Courtesy Photo
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Starring Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam & Charles Dutton


Opened: August 22, 1997 | Rated: R

During the opening credits of "Mimic," a girl in her 20s sitting next to me leaned over and said "What does 'mimic' mean?"

All I could think was, What are you doing here if you don't know the answer to that?

But an hour and a half later, I realized she was the movie's target audience -- someone who doesn't have the good sense to find out what the movie is about before buying a ticket, and is therefore less likely to question integrity of the story.

"Mimic," about a mutant strain of monster roaches picking off the population of New York, is ostensibly a higher I.Q. hair-raiser. It is exciting, adequately scary and pseudo-realistic in its lip service to scientific plausibility, although it wants an audience that won't ask too many questions.

But under the eraser of too many script doctors (John Sayles and Steven Soderbergh helped develop it, but their name aren't even in the credits), it follows too many invasion/horror movie formulas straight into mediocrity.

Mira Sorvino stars as a brilliant Center for Disease Control biologist (sure, I buy that!) who genetically engineers benign cockroaches to wipe out those carrying a deadly virus that caused an epidemic in New York.

It's three years after the epidemic and the mutant roaches, which evolved in the lab at many times the natural rate, haven't died off like they were supposed to. They have warped through 1,000 generations of evolution and, having learned to roughly imitate human form, are stalking the subways and eating the scripted-as-disposable homeless people that live in the tunnels.

Multiple buggy suspense scenes follow, all shot in atmospherically murky, dark blue hues and accompanied by spine-tingling buggy music. A number of them involve the obligatory horror movie kid, here a retard shoe shine boy that plays the spoons.

Sorvino and her scientist husband, played by Jeremy Northam ("Emma"), decide to take on the bugs by themselves for no explored reason. Instead of calling on CDC clout to close a couple tunnels and bring in a haz-mat team or something, they hunker down in the bowels of the subway system with a couple of flashlights and a transit cop (Charles Dutton) leading the way.

While we eventually buy Sorvino as a brainiac and we are sufficiently creeped out by the big, bad bugs, director Guillermo Del Toro ("Cronos") opts for a disappointingly standard last act, with a subterranean showdown between insects and intellects, the conclusion of which is far too tidy to be satisfying.

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