning to the desert to kill his captors. But the real point of the story is that Sean gets to stop slobbering and put his clothes back on. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

Rating (out of 5):