Reviewed by The FoywonderStarring Vincent Ventresca, Tom Skerritt, Summer Glau, Leila Arcieri
Directed by Tim Cox
Mammoth is a mastodon sized mess of a movie.
It almost pains me to rip on Mammoth since my biggest complaint with most Sci-Fi Channel original movies is that they don’t even try to do anything outside of the formulaic. Mammoth director and co-writer Tim Cox definitely tries – perhaps too hard at times – to make it stand out from the pack by invoking the spirit of B-movies past. Sadly, something just never quite clicks with this one. Mammoth most certainly has its moments and its tongue-in-cheek nature makes it easy viewing to sit but the film as a whole is wildly uneven at best and never as out there as it longs to be.
Mammoth is set in a small Louisiana town where nebbish, often befuddled paleontologist Frank Abernathy spends night and day researching the natural history museum’s biggest attraction: a frozen yet perfectly preserved woolly mammoth. Frank has discovered a strange electronic device frozen alongside the mammoth unaware that it’s actually an alien homing device and accidentally sets it off by removing it from the ice. Today is also his teen daughter Jack’s birthday. Frank is late as usual but at least this day he has a good excuse in the form of a mini-UFO that crashes through the roof of the museum, unleashing a blobular alien creature that thaws out, brings the megaton mammoth back to life, takes possession of it, and begins running amok.
By the time Frank arrives on the scene, he’s left to assume that a meteorite disintegrated his prized mammoth and left a security guard dead (actually a victim of other worldly life force draining) in the process. Not allowed to investigate the scene further due to the town’s Smokey & the Bandit wannabe sheriff and his two too stupid to live deputies, Frank heads home to smooth things over with his perpetually annoyed-by-dad daughter and get called a weenie again by his own B-movie loving, UFO conspiracy buff father.
Jack runs off to the world’s most boring rave in the woods with her squirrelly boyfriend; actually his name is Squirrelly. Before overprotective Frank can race after her, two men in black – technically one man and one woman in black – show up at his doorstep insisting that he come with them and fill them in on everything he knows about woolly mammoth behavior.
A giant alien possessed woolly mammoth is running wild and naturally it will come down to Frank and his family having to team up with the surviving federal agent (bet you didn’t know an elephant tusk can decapitate a person) to defeat the prehistoric by way of extraterrestrial menace within the nine hour time limit the government has set before they resort to just wiping the town and all of its denizens off the map in order to keep the situation quarantined.
All of this should make for great B-movie fodder – the opening credits alone are a Tim Burton-esque work of genius – but as overwrought as the plot sounds it’s actually undercooked. Mammoth has a lot of ideas flowing through its veins but fails to fully capitalize on most of them and by trying so hard to be intentionally humorous it backs itself into a corner that means it must either be intentionally campy or not with no wiggle room for unintentional camp that makes so many b-movies of yore so much fun.
There are moments of greatness, such as a ridiculous flashback sequence involving the first appearance of the aliens and a hilarious scene involving a frozen alien-possessed human hand being thawed out in a microwave oven so that it can manically begin tapping out a world conquering threat in Morse code. And the alien possessed mammoth can suck the life force from victims through its trunk like some sort of soul-sucking vacuum cleaner. Again, this is all great stuff, yet the aliens’ agenda and the mammoth’s antics are never fully capitalized on. The mammoth is off-screen for much of the film, the alien invasion angle never makes any sense, many of the jokes fall flat, and the tone shifts on a dime from dumb comedy to straightforward horror and back again with occasional forays into Lifetime Network family melodrama.
This is all the more disappointing because the special effects are certainly a step above the typical Sci-Fi Channel production, as is the acting. Well, at least the main actors. This is one of those movies where the filmmaker seemed to think that every character needed be quirky, resulting in a lot of broad characters that aren’t nearly as colorful as they’re intended to be. Vincent Ventresca does hit all the right notes – a little Kurt Russell mixed with a lot of Bruce Campbell – with the exception of one particular sequence in a science lab where he literally begins screaming his lines like someone in desperate need of being shot with a tranquilizer dart. While Serenity’s Summer Glau is relegated to your basic teen daughter character, she still makes the most of the part as opposed to other actresses in similar Sci-Fi Channel movie roles. If you don’t believe me then just pop in a copy of Caved In: Prehistoric Terror. The only real disappointment amongst the main cast is Frank’s father, underwhelming played by Tom Skerritt, whose character basically talks and acts like the treasurer of the “Lone Gunmen” fan club.
Director and co-writer Tim Cox also makes some seriously strange directing choices at time; none stranger than a scene at a rave where daughter and boyfriend hook up to the same iPod and dance, a scene shot in a drug trip manner that made me wonder if we had suddenly stumbled into “TekWar” territory. Someone want to explain that to me? Someone also want to explain how a multi-ton woolly mammoth – even an alien possessed one – constantly manages to stay hidden from plain view much of the time and can sneak up on people without warning?
I think the scene that best sums up the film’s problems can be found in a scene where Frank’s dad is coming to the rescue. The whole sequence is filmed and edited together in the manner of the opening sequence to a 1970’s cop show. It’s an amusing moment although not nearly as amusing as it should be, but after it’s over you realize it didn’t really add anything to the proceedings other than a amusing aside that ultimately felt out of place, done only because the director is throwing everything against the wall but never giving any of it a chance to stick.
Mammoth is also a movie that invokes the names of many classic B-movies of the past, something I usually find questionable because there’s always the risk that the films being referenced are better than the film you’re watching. Such is the case of Mammoth. For all its flaws and stuff that just doesn’t work, I’d still take this over the typical Sci-Fi Channel original movie. Like I said, at least it tries and even succeeds sporadically. With another rewrite I suspect Mammoth could have been a contender worthy of having its title mentioned in the same sentence as that of many of the other B-movies it invokes.|
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