With stories like this who even needs the “Inspired by true events” shield? Primeval tells of the world’s most prolific killer Gustave. You see Gustave is a crocodile and he remains at large to this day. His thirst for human blood goes unpublicized until he chows down on a white woman at which point an American newsman Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) his cameraman Steven (Orlando Jones) and TV personality Aviva (Brooke Langton) head down to Burundi Africa where they hope to document the capture of Gustave. They’re joined by a wildlife preservationist of sorts (Gideon Emery)—a rare breed in a post-Steve Irwin world—who doesn’t want to harm Gustave. The deep jungles of Africa become a veritable obstacle course when the locals embroiled in a long-standing civil war and unwilling to have some damn Yankees televising their homeland stand in the crew’s way not to mention Gustave proving an evasive 20-foot-long um little bugger! The names might not ring a bell but you’ve seen these three stooges before--all on TV in fact. Purcell is currently enjoying about half the 15 minutes of fame of Wentworth Miller on Fox’s slipping Prison Break. Purcell plays Tim with steel and virility as he hides his Aussie accent for the most part but he’s still got a ways to go to reach Clive Owen’s caliber of acting--and more importantly Owen’s caliber of roles. Langton of The Net (the TV show adapted from the Sandra Bullock movie of the same name) and Melrose Place fame shows off the beauty that will afford endless opportunities to prove herself as a “real” actress—which is ironically similar to her character’s plight—but will never get there with roles in movies like Primeval. And Jones still best known for and plagued by his 7-Up commercials is in true negligible-sidekick mode here--worthy of a snicker approximately once out of every dozen times he tries overzealously to get one. Jaws may come to mind based on the water creature-stalking-man plot but well it’s tough to even mention those two in the same sentence. Director Michael Katleman a TV fixture himself at least doesn’t even aim high enough to reach that level. No from the get-go he’s shooting more for an Anacondas feel—and yes that’s the horrific sequel to the so-terrible-it’s-fun J.Lo “original.” Katleman almost reaches Anacondas-ian highs but not quite. Among other notable problems the director cannot for one moment strike the right balance between the aforementioned level of guilty pleasure-dom and genuine horror. Instead he catches us off guard with what are supposed to be the thrills—and also with the comedy. Finally once Gustave is revealed which should essentially be the moviegoers’ reward the croc looks more a prop sitting in a theme-park lot. And the script from John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 co-writers)—well let’s just hope with the story being uber-derivative and cheesy enough as it is Orlando Jones ad-libbed all of his unlaughable comedy!
Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Ava Marchetta (Haylie Duff) are heiresses to the multimillion-dollar Proactiv-like cosmetics company started up by their late father. Much like all the celebutante sisters in Hollywood (the Hiltons the Olsens the Simpsons et. al.) they live the privileged life--seamless entry into the hottest clubs maids waiting on them hand-and-foot actor boyfriends etc. But early on in Material Girls their high lives come crashing down when at a gala feting their beloved dad a video exposes the cosmetics line as dangerous. Their father’s oldest friend Tommy (Brent Spiner) tries to work damage-control magic but the damage is already done only to be worsened when the ditzy sisters accidentally set fire to their mansion. Forced to relocate to their maid’s (Maria Conchita Alonso) tiny apartment blacklisted by the people that matter--and their credit cards declined--the gals decide to go to work as um private investigators looking into what they believe was a scheme to sabotage the company. Along the way self-discovery bangs ‘em over the head. Separately the Duff sisters stay the ‘tween course recycling virtually the same type of role in the same movie and TV show after movie and TV show. The riskiest role either of the two has taken was Haylie’s turn in Napoleon Dynamite--not because it was edgy but rather because it had a potentially larger or smaller appeal than just the Lizzie McGuire crowd. Together in their first movie collaboration it’s double the nausea. It’s as if they decided to come together under an even wider safety net. Their talent as actresses won’t be clear until they take an ever-so-marginal chance but un-ironically they know how to play mini-mogul sisters. Anjelica Huston also stars as Fabiella the one trying to swoop in on Marchetta Cosmetics’ misfortune. We know precisely what we’re getting with Huston but we may never know why she took this role. Same can be said for Lukas Haas as a pro-bono lawyer who went from fare like Gus Van Sant’s Last Days to this (should-be-made-for-Nickelodeon) movie. Martha Coolidge has directed so much TV (The Twilight Zone Sex and the City) and film (Lost in Yonkers The Prince & Me) over the years it’s surprising to learn she wasn’t behind the movie that looks like Material Girls’ biopic: White Chicks. In all mock seriousness though it’s sad to see anyone attempt to helm what can essentially be considered “Duff Corporation” movies let alone a talented Hollywood vet like Coolidge. She had to know the limited parameters she was cornering herself into here but the director still manages to seem a bit lost. For example when she uses visual techniques such as juxtaposed scenes—which looked cool in say Sideways--it feels almost offensive here. It’s the dead-tired rich-girls-to-blissfully-bourgeois-girls story however that delivers the deathblow to the gut. And it’s Coolidge’s (possibly correct) assumption a movie that can be so narrowly focused toward a specific sect of moviegoers is the one that delivers a blow to the soul.