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New Release Review: Big Ass Spider

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One of the biggest film stories of 2013 was the surprising success of Sharknado. The Syfy original movie garnered unprecedented social media buzz and press attention due to its silly title, over-the-top concept and recognizable cast. I can only hope those people who contributed to Sharknado’s widespread coverage are paying attention to Big Ass Spider.

Big Ass Spider has the same aspects that made Sharknado fun, but it’s not a guilty pleasure. On the contrary, the film is genuinely good. It knows exactly what it is – a cheesy monster movie – but it has heart. And unlike those Syfy movies, which rely on so-bad-it’s-good content for laughs, Big Ass Spider is not afraid to play up the comedy – thanks to Gregory Gieras’ humorous script and director Mike Mendez’s (The Gravedancers) allowance for improvisation.

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Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg, Heroes) is a lowly exterminator who finds himself at the hospital after being bitten by a poisonous spider. That is not the gestation of the titular Big Ass Spider; no, the monster is already in the hospital. After the spider claims its first victim, Alex offers his extermination expertise in exchange for a free hospital bill. He enlists the assistance of Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar, Candyman: Day of the Dead), the building’s Hispanic security guard, to take down the deadly spider.

While Alex and Jose are on the hunt, the U.S. army, lead by Major Braxton Tanner (Ray Wise, Twin Peaks), swoops in to take control of the situation. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the spider escapes into downtown Los Angeles. In addition to being strong, fast and intelligent, the bug continually grows in size as it rampages through the city and claims more victims. When it captures Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer, Bring It On), a female soldier to whom Alex has taken a liking, he and Jose must exterminate the 100-foot spider and save the girl before it reproduces.

Grunberg is great as the unlikely hero, but Ramos is the source of most of the film’s humor. The trusty sidekick steals every scene in which he appears. The pair have a great chemistry, with a dynamic similar to that of Shaun of the Dead’s Shaun and Ed. The film also includes cameos from Insidious actress Lin Shaye (whose character I kept hoping would pop back up), The Toxic Avenger director Lloyd Kaufman and Fangoria creator Kerry O’Quinn. Additionally, eagle-eyed genre fans will spot Patrick Bauchau (Panic Room), Alexis Knight (Hatchet II), Ruben Pla (Insidious) and Adam Gierasch (Toolbox Murders) in small roles.

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The DVD features a short featurette from the film’s SXSW premiere, brief interview snippets with cast members and trailers, but the really draw is the audio commentary with Mendez, Grunberg and Lombardo. The guys clearly developed a great friendship during the production, and they spend the runtime goofing around and cracking jokes while sharing anecdotes. One of the better commentaries I’ve listened to recently, it’s just as entertaining as the film.

Big Ass Spider features hundreds of digital effects shots. It’s not a James Cameron movie, of course, but the CGI more more believable than that of an average Syfy movie. Frankly, I wouldn’t want the spider to look too realistic; the hint of schlock works to the film’s advantage. The movie flies by at 80 minutes, unlike the Syfy movies that become a chore to sit through.

Those Syfy films are the easiest (and most topical) point of reference when describing Big Ass Spider, but that’s not really fair to the film. It’s far superior in every aspect; a more fitting descriptor would be Tremors meets King Kong. It’s silly and it’s not groundbreaking, but Big Ass Spider guarantees unabashed entertainment.

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