Bug

You can tell I'm not a real movie critic. I missed the extravaganza of Shrek the Third, carefully avoided the craziness that is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which I've never liked, and ended up reviewing Bug.

Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.

I used to like Johnny Depp, really. Then he fell victim to the Christopher Walken curse and became more a parody of himself than himself. I hear Shrek isn't much good this time out, but Spider-Man 3 was okay. Still, it's a bit frustrating and annoying to discover that thanks to those three films (all of which are third in a series -- maybe there's something numerological going on), my local 16-screen theatre is actually showing only six movies. Six! So that left me with Bug.

First of all, don't go see it. I had to get that off my chest. Don't rent it, don't buy the DVD. Maybe watch it for free if there's really nothing else on. Yes, it's that bad, in spite of all the lovely and talented Ashley Judd could do. I don't think there is now or has ever been any actress who could say the line "I am the super mother bug!" in any way that won't provoke giggles, and it isn't supposed to provoke giggles. I think. There's lots of nudity, both male and female (yes, even the full Monty, as they say), but there's also a good amount of blood, and after a while, you forget the nudity and can only try to remember why it was you started watching in the first place.

I understand it was quite a successful stage play, but something has apparently gone tragically wrong during the transition to the screen. What that was, I'm not sure. The acting is all good. The plot is very simple, but does involve all sort of wild, paranoia-inducing conspiracy theory stuff, which I usually like. And I'm not against films with lots of talking -- far from it. Part of the problem might be that I walked in to the theatre not quite sure what to expect. The trailer I saw made it look like a horror movie, pure and simple. Then I read online that poor Ashley was hiding from a jealous, abusive ex-husband, and started thinking it was a stalker movie. And after about forty-five minutes, I was still kind of expecting a stalker movie, though a low-key, psychological sort of stalker movie.

Then there were suddenly bug strips hanging everywhere, and at least three spray cans of every bug-killer known to man, and Michael Shannon (as quiet, unnerving drifter Peter Evans, reprising his role from the stage) was rattling off every "the government is experimenting on you right now" theory that I've ever heard, while completely surrounded by the paranoic's favorite, aluminum foil. (It scrambles the signals, you know. Really.)

Let me back up a little. Agnes White (our Ashley) is in fact living in fear of her ex-con ex-husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr., who always plays an excellent sleaze, and this is no exception). She works in a honkytonk bar in Upper Nowhere, Oklahoma and lives in a room in the Rustic Motel. It's rustic because except for the honkytonk, presumably, there doesn't seem to be anything within fifty miles of it except for a highway, a river, and lots of scrubby little plants; and there's also nothing inside it that's less than thirty years old, including most of the fascinating stains on the walls.

She drinks and does drugs, though I don't know how she can afford them, and I almost can't blame her, considering how dismal her life is. The movie's very claustrophobic, a carryover from its start as a play, but that works here, because you're supposed to feel trapped and uneasy. Mostly, though, I ended up feeling bored and restless.

But to continue, Ashley's friend R.C. (played by Lynn Collins, who wisely escapes from the film before everything starts to look like a set from a cheap sci-fi flick) introduces her to a nice guy she's met, the aforementioned drifter. R.C. might normally be a good judge of character, but she seriously drops the ball here. Peter is intelligent and observant, but he's also just as scary as the ex, in his own warped and twisted way. He doesn't seem to be able to help himself, but that's not much comfort to poor Ashley, or to anyone watching the movie.

It's sort of two movies sewn together. First Ashley is a normal, though deeply wounded person, and then, as quickly as turning on a bug zapper, she's a madwoman, and the audience doesn't have anyone to connect with. I was left feeling like I must have missed something really important after Ashley's sudden switch. Maybe that part's on a cutting room floor somewhere, but if something needed to be taken out, it should have been the part where Peter tries to do his own dentistry. With pliers. Did I mention the blood?

I hate to give this too low a rating, I really do. Let's go with two idols. There were things I liked -- for instance, Peter has a little speech about all the awful things the Bad People of the world can do to you, and somewhere along the way you get the sense that he's warning Ashley about what he could do to her, though I don't think the character quite realizes what he's saying. The film does everything it can to pull you in to the characters' crazy little world, and I usually like movies that do that, but somehow it just doesn't work here. My only consolation is that I didn't pay money for this. I used my free ticket voucher.

Originally posted 5/2007. Somehow imdb has it rated 6 out of ten. I think it's some sort of conspiracy.

Image: 
Agnes and Peter search carefully for Ashley Judd's motivation.

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