Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Monster Island (2004)



Who’s In It: Carmen Electra (Aerobic Striptease), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Thing), and Adam West (Batman)

What It’s About: A high school senior wins an MTV party for his class with Carmen Electra on a tropical island, but discovers the hard way that the island is crawling with giant insects and piranha people.

How It Is: Awful. And yet amazing.

Look, it’s a Carmen Electra vehicle and on the DVD cover she gets top billing with Nick Carter, who’s barely in the movie, so you know who the target audience is. Also, there are MTV VJs playing themselves. This movie shouldn’t work at all and for the first third, it really doesn’t. The main character (Daniel Letterle) is a sulky dude named Josh who’s just lost his girlfriend Maddy (Winstead) because she wants to be with someone who's interested in the world and has some purpose to his life. Letterie’s performance is as uninspired as his character, but maybe that’s what he’s going for. Either way, I didn’t care about Josh and quickly found myself hoping he’d connect with Carmen Electra so that he’d leave poor Maddy alone.

That wish is granted when Josh meets Carmen and bonds with her over Radiohead and the Ramones, but Maddy may not actually want Josh to leave her alone. Even though she’s already got a new, superboyfriend (who of course turns out to be a prick, but we only know that at this point because we’ve seen a high school movie before), she shows signs of jealousy over Josh’s new interest in Carmen. I was not willing to sit through an hour and a half of this, especially if it was going to stop every once in a while for Carmen to sing songs like the soul-crushingly insipid “Jungle Fever.”

The only thing that kept me going was knowing that Adam West was going to show up at some point as a character named Dr. Harryhausen. The set up might be all wrong, but I had a feeling that the movie’s heart was in the right place. And I was right.

When Carmen is abducted onstage by a giant, winged ant, Josh puts together some friends and MTV employees to go rescue her. That leads into the last two-thirds of the movie, in which Carmen’s presence is replaced by lots of great creatures: mostly giant insects and arachnids, but also a piranha man and a weird fungus-creature invented by the kindly, but probably nuts Dr. Harryhausen. None of the creatures are CGI; they’re all practical effects whether life-size models or stop-motion animation. So while the movie has the cheesy look of the Land of the Lost TV series, it also has the look that someone poured a lot of love into it.

Making it even more awesome is Maddy’s finding a mystic necklace that turns her into some kind of butt-kicking deity. The romantic plot between her and Josh never rises above the usual tropes, but the longer the movie runs, the less time it spends on that anyway. It’s a goofy film, but a lot of fun and way better than it sets out to be.

Rating: Four out of five teenage warrior goddesses.

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