Directed by Mike Mendez.
2013. Rated PG-13, 80 minutes.
Alex Mathis (Grunberg) is an exterminator who seems to know everything there is to know about spiders. Due to the actions of an overzealous customer, played by the ever-reliable Lin Shaye, our hero gets bitten by a deadly brown recluse spider, forcing him to pay a visit to the local hospital. Shortly after he gets there, he finds out the coroner has been bitten by a different type of spider. Being a little on the broke side, Alex offers to take care of the vermin in exchange for having the bill for his treatment wiped out. The hospital director agrees and Alex springs into action. We then discover just how dangerous this spider is when people start turning up dead. Things really get strange when the U.S. Army suddenly shows up also looking for this thing. If this weren't enough, we learn that it is rapidly multiplying in size. Nice.
Big Ass Spider! lets us know a couple things it does well right from the start. We know that it's not going to take itself all that seriously and it's going to pay homage to some of the iconic monster flicks that came before it. The jokes come immediately as we have little choice but to be amused by the relationship between Alex and his "favorite" customer. As far as the homages go, we very clearly reference the two most famous monster flicks of them all, King Kong and Godzilla. One can't help but think of the former when we see our titular spider draped all over the U.S. Bank Tower. Many of its interactions with the military instantly recall the best and worst of the many Godzilla flicks. All of this happens at a wonderful pace as the movie bounces along from one perfectly ridiculous scenario to the next.
As fun as all that stuff is, this is a film that just wouldn't work without the charming performance of its lead actor. Greg Grunberg plays it tongue-in-cheek and it serves the film well. He seems almost as incredulous as we are that he's in this situation. We know that he's in on the joke and that helps us stay with it. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he completely reminds me of Jon Favreau in both look and demeanor. In this case, that's not a bad thing, just something I noticed. Also aiding the movie is his easy chemistry with Lombardo Boyar who plays his sidekick Jose. Watching the two of them chase and be chased by this giant spider is just fun. Finally, the cast also includes vet Ray Wise as Major Braxton Tanner, our head military man. He plays it surprisingly, and effectively straight which actually adds to the hilarity.
This movie is also a success in its depiction of its female characters. There are only two, aside from the lady at the beginning, and only one of consequence, but both are intelligent women that wouldn't give our hero the time of day under normal circumstances. Obviously, this sets up a relationship arc between Alex and Karly (Kramer), but it feels at least somewhat believable given all that happens. Best of all, Karly is no damsel in distress merely waiting to be rescued. In fact, she is every bit the equal of Alex in the action hero department. Clare Kramer handles the role solidly with a confidence perfectly fitting her character.
Lest you get the idea that Big Ass Spider! is a perfect movie, there are certainly flaws along the way. The script is generally one joke after another, many of which skirt the line of political correctness. In and of itself, this is fine. All of our comedy needn't be sterilized for the masses, particularly in a movie such as this with a heart that pumps B-Movie fluid through its veins. However, occasionally a joke will fall flat and/or be blatantly offensive in a manner suggesting the filmmakers weren't being ironic, but just didn't know any better. The character of Jose is a bit problematic in this regard because he feels like a stereotype. On the other hand, he does make a few slyly poignant remarks about white privilege. It also helps that he has a major part and is thus afforded the opportunity to counteract his own shortcomings. The group of black folks that show up on the newscast that alerts the city to the presence of the spider don't fare so well. It's just wrong on every level without the benefit of being funny. There is some redemption for the film as a later scene involving a black police officer is one of its best.
Our climax comes with its own set of issues. For starters, the movie thinks itself clever because about midway through our hero tells us exactly what he wants to happen and, of course, it does. However, instead of coming off like a stroke of genius that pokes fun at some rather ubiquitous tropes, it feels like lazy writing. By itself, it's a minor infraction. When grouped with the gigantic spider sized plot hole we end on and an overall story that's rather stupid, it becomes a major letdown of an ending for a script that was sharp and witty through the rest of its runtime. I won't spoil the ending to reveal the plot hole, but I will say it has nothing to do with the purposely obvious set up for a sequel we get.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Big Ass Spider is simply that it doesn't gauge its audience correctly. The premise is tailor-made for a full-blown exploitation flick, yet that's not quite what we get. This really should be an R-rated gore-fest. Instead, the vast majority of the kills are bloodless affairs ensuring the film a PG-13 stamp as if it were hoping to be a wide-release playing to hordes of families in packed multiplexes across the land. Then there's the strangely under-dressed girls in the public park. This is easily the film's very best scene. However, if you're going to start down that road, go all the way. Blood and guts really were the order of the day, it just didn't get filled. Same for the possibility of gratuitous nudity. These are things people who decide to watch a movie called Big Ass Spider! will likely be looking for. Why not give it to them?
Lastly, there's the double-edged sword of the visual effects. Budget constraints are obvious right from the word go. At no point do we believe that the spider on the screen exists on the same plane as the people it is attacking. It is so transparently cgi that it can be a distraction, even a source of disdain for some. Conversely, this adds to the camp and the overall fun factor for people seeking out bad movies. These people, myself included, are often tickled pink by the spectacular failings of special fx crews afforded only a few precious bucks. In this case, it helps the movie achieve a sublime form of ridiculousness.
Occasionally, the title of a movie gives it all away. I don't just mean what a film is about. I'm also referring to it's genre and even it's style. Big Ass Spider! is one such title. Let's face it. You don't press play on a film with a title like that expecting a candidate for Best Picture at the Oscars. You proceed to watch it because you're in the mood for a crazy, possibly campy, creature feature about a big ass spider. This movie gives us that and is a very fun watch. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just can't help but feel that it held itself back in certain regards and didn't quite give us all it could have.