Smart creatures, dumb plot flutter in `Bats'

October 22, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Welcome to "Bats," in which a plague of really brainy winged mammals tries to outsmart some exceptionally moronic humans.

Guess who wins?

Ah, well, what the hey? We're not talking Oscar material, but in its own B-film, let's-make-them-jump-out-of-their-seats way, "Bats" is quite the hoot. Especially when director Louis Morneau remembers to skip the close-ups (which make it clear we're looking at puppets here) and concentrate on shots of thousands of fluttering critters blotting out the moon, racing through an underground tunnel or descending on some hapless humans destined to become bat chow.

The strictly formulaic story has a demented scientist (Bob Gunton, the warden from "The Shaw- shank Redemption") tinkering in his lab to create an especially smart, vicious bat -- which he does by bringing in some particularly nasty (and big!) bats from the tropics and infecting them with a virus. When the critters escape, they begin infecting other bats, and soon there are a few thousand ticked-off flying rats inhabiting the hills of southern Texas.

Perhaps angry for their undeservedly bad rep (bats are actually wonderful creatures that eat bugs and rarely if ever get caught in little girls' hair, my bat-friends tell me), the bats decide to take out a town.

That would be Gallup, Texas, where the only thing standing between the unsuspecting natives and a true batastrophe is town sheriff Emmett Kinsey (Lou Diamond Phillips, having a grand time), bat expert Sheila Casper (a determined Dina Meyer) and her skittish assistant, Jimmy Sands (Leon), who desperately wants out of this situation. (Memo to Hollywood: Why do black actors always play the wisecracking sidekick?)

Will the bats win and lay waste to the entire Southwest? Or will the good guys emerge triumphant, making the world a safe place for even more Hitchcock rip-offs (any similarity between "Bats" and "The Birds" is strictly intentional)?

Sure, the film is dumb, complete with an Army that waits until night to attack the bats (remember, guys, bats sleep during the day) and a final plan for annihilation that seems unduly complicated. If there's only one entrance to the bat's lair, why not simply seal it off?

But try not to think about all that, and be glad the angriest bats around these parts are down at Camden Yards.

And they've been put away for the winter.

`Bats'

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Leon

Directed by Louis Morneau

Rated PG-13 (language, graphic bat violence)

Running time 90 minutes

Released by Destination Films

Sun score: **

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