Maneater (2007)

Maneater reviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Gary Busey, Ian D. Clark, Ty Wood, Diana Reis

Directed by Gary Yates

The new tiger-on-the-loose flick Maneater is just one of about a half dozen films commissioned by the Sci-Fi Channel in a deal with a production company (who’s name has already escaped me) to premiere later this year, along with a James Van Der Beek vs. a giant squid flick, Lance Henriksen vs. a spider cult flick, F. Murray Abraham vs. the missing link flick, Kevin Sorbo as a minister vs. satanic sludge flick, and a grizzly bear goes all I Know What You Did Last Summer on some teens flick. That Maneater is movie is about an animal native to Asia is about the only reason I can figure it having been just released to DVD in Thailand. I figured I’d import a DVD of this one since in addition to a killer tiger it also stars Gary Busey. Two wild animals for the price of one!

Oh, thought I’d mention the comedy of the Thai DVD art. You got Gary Busey’s name on it along with the name of one of the film’s characters in place of the actor playing the part and a third name that they seemed to have just pulled out of thin air because it doesn’t match anyone where in the credits.

Having now watched Maneater I come away with a sense of disbelief that this film will ever actually air on the Sci-Fi Channel. For starters, the killer animal is just a Bengal tiger. It’s not a mutant Bengal tiger that’s ten feet long and weighs several tons and was the product of a secret military experiment to genetically engineer an unstoppable super tiger with razor claws and fangs that secrete the Ebola virus and so on and so forth. And the tiger seen in the film is an actual living breathing tiger and not a CGI creation. In fact, to the filmmaker’s credit, I don’t recall a single CGI effect in the entire movie. This might also explain why pretty much every single kill takes place off-camera. The movie is also completely devoid of any human villains; Sci-Fi Channel original movies seem to require there always be some sort of corporate, military, or government bad guy thrown into the mix. If not for the gory human carnage shown following the tiger attacks, I’d swear Maneater was an almost family-friendly movie tailor-made for the Hallmark Channel or Ion Network.

But wait…

Maneater does have two key ingredients that do make it Sci-Fi Channel quality: a run-of-the-mill story and it’s duller than dirt. 100% suspense-free from start to finish and just feeling like its going through the motions with little or no enthusiasm; it’s really more of a melodrama than a killer animal flick. Had I not committed myself to reviewing the film I probably would have turned it off out of boredom.

The movie opens (awkwardly, if you ask me) with the truck transporting a Bengal tiger crashing after the driver swerves to avoid a young boy sleepwalking in the middle of the dirt road. The tiger will get free and sort of bond with the young boy. I say “sort of” because there’s never really any kind of pay-off to the kid’s supposed friendship with the tiger. We’ll come to learn that this kid prone to sleepwalking and making nice with maneating tigers is a quiet religious boy home-schooled in the backwoods by his well-meaning Bible-thumping mom. I kept waiting for the tale to take something of a Ben twist or at the very least, have the kid doing what it can to prevent those that will come hunting for the tiger from harming it; none of that ever comes about. His mom isn’t an ogre, the kid never considers the tiger his vessel for some type of divine vengeance, and he even ends up developing something of a relationship with the big game hunter brought in to track and kill the beast. This doesn’t exactly make for compelling entertainment.

The maneating tiger loose in the woods does what maneating tigers loose in the woods do; thus the body count quickly rises. Though the Mayor of this small Southern woodland community initially frets over the potential closing of the woods (not when the annual Applefest is just around the corner!), the Mayor never actually becomes a villain ala the Mayor from Jaws.

The sheriff is trying his darndest to keep the populace safe, but when Entertainment Weekly gets word of the story and puts a $10,000 reward on the line for the killing of the tiger, a media frenzy ensues. Though I agree a Bengal tiger on the loose killing people in a small American town would be news worthy in of itself, I do find myself questioning whether or not it would warrant the sort of national media coverage usually reserved for Paris Hilton getting out of jail. That’s pretty much what happens, right down to the sheriff getting grilled on live television during daily press conferences.

The Governor then calls in a small contingency of National Guardsmen to put an end to the tiger menace. I realize that tigers are natural predators and all (as the movie occasionally goes out of its way to have characters explain in lengthy detail), but a platoon of trained soldiers with machine guns getting wiped out by a lone tiger … If our military is no match for an escaped zoo animal then no wonder we can’t seem to crush the Iraqi insurgency.

Finally, as a last ditch effort, a British tiger hunter from India with a Salvador Dali moustache is brought in. It soon turns out this specialist in hunting tigers has a personal demon he’s trying to exorcise by killing this particular predator. It also leads to several heart-to-heart talks with both the sheriff and the young boy. In fact, by the third act I thought I was watching an old Pax Network movie what with all the emotionally wounded individuals pouring their guts out to one another.

The sheriff is played by the incomparable Gary Busey in the most subdued performance I’ve ever seen from him in my entire life. One can usually count on Gary Busey to provide a level of manic energy to his performances – not this time. Busey’s crazy persona is non-existent to the point that even the one scene where he’s required to angrily yell at someone feels like he’s seriously holding back. I can’t recall the last time I saw Gary Busey in a movie where he was this … normal. Were the tiger wranglers on the set using the same techniques (and possibly animal tranquilizers) to keep Busey in line too?

In the end, Maneater is a film that’s competently made and surprisingly well acted. Unfortunately, it’s just not the slightest bit interesting. A nature gone amok movie should be either scary or fun – preferably both. Maneater is neither. It’s too straight-laced to generate any B-movie fun and is utterly lacking in thrills or chills department.

1 out of 5

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