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'Mimic': The Exterminator

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Aug. 22, 1997

After winning the Cannes Critics Award in 1993 for "Cronos," a smartly inventive recasting of the seemingly overplayed vampire legend, Mexicoís Guillermo del Toro was quickly sought out by Hollywood, seduced with promises of bigger budgets and substantial studio support, yet still straitjacketed by genre expectations. Itís hardly surprising, then, that "Mimic," del Toroís first effort in the big leagues, is a horror film of depressingly familiar lineage in which genetically altered creations come back to haunt their creators.

There are precious few of the touches that made "Cronos" not only scary, but touching. In "Mimic," being touched may seem scary in a fly-to-spider way of thinking, but the overall effect is more mind-numbing than bone-chilling and Del Toro seems more restricted than liberated by the filmís $22 million budget

. "Mimic" does feature some well-known actors -- notably Academy Award-winners Mira Sorvino (in her first and possibly last genre turn) and F. Murray Abraham, as well as Charles S. Dutton and European art-house veteran Giancarlo Giannini. But even their talents canít elevate "Mimic" beyond its B-movie roots.

One problem is that the backstory setup is confusing and not particularly riveting or revealing: In a dimly lit urban future, Dr. Susan Tyler (Sorvino) and her husband Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam from "Emma") wipe out a kid-threatening epidemic by creating some sort of genetically altered mix-and-match bug species which will save the world and then die out without reproducing. Donít these doctors from the Centers for Disease Control know itís not nice to fool with Mother Nature?

Maybe they shouldnít have called it the Judas breed, because after a few years pass, something subterranean is apparently ready to bug out. Apparently more partial to midnight snacks than to brunch, these shadowy figures move in the darkened alleys and basements of New York City. Like so many bugs, they have figured out how to physically mimic man (however suspiciously) in order to go about their business undetected. Of course, it helps to live in New York, where neither the Elephant Man nor Michael Jackson would be thought particularly strange milling among ordinary people.

Several events conspire to bring a small group together in a subway car sitting in an abandoned turn-of-the-century subway station -- sort of the A Train of San Luis Rey. First, an elderly shoe shiner (Giannini) is searching for his 8-year old autistic grandson Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), who has wandered off in the night. Concurrently, the bungling doctors are looking for possible underground lairs (of what they apparently have no idea). They are aided in their efforts by Leonard (Dutton), an initially reluctant, eventually heroic MTA cop. Once theyíre trapped in the subway car, something very nasty tries to get in, while the victims desperately look for an escape route back to civilization.

Del Toro, expanding on a short story by Donald A. Wolheim, isnít able to invest his version of a familiar horror convention with either the supple wit or deep humanity he brought to "Cronos." The film depends too much on an "Alien"-style denouement, and the creatures are mostly disappointing after an initial revelation in a terrifying swooping scene in a subway station. As for the increasingly besmudged Sorvino, she simply goes where a half-dozen other feisty femmes have gone before. One suspects that "Mighty Hermaphrodite" would have been a much scarier concept.

MIMIC (R) ó Contains profanity, violence and bug excrement.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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