Last updated: March 06. 2014 11:08AM - 1746 Views
Tom Doty Times Columnist

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A giant arachnid (whose posterior doesn’t appear overly large for his size) threatens the good people of Los Angeles in this fast-paced throwback to those giant insect flicks of the ever-loving 1950s.

Our story begins with pest control expert Alex Mathis. He is called out to help a co-dependent customer who is too squeamish to empty her mouse traps and can’t even afford to pay him (unless you count a growing stack of inedible fruitcakes she passes on to him with every visit). Mathis obviously has a big heart and he is going to need it when an even bigger pest pops up.

Mathis has to stop by the emergency room when his loony customer opts to whack the brown recluse spider perching on his shoulder. The resulting bite necessitates some antivenom — pronto. The bill for his visit is, of course, enough to send him back into toxic shock. Luckily, a large arachnid has chosen this moment to put the bite on the hospital’s morgue attendant. Alex makes a fast deal in which he will take down the pest and get his bill scrubbed. He also lands a partner in gung-ho security guard Jose.

The best laid plans of mice and men, however, don’t usually factor in space spiders. Turns out this bug is swarming with alien DNA from the red planet, thanks to dangerously under-supervised military scientists. It escapes from the hospital, which is invaded by the military. The operation is being led by Major Tanner and his first decision is to scrap Alex and Jose.

Meanwhile, the spider has made it to the sewer system and begins feasting on homeless folks like they were smothered in ranch dip. Apparently, it is going through a growth spurt so it can grow big enough to begin laying eggs. It moves on from the sewers to a city park for its final feast before nesting and this gives the movie a chance to stage a giant spider attack on a scantily dressed crowd. It’s a fun sequence that finds our space spider alternately webbing, stomping and squashing picnickers, volleyball Barbies and fitness nuts. This is the movie’s raison d’êtres and it doesn’t disappoint.

Now our space critter is ready to bed down and make babies in a downtown skyscraper while helicopters buzz around keeping an eye on things till the Air Force arrives. Will Alex and Jose be able to save the webbed park patrons before they wake up and find out that they are the main course for a spider snack? You have to tune in and check this out.

Stick around for the end credits, which reveal that spiders weren’t the only insect that snacked on some Martian DNA.

This works thanks to a tongue-in-cheek approach by director Mike Mendez. He has already proven himself as a solid horror guy with creds like “Grave Dancers” and “The Convent.” Here, he proves he can handle sci-fi, action and an homage in the same movie.

The film also benefits from a genre savvy script and reasonably effective CGI effects.

The real icing on this cake, though, is the spirited cast that plays this material for all its worth. Greg Grunberg grounds the action as the blue collar hero, Mathis. He is able to retain his regular guy warmth while tossing off snarky comments like someone on a vintage episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks”) comes off as our next Leslie Nielsen in the role of Tanner, and Lombardo Boyar all but steals the movie as the phonetically challenged Jose. Worth a look and a total love letter to those folks who still stay up to catch “Tarantula” and “Them” on Turner Classic Movies.

Best line: “Stop the spider. Save the city. Kiss the girl.”

2014, Rated PG-13

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