For everything Critters 3 did wrong, Critters 4 does right. But for everything Critters 3 did right, Critters 4 does wrong. So perhaps you can appreciate my frustration with this sequel. Or maybe you can’t. We’re talking Critters here, after all.
After accidentally locking himself in a stasis pod, inept bounty hunter Charlie (Don Opper) finds himself floating through space with the last two Crite (or “Critter”) eggs. The pod is eventually found by a salvage crew in the year 2045, but shortly after being defrosted, the Critter eggs hatch. As the carnivorous furballs run amok on an abandoned space station, Charlie and the crew must destroy them all before the sketchy Terracorp can turn the Critters into weapons of mass destruction.
What Critters 4 endeavors to do is tone down the comedic atmosphere that nearly suffocated the previous film. Unfortunately, it overcompensates in this manner. In its quest to purge all levity from the story it actually *forgets* to be a Critters movie.
And that’s the real misstep in Critters 4. The salvage crew trapped on the abandoned space station undergo a number of conflicts and challenges, but the Critters only play a small part in the suspense. There are scenes where a malfunctioning computer traps a character in an elevator, characters are nearly jettisoned into space from a garbage disposal, malfunctioning doors force characters to climb through access panels, there’s an attempted rape from a drunken ship captain, the lingering threat of a nuclear core meltdown… even the climax of the film fails to account for the Critters, as the big moment is a standoff between Charlie and Ug.
The Critters are an afterthought in a film called Critters 4. I mean, when there are so many other conflicts happening in this film, their threat winds up taking a backseat and becoming more of a nuisance. While I liked some of the other moments, the standoff between Charlie and Ug in particular, the movies loses sight of itself. I rented a flick called Critters 4 because I wanted to see people get eaten by little monsters, not because I wanted to see Brad Dourif and Angela Bassett argue with a malfunctioning computer AI for 80 minutes.
And hey, on that note, can you believe how many GOOD actors have appeared throughout the Critters franchise? Everything from popular voice actors (Scott Grimes) to scream queens (Dee Wallace) to niche personalities (Eddie Deezen) to Broadway superstars (Terrance Mann) to talented character actors (Brad Dourif) to motherfucking Leonardo DiCaprio. And that’s not even getting to Billy Zane, M. Emmet Walsh or Angela Bassett, all of whom have offered celebrated performances in their time. And even the actors who didn’t go on to become big names are all highly competent; there really isn’t a performance in any of these movies that made me want to pull my hair out. Call it an act of providence, but the Critters series is more than solidly cast from beginning to end and that’s… that’s just fucking phenomenal, considering the material we’re discussing.
Anyway, while the Critters aren’t the focus of goddamn Critters 4, they do get some good scenes in. We receive a reminder that they’re highly intelligent alien lifeforms that can pilot space ships (something that hasn’t been touched upon since the first film) and they talk with subtitles (one of the few moments of humor in this dreary flick). We only get to see them kill two people, which is a bummer, while a further three are eaten off screen (though the setup to their demise is actually pretty good).
The surprise villain of the film is actually Ug, who has a larger role than his brief cameo in Critters 3. It’s an about-face for the character and further lends the film a more serious tone that just seems incongruous with the franchise, but it was a good surprise nevertheless. It also helps to bookend the series, as this does feel like a genuine finale even if it doesn’t actually want to be a Critters movie.
I suppose it should also be noted that Critters 4 folds another Don Opper film into its universe: The 1982 movie Android. Taking place in 2036, it fits snugly between Critters 3 (taking place in 1992) and Critters 4 (taking place in 2045), featuring the first appearance of the evil corporation Terracorp (which is essentially a ripoff of Weyland-Yutani from the Alien franchise, or at least their motivation is). I don’t know if I have the fortitude to review that film or not; we’ll just have to wait and see.
Anyhow, Critters 4 had the resources to be a good Critters movie, but it didn’t want to BE a Critters movie, so it wound up just sort of amounting to nothing. There are good moments sprinkled about the film and I enjoyed the stuff with Charlie and Ug, but most of it is just boring and frustrating.