Friday October 22, 1999
"Bats" is an ecological disaster movie so formulaic that there's scarcely an ounce of life in it. A wildlife zoologist (Dina Meyer), her assistant (Leon) and local sheriff (Lou Diamond Phillips) wind up single-handedly having to combat an attack upon a small Texas town by genetically altered, virus-infected Indonesian bats, ominously referred to as "flying foxes."
It's an instance of Gallup, Texas, today, tomorrow the world on the part of the killer bats, which have been lethally modified by a local scientist (Bob Gunton). It doesn't come as a complete shock that Gunton is in the employ of the U.S. government or that when the military does show up, they're such idiots that they increase the danger posed by the bats infinitely rather than combat it. In short, it looks like the bad, old military-government complex is at it again.
Still, John Logan's script is nothing if not efficient, and it allows director Louis Morneau to bring it to the screen with bravura dispatch--furious whooshes of the camera and virtuoso editing do a terrific job of creating the impression of massive, repeated assaults by these outsize, demonic-looking creatures. (Those whooshes help offset the fact that the bats are so large and evil-looking as to be laughable when the camera lights upon them for more than an instant.)
Unfortunately, this frenetic effect is showy rather than scary, and Logan does the film no favors by allowing us to wonder why the clearly crazed scientist is not swiftly placed under some kind of custody by the sheriff. You guessed it: Once he has the opportunity, as he tags along with the trio on its final showdown with the bats, he's going to do something loony and lethal.
Phillips brings to the picture a welcome solid presence and Leon some equally appreciated comic relief. But the admirably game but exceedingly earnest Meyer is stuck with playing a huffy, righteously indignant type who becomes rapidly tedious and doesn't display enough personality to overcome such a hapless role. "Bats" is one of those films of which it can be said that it's all up there on the screen; you have the feeling that every cent of a modest budget has been spent to make the picture look as big and impressive as possible. The trouble is that "Bats" is so uninvolving it scarcely matters what it looks like.
Bats, 1999. PG-13, for intense sequences of bat attacks, and brief language. A Destination Films presentation. Director Louis Morneau. Producers Brad Jenkel, Louise Rosner. Executive producers Steve Stabler, Brent Baum, John Logan, Dale Pollack. Screenplay by Logan. Cinematographer George Mooradian. Editor Glenn Garland. Music Graeme Revell. Special makeup and animatronic effects by K.N.B. EFX Group Inc. Visual effects designed by Netter Digital Entertainment Inc. Digital effects by Pop Film. Production designer Philip J.C. Duffin. Set decorator Cynthia Epping. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Lou Diamond Phillips as Sheriff Kimsey. Dina Meyer as Dr. Sheila Casper. Bob Gunton as Dr. Alexander McCabe. Leon as Jimmy Sands.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times