Manticore (DVD)

Manticore DVD (click for larger image)Reviewed by The FoywonderStarring Robert Beltran, Chase Masterson, Heather Donahue, A.J. Buckley, Jeff Fahey

Directed by Tripp Reed

Distributed by Image Entertainment

Welcome to the suck.

Jarhead may have used that phrase as its tagline but I assure you it also perfectly suits the Sci-Fi Channel/UFO Films’ co-production Manticore.

Some Iraqi tomb raiders have pilfered an ancient medallion that they then deliver to an evil Persian Kurt Angle look-a-like who proceeds to babble insanely about being descended from the rightful heirs to Babylon and how he’s going to get his throne back, unify the Middle East, and get rid of all the infidels by awakening a pair of 2,000 year old Manticores. This is especially amazing, not just because of this loon’s declarations, but because the Manticore is a mythological monster of ancient India, not Mesopotamia, so what the hell are these things doing in an Iraqi mountain temple? The awakening of the Manticores doesn’t go quite as planned; one gets destroyed before it can awaken (a fact that seems inconsequential initially but actually factors into the ludicrous finale) and the other just starts slaughtering everyone in the sight. Told you it wasn’t Arabic. The man who would be king of Babylon does manage to escape the killfest; otherwise there would be no one around later to explain what the hell a Manticore is to the main characters. This whole sequence felt like a half-baked subplot from a future Stephen Sommers’ Mummy sequel, and I don’t mean that as a compliment either.

“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”’s Chase Masterson plays a reporter embedded with an army division in Iraq who is tired of boring old stories about stolen artifacts and violent insurgencies because, you know, that crap is never going to help get her the anchor chair on the nightly news. She does manage to luck into the story of a lifetime when she and her cameraman arrive at an Iraqi village soundstage that looks an awful lot like a leftover Tatooine set just in time for the Manticore to arrive.

I remember when the Sci-Fi Channel tried introducing a genre-themed version of Entertainment Tonight that was hosted by none other than Chase Masterson. The program was an instant bomb from the first episode. The producers were clearly determined to try and salvage the show as evidenced by the way the format seemed to get tweaked every other episode and by the fact that Masterson’s blouses became skimpier with each new episode. By the time the show finally got canned a few short weeks later her cleavage was literally busting at the seams. She could have gone topless and it wouldn’t have saved that show. Going topless here wouldn’t have saved this movie either.

Meanwhile, commanding officer Jeff Fahey, in a role that could just as easily been pulled off by setting up a mannequin and having someone provide voiceover work, orders “Star Trek: Voyager’”s Robert Beltran to lead his squad of generic grunt types, all of whom talk using stereotypical military grunt speak, which includes The Blair Witch Project’s Heather Donahue in a role that probably makes her wish she was back out in the woods crying, to go retrieve Masterson’s character for reasons so flimsy it’s apparent the reasoning is merely an excuse to get them someplace where they can encounter the monster.

When the soldiers finally arrive at the village, they find Masterson and her cameraman huddled together hiding with the other surviving villagers. She’s thrilled to see them there to rescue her from “the thing that decimated this village,” and yet two minutes later she’s mouthing off to the soldiers, ready to go it alone to get the monster story. Masterson’s really is the only character with anything resembling a personality in this film and it’s still an inconsistent one because she suddenly transforms into this unlikable, shrill individual.

I officially declared the movie dead in the water about an hour in when the filmmakers shamelessly ripped-off a famous scene from Aliens to a ridiculous degree. The soldiers are ready to retreat and regroup. The aerial transport arrives to pick them up. As they approach the rocky landing area, the monster has managed to get aboard the chopper and kill the crew. The craft whirls about uncontrollably before smashing to bits as the causing troops to run for cover. Sound familiar?

From here on the film pretty much follows the standard Aliens/Predator formula with little creativity other than a magical amulet that can protect the wearer from the creature and the evil Iraqi high priest disguising himself as a villager that tries to convince them the Manticore is just a genetic experiment, a living, breathing weapon of mass destruction so to speak, and not actually a weapon of myth destruction unleashed by him to kill the “non-believers” and give him all-encompassing power over the Middle East. The finale actually involves the use of flares and mirrors, for crying out loud.

Still, it’s nice to know the military has a stealth bomber on standby in the event a platoon ever finds themselves squaring off with a mythological monster, and I did learn from watching this film that someone can take a near direct hit from a rocket launcher and come away with only some lightly tattered clothes and minor abrasions. And the way in which the Manticore is finally destroyed is preposterous beyond belief. I won’t spoil it other than to say it involves Beltran’s character uttering the line, “If this battery runs out we’re all dead.”

It’s no real surprise to write about a Sci-Fi Channel monster movie and state that the plot is bland and generic and the characters are boring and one-dimensional; it’s another problem entirely when the monster is just as bland and uninteresting. The only thing three-dimensional about the Manticore itself is the 3-D computer animation used to bring it to life and there are still scenes in the film where it looks more two-dimensional than three (to say the visual effects are inconsistent throughout the film would be an understatement). According to legend, the Manticore had the body of a lion, the head of a human with three rows of sharp teeth, and a reptilian tail composed of highly poisonous porcupine-like spines that it could shoot at its prey like darts. Other than the reptilian tail that has been turned into a scorpion stinger and the creature’s ability to vomit acid, the Manticore of the movie could have just been described as a ferocious, flying, jacked up mountain lion. The myth is often more intriguing than the reality, especially when the reality is being brought to you courtesy the United Film Organization.

It really is quite amazing how a movie with such a simplistic plot could be so ungodly slow and how a film about such a fantastical creature could be almost entirely devoid of imagination. While the acting is adequate, the effects are acceptable, and the script is predictably formulaic, the real problem with Manticore is that the characters you don’t give a damn about don’t have anything interesting to say or do and they’re being stalked by a creature that completely fails to capture the viewers’ imagination. As I’ve said before, when the monster in a monster movie is boring then you don’t have a movie and Manticore really isn’t much of a movie.

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