Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Mosquito-Man (Sucker)

(Unrated, Big Screen Entertainment Group, 79 mins., DVD release date: January 12, 2016)

Those with fond memories of watching USA's Up All Night programming block ought to get a kick out of realizing that Kimberley Kates (who I previously mentioned in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) produced two feature films directed by the stars of the sitcom version of Weird Science. John Mallory Asher, who played Gary (originally Anthony Michael Hall in the Hughes film), helmed his former wife Jenny McCarthy in Dirty Love whereas Michael Manasseri, who took over the role of Wyatt (first played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith), wrote and directed A Mosquito-Man. The former premiered at Sundance in 2005 but met disastrous critical and commercial receptions in America. Though grossing $12 million worldwide, it scored in the low thousands domestically. A Mosquito-Man, by comparison, is strictly DTV in the wake of the festival-certified Babysitter Wanted, which Manasseri co-directed with writer Jonas Barnes.

Those with the faintest memories of watching USA's Up All Night ought to realize all of the aforementioned films would fit in perfectly with that after-hours schedule.

Dirty Love doesn't seem incongruous next to the tacky T&A romps of yore. Babysitter Wanted is a demonic splatter flick modeled after vintage suspense movies. And the topic of this review, A Mosquito-Man, is such a slick, modernized heir of Troma (among other things) that Lloyd Kaufman himself gets to be one of the victims, dying on the crapper as well he should. And the hero is introduced as employee of a nuclear power plant, which makes this genetically-spliced monster mash closer to the spirit of The Toxic Avenger than The Fly.

Manasseri, best known perhaps as the geeky third wheel opposite the Two Coreys in 1988's License to Drive, plays Jim Crawley, the aforementioned handler of radioactive materials who is emasculated, outsourced and murdered in one day. Not only is Jim passed over for an 11-years-due promotion by Axis Nuclear Power chairman Mr. Kopple (Kaufman), but he's fired as part of the company's new nine-point plan. His car is swiftly impounded and he is denied the bus fare home. And Jim's bitter wife Jackie (Kates) is having an affair with the hotshot who cost Jim his job, Dan Simmons (Ted Myers). When he finally finds a helping hand, Jim ends up a guinea pig for a biological insecticide which turns him into a bloodsucking mutant with a few scores to settle.

This is not the first movie to use this idea, as "Mosquito Man" was also the home video title for a 2005 made-for-SyFy flick called Mansquito (the alternate title of A Mosquito-Man back in 2012 was Sucker). The two movies involve a manhunt/bug hunt involving homicidal hybrid creatures, but Manasseri bucks for a black comic vibe which harkens back to the Sam Raimi stylings of The Evil Dead and Darkman. Although he never truly reaches such pulpy heights, Manasseri certainly tops the most infamous shot from Raimi's debut with a little help from Kimberley Kates. There are also touches of Spider-Man in Jim's newfound ability to flip across the rooftops (the transference does not give him wings) as well as The Crow in the swarm of mosquitoes who guide him on his vengeance. He's able to telepathically command them to do his bidding, demonstrating this to the grizzled detective on his trail.

That would be Shanahan, who is played by Babysitter Wanted vet Monty Bane in a lively variation of a familiar caricature. Whereas in Manasseri's last film he was cast as an imposing figure with no dialogue, Bane instead gets to put his tongue in his cheek and play the intimidating policeman with a droll gusto similar to Tom Atkins (of Night of the Creeps and Maniac Cop). In his desperate attempt to make sense of the string of freak killings, Shanahan calls upon the greedy scientist, Dave (Ricky Wayne, a dead ringer for Jeffrey Combs), who inadvertently created Mosquito-Man, and the funniest incidental moments involve the cagey entomologist and the no-bullshit investigator. When Shanahan finally succumbs to drowning his frustration in liquor, a sudden clue jolts him into action ("We need coffee, ASAP!") It's a strong enough supporting performance that helps carry the movie over its paces.

In the midst of his basic vendetta, Jim finally consummates a romantic union with sweet-hearted co-worker Evelyn (Jordan Trovillion), an aspiring singer-songwriter whose forte is coffee shop country/folk. This is a peculiarly bizarre moment, mostly because their relationship isn't set-up properly at the start, save for a rescue sequence which inaugurates the producer's cut. Jim's surprise mating ritual seems extremely out-of-character and sordid, although as the movie progresses, nice guy Jim struggles with his newfound instincts to the point of once again contemplating suicide rather than homicide. Even Shanahan isn't as demented in his pursuit as someone who unwinds with target practice would indicate, hoping to take Jim alive rather than exercise unwanted military muscle.

Alas, Evelyn is the damsel-in-distress whom Dave abducts in a further display of his unethical megalomania. This results in Jim having to resist an industrial-sized bug zapper, arranged in a force field position surrounding Evelyn, while Detective Shanahan and his rookie sidekick Bowen (Danny Mooney) are locked in a room full of deadly Asian Tiger mosquitoes. Not quite a camp artifact on the level of Sharknado, A Mosquito-Man is at heart an old-fashioned creature feature flick modeled like the introduction to a new Marvel property (an impression the DVD cover art really hammers), with Robert Kurtzman's FX shop molding an impressively icky face for Manasseri, with CG enhancements for the remainder of his features. So while the digital skeeters seem more laughable than some of the leaden digressions into tastelessness, and the movie could have stood to be a bit wittier, but this is fitfully entertaining taken in a "late, late show" environment if not the vaunted stature of a Midnight Movie.

Very special thanks to Kimberley Kates for easing me into writing this review, among other acts of kindness.

The DVD release contains two contrasting cuts of the film. The first would appear to be Kimberley Kates' preferred edit for international markets, as it emphasizes quicker pacing and more rousing options of beginning and end. This also means a truncation of Kates' graphic death scene, much less screen time for Lloyd Kaufman and some unwieldy elisions in dialogue (listen to the conversation between Jim and Dave at the bar). The comedy-centric director's cut, meanwhile, lets Kaufman attempt to steal his handful of scenes more blatantly (including a mothballed golf analogy as well as a direct allusion to Tromeo and Juliet) while also withholding the reveal of the monster at the start for a more downbeat flashback chronology. No cast/crew interviews or commentary, alas, but split amongst the dual platters are a behind-the-scenes gallery and Big Screen Entertainment Group trailer reel.

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