Mark L. Lester is the Swiss army knife of exploitation filmmakers. In a career spanning over four decades, he’s been behind the camera for “B”-movie classics in virtually every genre, following the trends of what the action-craving public wanted to great effect. Is there a demand for trucker movies with sex? Lester’s got you covered. Stephen King adaptations? Sure. Low-budget thrillers with solid B-list stars? In spades. Rollerskating? Gotcha. Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing crap up and making one liners? Definitely. Satires of the Nixon administration featuring acclaimed drag troupe The Cockettes? Er… it was early.
Lester has dabbled in just about every genre out there, but he’s rarely ranked among the most notable of genre filmmakers because, while he’s certainly helmed plenty of entertaining flicks, his output never feels like a solitary voice as much as someone riffing off a concept for maximum familiarity to the audience. It makes sense that two of his best films, CLASS OF 1984 and the follow-up CLASS OF 1999, are two of the only films in which he’s had a hand in writing – they may not have the most polished screenplays, but they clearly embrace new and interesting ideas rather than just regurgitating familiar ones.
POSEIDON REX is the latest film carrying Lester’s name on the director credit, but it’s strictly in the “familiar concept” mode, this time mimicking the SyFy Channel creature features regularly churned out by The Asylum. Via his American World Pictures, Lester has also produced the likes of PTERODACTYL, SAND SHARKS and GRIZZLY PARK, so it’s certainly a genre he’s used to, and there’s clearly some sort of committed audience for these film. The internet storm that was last year’s SHARKNADO may have made more people aware of the “Syfy Creature Feature” and ignited a question as to the intentional creation of “bad” movies, but they’ve been around for years now, and their fans number in the millions, even if most of them are too polite to admit it. They’re the “reality television” of the genre fan world – hugely popular to vast groups of people that won’t admit to indulging in them, or if they do, they cop to it dismissively, passing off their behavior as succumbing to a “guilty pleasure.”
But I’ll defend reality television – there’s enough of a wide gap between something like “The Real Housewives of West Pewaukee” and “Face Off” for there to be a variety of different styles and takes on the idea. SyFy-styled creature features, on the other hand, all feel the same. There’s a monster concept brought to the screen via CGI that doesn’t look like it fully connects with the characters. There are a number of stunt-casted stars fending off the beasts, usually reluctantly. There are scientists and some government figures, and usually the latter is vaguely behind it. There are attractive young people in skimpy outfits wandering around doing stupid things. There is a vague scientific explanation for all of this, though in the end, if you’d replace the random monster with a unicorn it would be defined as “fantasy” without the slightest hesitation. There’s a climactic ending, the lead characters get involved in a romance no matter how unbelievable it is, and there’s a coda that suggests a sequel that will never come, or if it does, will completely ignore the last scene of the previous film.
POSEIDON REX is one of these movies. Set in Belize, REX stars SLEEPWALKERS’ Brian Krause as the improbably named Jax Slate, a treasure hunter who accidentally unearths the titular beastie when he and his mob-run cohorts attempt to dig up some Mayan treasure in a “blue hole” in the bottom of the ocean. After the swimming dinosaur chews up the rest of the crew (mostly via reaction shots of them yelling), Jax is rescued by a bickering couple who happens to be diving in the area.
Promising them a portion of the treasure, Jax, half of the couple and their guide go back, joined by bikini-wearing scientist Sarah (Anne McDaniels) even after they’re told of a potential giant monster. (Sarah claims, “I just want to know what’s out there.”) Meanwhile, a mob boss with a wonky eye pursues Jax for his money, the coast guard gets involved, and eventually the big lizard is attacking boats and stepping onto land, where he can vigorously take out the rest of the cast.
POSEIDON REX has a veritable shopping list of film flaws. Divers can communicate by speaking normally while they have oxygen tanks on, except when they can’t. Performers always seem to be underacting and never treat the situations they’re in with any degree of urgency, a common trope of SyFy creature films that keeps you from connecting with any of the characters at all on anything but the most superficial level. New characters are introduced 62 minutes into the film’s 79 minute running time, including four minutes of closing credits. We hear the same terrible song at least four times, all to indicate how much fun everyone’s having. One man proclaims “we’ve got visitors” AFTER the boat to which he’s referring has already announced themselves. A coast guard soldier delivers his lines with a cadence so bizarre it borders on poetry:
In all my years
Working these parts
I have never seen
Anything like this
It could easily be argued that these flaws are beside the point. POSEIDON REX does, after all, deliver a fast-moving dinosaur chewing up characters, and that’s pretty much what the audience expects. Those who anxiously await the SHARKNADO sequel should know exactly what to expect, and they’re perfectly willing to take the “flaws” I suggest as a plus, because it would give them something to mock the movie about. And these are films designed and presented simply to be mocked, so they defy any kind of standard criticism. If you’re reading a review for POSEIDON REX, you don’t expect it to be good – you just want to know how bloody it is and how ridiculously the components are put together.
There are a few moments in POSEIDON REX that actually show the potential for what could have been, if anyone involved had bothered to take the film seriously. The underwater shots are often very well-crafted, and you get the idea that they could have at least made a low-budget version of THE DEEP if they weren’t constrained by the ephemeral qualities of the genre they’ve chosen to emulate. Berne Valsquez’s likable boat guide Henry exudes enough charisma to at least somewhat compensate for the strict archetypes that surround him. And, er… it’s short.
But, of course, you don’t get anything close to the image depicted on the film’s poster. You don’t get any sense, surprises or, most glaring, any nudity. POSEIDON REX is content to be a version of Alexandre Aja’s PIRANHA remake stripped of any humor or gleeful exploitation elements by being run through the SyFy creature feature filter, and for the millions out there that are perfectly fine with this sort of thing, that’s just fine. For anyone expecting more, however, REX should stay buried.
POSEIDON REX opens in select theaters this Friday.
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