So we’ve hit the big hurdle in the Critters franchise which is, of course, Critters 3.
But in terms of hurdles, I suppose this one isn’t so catastrophic. The humor is ratcheted up to a rather unwelcome extent and that’s coming from a guy who LIKES the levity in Critters movies. Only two people get eaten, making this feel like a more “kid-friendly” installment. And mainstay characters, Charlie and Ug, fall to almost cameo status in their own series (no “almost” about it, in Ug’s case).
All that being said, there’s still something to like about Critters 3 and it does have qualities superior to the next installment, Critters 4. But let’s take this shit one step at a time.
Bumbling intergalactic bounty hunter Charlie (Don Opper) has been tasked with cleaning up the last of the Crites (or “Critters”) left on Earth… and he isn’t doing a very good job. A few of the fuzzballs have made their way out of Grover’s Bend and into the big city, where they’ve infested an apartment building. This is bad news for Annie (Aimee Brooks) and Josh (Leonardo fucking DiCaprio), two teenagers who have to defend their neighbors from the hungry devils after all the adults prove worthless.
It’s still a better DiCaprio flick than ‘The Beach’
If the original Critters was already a poor man’s Gremlins, then Critters 3 is very transparently a poor man’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch. It hits the same summary points as the popular source it’s ripping off, but appropriately scales everything back in terms of budget and ambition. But I’ve never held anything against the myriad Gremlins knock-offs that ran amok during the ’80s and early ’90s. It’s that bizarre little short-lived sub genre I am positively fascinated with for reasons I can’t articulate.
Critters 3 is very comedic, as I’ve mentioned, and it can get a little overbearing at times. The previous movies all had cartoonish moments of slapstick and nonsense (Critters 2 more so than the original), but this installment just goes overboard with it. You have Critters getting knocked down like bowling pins with accompanying sound effects, Critters throwing pies at each other, Critters eating dish soap and burping bubbles, Critters eating pork and beans and farting up a storm… That sort of stuff. I like the goofy shtick in these movies, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t STOP in this one.
Even the human cast is overloaded with silly antics. Everyone in the apartment building save the central family are quirky weirdos. There’s a fat woman in curlers that can’t stop wild-taking, an old man obsessed with alien conspiracy theories, an old lady brandishing a giant meat cleaver and an extended bit where the maybe-love-interest for the father character spends an agonizing amount of time dangling on a wire by her foot, swinging back and forth in an attempt to reach a pay phone. The problem isn’t the inclusion of comedy, it’s just that the shtick isn’t FUNNY and it goes on and on and on.
There’s at least one good moment of creepiness in the film that completely betrays the surrounding tone seen throughout the rest of the movie. It’s when Josh’s douchebag father enters a room and sees three shaggy heads watching a TV in the dark. Josh slams the door behind him and the noise causes the heads to spin around, revealing three Critters with glowing red eyes and blood on their lips. Josh’s dad immediately freaks out and tries to leave, only to get eaten alive.
It’s really well shot and edited and is the only time in the film when the Critters are actually even a little scary.
The bigger problem with Critters 3 is that only two people get eaten, so there isn’t much gore to speak of. Josh’s dad and a douchebag handyman are dispatched early on and they’re the only ones to get it. So the rest of the film is just the Critters chasing people around the apartment without ever killing anybody.
The second problem is that it loses the focus of the main franchise characters. Charlie, the central character of the series (love him or hate him) only receives twenty or twenty-five minutes of screentime (not counting those long pauses during the end credits).
He appears briefly at the beginning to provide exposition and then disappears until the last 15 minutes or so, where he inexplicably shows up to save the day (more or less). Visually, there’s an interesting if unspoken story arc to him, as his gear appears to be a jerry-rigged combo of his alien tech and Earth garbage, imparting the fact that he’s alone on Earth to finish the Critter clean-up and has to make due with what resources he can. Maybe if Charlie HAD been featured throughout the film it would have been one silly character too many and he was left out deliberately, I don’t know. But it’s always irritating to see a main character sidelined like that.
Likewise, Ug (Terrance Mann) makes only the smallest of cameos during the end credits sequence. He’ll have a similarly small role in the final film. Terrance Mann is actually a, well, really good actor and is something akin to Broadway royalty (he mostly works on stage), so he probably didn’t have the time to appear in these movies in large capacities anymore. Heck, even Critters 2 found a way to keep Ug on screen while letting Terrance Mann go home halfway through the script.
Anyhow, this may be the longest and most thoughtful review of Critters 3 anyone has ever written and I’m certainly not proud of that. I think it’s time I wrapped this up.