Sunday, August 16, 2015

In short: The Relic (1997)

Tough times in a Chicago museum: a pair of crates full of leaves and a South American relic turn out to be rather dangerous deliveries. Soon a strange monster is on the rampage. The investigating cop, Lt. D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), would probably be competent enough to avoid a particularly high body count if he had his way, but there’s a party for the mayor and the big spending contributors of the museum in the works that just can’t be postponed.

So soon it’s on D’Agosta and evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) to protect the One Percent from being eaten by a monster. I’d be rooting for the monster, if our heroes weren’t so damn likeable.

For reasons only known to professional critics, Peter Hyams’s adaptation of a novel by bestseller factory Preston & Child, has something of a bad reputation but for a lover of the classic monster movie, this thing’s actually pretty wonderful. The pacing might be a little off in the film’s first hour or so, with slightly (but only slightly) too much time spent on things not monstrous, yet once the real monster rampage starts, it’s a particularly good one, expertly paced, and full of great moments of suspense and mildly weird exposition (that’s a good thing in this type of film). The monster, a Stan Winston creation, holds up very well too, with Hyams taking great care to only ever show the curious yet effective creation in (slimy) bits and pieces.

And, unlike your usual 50s monster movie, the film does put a bit of effort into making its characters likeable, giving Sizemore and Miller enough material to work with to create two characters we for once don’t want to become monster fodder, leaving it to a working class guy and a female scientist to save the day. The Relic gets extra bonus points from me for keeping Miller’s character competent and relevant throughout without needing to turn her into an action heroine or regressing into turning her into the object to be rescued. Why, there isn’t even a romance between her and Sizemore!

Add to that Linda Hunt and James Whitmore (who just happens to have been in the best US monster movie ever made, Them!) doing their respective things in minor roles, and I have real difficulty to see what I’m supposed to dislike about The Relic.

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