Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Project Viper (2002)

... aka: Project V.I.P.E.R.
... aka: Viper

Directed by:
"Jay Andrews" (Jim Wynorski)

Yes, this borrows ideas (and in some cases, actual scenes!) from a few other popular recent action / sci-fi films, but that doesn't make this boring. In fact, it's actually pretty entertaining overall. Astronauts aboard the spaceship Olympus, which is doing some work around Mars, have some major power surge problems right before they're about to do a live TV broadcast and are all presumed dead after contact with NASA is lost. It may have something to do with Project VIPER, an experiment mixing gene microbiology with computer technology and developed at Novagen Industries, a government run facility rife with corruption. Scientist Diana (Lydie Denier) is shot dead and replaced by an identical double who breaks into the lab, guns down a dozen or so people and escapes with the second VIPER prototype. She's involved in a plane crash near the Mexican border and the program, described by one character as "living, breathing acid," kills her and the pilot and escapes into the woods. Confused yet? Well I was too at first, but after the busy opening twenty minutes or so, this settles down quite nicely and becomes an entertaining little low-budget thriller, with horror and sci-fi elements.

The program creators; chief scientist Nancy Burnham (Theresa Russell), programmer Steve (Billy Keane), computer expert Sydney (Tamara Davies) and doctor Alan (Daniel Quinn), are teamed up with smart-ass, tough guy government agent Mike Conners (Patrick Muldoon) to stop the creature before it can multiply. Naturally, one of the five has intentionally tampered with the program and created a nearly unstoppable killing machine. Tim Thomerson has a nice supporting role as a cancer-stricken small town Springfield sheriff perplexed by the string of grisly murders in his town. The ever-growing creature impales and gobbles up victims whole, can mimic any molecular structure, is usually seen as a tentacled silver blob, leaves behind a metallic slime trail wherever it visits and hangs out in the small town because of the high uranium content in the water supply, which has also led to a high cancer rate in the town. Does that make this the horror movie answer to Erin Brockovich? Actually it sort of does now that I'm thinking about it; especially when Curtis Armstrong ("Booger" from Revenge of the Nerds) shows up as a lawyer trying to get the townsfolk to sue the city. Regular viewers of Cinemax may want to note there's also a brief appearance by buxom Ohio native Lorissa McComas in a small supporting role.

Though a bit hard to follow at first, the story is passable, there's plenty of action (and explosions) and some welcome comedy. The production values, acting and special effects are all pretty good and it is one of more professional offerings from 'B' kingpin Jim Wynorski, who for some reason uses an alias ("Jay Andrews") for what turns out to be one of his better films. For the record, the car chase sequence was lifted from Species (1995) and the airplane crash footage was recycled from Air America (1990); both of which are acknowledged in the closing credits. It debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel.


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