The Relic (1997)

Peter Hyams isn't a very good director. He'll probably always be known for turning 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the sequel to the admittedly overblown, yet wildly provocative science fiction landmark 2001: A Space Odyssey from Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, into what looked like a poor made-for-television melodrama. Then he did a stint as the foremost interpreter of that hauntingly mysterious Belgian, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Hey, Capra had his Jimmy Stewart, Fellini had his Mastroianni, Hyams had his Van Damme.

Well, Van Damme's moved on to the Hong Kong action emigres, and Hyams has apparently moved on to big-budget monster movies, with not altogether uninspiring results.

I can't go so far as to say that The Relic is the new Jaws or anything like that, but if you're in the mood for a monster movie, it should certainly fit that bill rather satisfyingly. The story, which doesn't matter much, is that this Indiana Jones-type researcher in South America stumbles upon a tribe which worships a sort of a demon god. He sends back an idol or "relic" along with some funny leaves which have less than salutary effects when they come in contact with living creatures, more of which later. For some reason, he decides that he shouldn't really send them then, so since he can't get them off the boat, which is already leaving, he instead stows away on board for the ride back to Chicago.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, shapely science girl Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) gets the shipment, which, oddly, was finally delivered by a boat ALL OF THE OCCUPANTS OF WHICH HAD BEEN DECAPITATED AND DEPRIVED OF THEIR HYPOTHALAMUSES! Okay, okay, some of y'all out there don't like spoilers, but that's really not a spoiler. The point of the movie is to see the gore and the big monster, known as the Kothoga. So it probably won't matter also if I tell you that the monster is the scientist morphed into a monster by the funny leaves. I figured it out the minute he got on the boat, and that happens during the opening credits.

Digital monsters have a shady track record, but this one performs rather well, largely because Hyams doesn't show it too early or too much, and photographs it mostly in darkness. This is the only competent directorial decision he has made.

The dialogue in this movie is just awful. And to hear them coming out of the mouths of usually competent actors like Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore is alternately hilarious and depressing. The plot is thin and implausible, and when "Dr." Margo Green finally figures out that the researcher guy who sent the stuff home is the monster and is surprised, you'll want to slap her upside the screen.

Nevertheless, I have to say that the monster is worth it. If you like to see people getting eaten, their heads ripped off and hypothalamuses sucked, this movie is a must. Sure, it's cheesy, stupid, poorly plotted and thought out, and even annoying to watch with all of the flashlights Hyams insists on pointing directly at the camera blinding you constantly, but in the end, it's a good chuckle and a half.


Links for The Relic

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

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