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SXSW Review: Big Ass Spider!

“Big Ass Spider! is to Saturday afternoon schlock what Die Hard was to badass action cinema.”

Big Ass Spider Greg Grunberg

Big Ass Spider! Now there’s a title for you. Any film with an exclamation point obviously means business. This is not a name, Big Ass Spider! tells you, it’s a call to action. We are not merely discussing a “big ass spider” in casual conversation, we are alerting you to the immediate presence of a big ass spider that you should probably be aware of. Fitting, since that’s what I am going to do in this review. There is indeed a Big Ass Spider!, you should be aware of it, and you should be supporting exactly what this movie is doing with the low budget sci-fi monster genre.

Big Ass Spider! hasn’t premiered on the SyFy Channel yet, if indeed it ever does, but it’s clearly a member of the Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie subgenre anyway. These films involve large CG monsters (usually bad CG), a cast of formerly big stars and/or character actors, and flit from one subpar location to the other with no greater purpose, usually, than to get to the end of the movie intact. They are not ambitious films. They are disposable entertainment that often try to call attention to themselves with gauche titles like Sharktopus and Aztec Rex, that promise a movie with good-natured humor and wacky ideas, but that usually settle for formulaic storylines and tired, boring characters.

Big Ass Spider! closely resembles these films, but rises above them. This is the zenith of Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies. Big Ass Spider! is to Saturday afternoon schlock what Die Hard was to badass action cinema: recognizably of a piece but better in every way. (Although nowhere near as good as Die Hard, obviously, because what is?) The effects are cheesy, but significantly better than usual. The characters are thin, but more likable than ever. And the story is ridiculous, but it actually indulges in crapulence for comedic effect. This is the motion picture that every Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie has promised us, and yet almost always failed to deliver. It’s an overflowing stockpile of fun, destined – hopefully – for the midnight movie circuit and repeat viewings at film school movie marathons.

Big Ass Spider

Greg Grunberg stars as Alex Mathis, a Los Angeles exterminator. Spiders are his specialty. He claims he can get in the mind of spiders, “become the spider,” and track them down. His skills are tested when a big ass spider is unleashed at a local hospital. At the start of the movie, it’s about the size of a housecat. By the end of the film, it’s Godzilla with eight legs. Alex teams up with a security guard played by Lombardo Boyar (Happy Feet) to save the city and get the girl, played by Clare Kramer from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Big Ass Spider! is not a complex movie, or even a deep one. There’s a bullet point in every screenplay called “Theme Stated.” That’s where, very early in the movie, someone says a line of dialogue that clarifies what this movie is about, or what journey the hero needs to take by the end of it. In Casablanca, Rick says “I stick my neck out for nobody,” a credo that is tested over the course of the entire film. In Forrest Gump, it’s “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” In Big Ass Spider!, it’s when Alex says he’d like a girlfriend. That’s what all this terror and devastation is about. It’s about a nice, normal guy proving his worth to a woman who wouldn’t normally give him the time of day. Saving her from a gigantic freak of nature qualifies, and their finale is emotionally satisfying, but it’s also shallow enough to make the entire motion picture seem extra silly, just like any movie about a big ass spider should.

Big Ass Spider! has a string of memorable (albeit low budget) action sequences and a ton of funny jokes from beginning to end, but it’s the screenplay that we all need to pay attention to. This is the thing that all these low budget Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies (whether or not they were actually made for the SyFy Channel) don’t seem to get. It doesn’t matter how much money you have for visual effects as long as the writing is solid, and writing a good screenplay doesn’t cost nearly as much money. There are a lot of budding young writers who would do it for peanuts. Big Ass Spider! has a string of memorable events and characters, connected by clever scene transitions, satirical exposition sequences and unlikely action crescendos that didn’t cost an extra dollar to create on set, just took a little extra time to come up with in front of someone’s laptop. Gregory Gieras (Centipede!) has crafted an affable, freewheeling storyline and director Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers) directs with zippy gusto, smoothing over the imperfections until they’re just part of the film’s goofy mentality.

If you heard the title Sharktopus and said to yourself, “I’ve gotta see that,” Big Giant Spider! is for you, because unlike Sharktopus – a limp film that coasts almost entirely on its title – Big Ass Spider! delivers the goods. It’s a hilarious and wildly entertaining b-movie romp that knows exactly what kind of movie it is. Now let’s hope somebody pays attention, because if these movies are going to get made anyway, they might as well be good. Right?

8-5

Check out all of CraveOnline's ongoing coverage of SXSW 2013!

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast, co-star of The Trailer Hitch, and the writer of The Test of Time. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.

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