Travis Leamons // Film Critic
The original CRITTERS had the misfortune of arriving two years after GREMLINS. Although the original screenplay was completed before Gizmo entered the picture, plot elements had to be removed so that CRITTERS didn’t come across a direct rip-off. The movie did just enough to separate itself from Joe Dante’s cute-and-deadly creature feature. Successful enough to greenlight a sequel, the “GREMLINS from space” conceit spawned a franchise that took the story (and the human-eating furballs) from the countryside to an apartment dwelling. You know, before all the critters died for good inside a space station in 1992’s final installment – or so we thought.
Twelve-year-old me would have been all over a new CRITTERS movie. But I’m in my late thirties now, and my affection for the series isn’t all that strong. CRITTERS ATTACK! wants to capture the feeling of the 1986 original, in which the “Krites” engineer a prison escape and hijack a space vessel before crash-landing on Earth, outside a rural Kansas town. Two shape-changing bounty hunters come to Earth in pursuit.
Director Bobby Miller, clearly a fan, tries so hard in sticking to the look of the first movie and capture the feeling that it becomes a problem. When someone says, “What is this, 1986?” it’s cute. Then, it is repeated a few more times during the movie in case you didn’t hear it the first time. (Yes, the dialogue is that forced and ham-fisted.)
CRITTERS was a movie that probably should have been a one-and-done. Somehow it worked because the killers were a bunch of spiky hedgehogs that ate like piranhas – cuddly and comically violent. The movie was light on plot, and the same is true for CRITTERS ATTACK!
In this new film, Drea (Tashiana Washington) is a sushi worker who is desperate to get into the same college as her late mother. To boost her standing with admissions, she takes a job babysitting a professor’s children for the weekend. Joining Drea in the babysitting fun is her little brother, Phillip (Jaeden Noel). He tags along as Drea tries to amuse Trissy (Ava Preston) and her younger brother, Jake (Jack Fulton), who would rather watch videos on his phone than make eye contact. Drea’s attempts at making small talk and doing fun activities don’t go over well until a hike in the country is suggested. Little do they know that the critters have crash-landed and started devouring hikers and forest rangers.
This sequel makes sure to include one of the major highlights of the franchise, and that is the giant Critter ball, originally seen in CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE. Dee Wallace also returns to the franchise playing the mysterious Aunt Bee. Wallace is more of a credited cameo, but she looks to be having good fun with her limited screen time. The other surprise is the introduction of a female critter named Bianca. She’s an exiled royal trying to flee the male Krites. The look of Bianca bares comparison to Gizmo, and she was likely cut from the original CRITTERS.
Miller favors the practical over convenience, and the special effects team go aboveboard in making use of puppets, robotics, and prosthetics. Still, the movie feels out of place. It embraces the childlike sense of adventure of 1980s films but eighty-sixes the campy fun. The violence and salty language are kept at an all-time low, and the movie suffers for it.
When a furball isn’t chasing after its next meal, the story stalls on poorly executed character exposition. Now audiences shouldn’t anticipate an Aaron Sorkin-penned script with a creature feature like this, but does every single character have to be a complete and utter moron? Bad decisions cause more problems that require a special solution. At no point are we truly invested in whether Drea and the kids make it out alive. There’s no conclusion to anyone’s story. It ends on a pointless reflection that made me wish the Krites were victorious.
Movie Grade: D
Extras Grade: C+
The extras found on the CRITTERS ATTACK! Blu-ray release, on the other hand, are more enjoyable, even if they are standard EPK-style featurettes.
The best piece is Engineering Gore: Designing Critters. The cast and crew talk about going the practical route in making robotic critters. Behind the scenes footage of the effects crew doing puppetry while others work remote controls help illustrate how much director Bobby Miller wanted to stay to the original movie. We also get to see the simple trick of how the critters roll fast. Critters: An Out-of-this-World Experience has the director and cast talk about bringing the series back, going forward, and making fans happy. Not sure they succeeded with that last one. The last feature is on the incredible Critter Ball. If you look closely at the ball, you’ll see some of the original puppets from the 1980s. Completing the supplements is a screen-specific audio commentary and trailers for various Warner Bros. releases.
CRITTERS ATTACK! may appease longtime fans of the franchise who have waited over 25 years for another sequel, or at least a reboot. As someone who enjoyed the first and second installment, and can only recall that Leonardo DiCaprio and Angela Bassett were in the third and fourth ones, I’d put this very low on my “I wish we had another…” movie list. Skip it, and watch the original CRITTERS instead.
CRITTERS ATTACK! is now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.