dvd_mimicMost of the aptly named Mimic, a synthesis of Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and your pick of X-Files episodes, takes place in a dark, abandoned New York subway tunnel. For half the movie, the only illumination comes from flashlights or yellow glow-sticks. Bats, I suppose, will have no problem with Mimic, but human eyes need the occasional light source. Yes, once again I must make the illogical and highly unreasonable demand that we be able to see what’s going on. Horror movies are supposed to be dark, but this is overkill.

Mimic is an amusing creepshow, but nothing more. Coming from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (no relation to Benicio), whose previous film was 1993’s elegant, original vampire movie Cronos, that’s a letdown. What distinguished Cronos was its attention to character nuance, and del Toro shows some of that here in the early scenes. But the script, which del Toro wrote with Matthew Robbins and the uncredited John Sayles and Steven Soderbergh (among others), quickly becomes yet another haunted-house variation, with at least one boo! every reel. You begin to appreciate the postmodern awareness of the kids in Scream, who would have seen Alien and known not to poke at strange-looking pods covered in slime.

Mira Sorvino, projecting warmth and intelligence, is entomologist Susan Tyler, who engineers a breed of insect that imitates and exterminates city cockroaches that carry a deadly disease. Within six months, the roach problem is solved, but a new problem is in the works. The superbug, which is supposed to die off quickly, refuses to oblige. Instead, it’s breeding and learning how to mimic other species — including us. How can you tell who’s human and who’s a Mimic? Well, I’d say the antennae would be the first clue.

Susan and her husband Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control, delve deep into the aforementioned tunnel, a place both womblike and tomblike, where the Mimics breed and kill (a subtext worthy of David Cronenberg: sex equals death, fertility equals infestation). Accompanying them are a comic-relief subway cop (Charles S. Dutton) and a bug-fodder detective (Josh Brolin); there’s also a “special” little boy (Alexander Goodwin), who communicates with the human-shaped bug via musical spoons and calls it Mr. Funny Shoes. Uh … okaaay. Which of the writers got baked and came up with that?

The last half of Mimic is routine seat-jumper stuff, with Mr. Funny Shoes and its many insect buddies (who have no shoes, comical or otherwise) chomping and sliming their way through the small cast. The set-up promises more thoughtful, Cronenbergian scares than we get — there’s a fascinating scene in which Susan takes two street kids on a tour through the insect world.

The potential is there for a smart, gripping thriller that draws connections between the Mimics and the frequently insectoid human race (why else is the buggy F. Murray Abraham in the movie)? Instead, it dumbs itself down to a summer-movie bash, complete with gas-main explosions. Diverting but forgettable, Mimic is a hair (or antenna) above The Relic, which isn’t saying a whole lot.

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