With “Rodents of Unusual Size,” directors Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer have a heck of a story to tell charting the destructive impact that nutria, the furry, orange-toothed critters of the title, have had on the Louisiana bayou and the measures locals have taken to fight back, including slaughtering the animals for a $5 per tail state-funded bounty.
An animated sequence narrated in a folksy manner by actor Wendell Pierce establishes the historical provenance of the nutria, imported from South America by Tabasco sauce scion E.A. McIlhenny and others in the 1930s for fur harvesting. The animals escaped or were released into the wild, multiplied by the millions, and with their herbivore diet destroyed vegetation, creating an ecological disaster.
“Rodents” succeeds in capturing the region’s cultural flavor by exploring the complex relationship between the mostly Cajun human population and the furry, 20-pound interloper, who is viewed as a strange mix of mortal enemy, economic boon and cuddly creature (somewhere in there is the missing third piece to a Bill Murray rodent trilogy).
However, the film’s initial non-judgmental perspective eventually sounds more like a public service announcement for Louisiana’s nutria control program with iffy claims of “sustainable fur” and an underwhelming attempt at promoting nutria meat — a decidedly tough sell. The filmmakers seem more comfortable laying the blame on the anti-fur movement of the 1970s and ’80s rather than the entrepreneurs whose folly introduced the non-indigenous species to the region in the first place.
‘Rodents of Unusual Size’
Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica