I went to Mimic because it seemed like a good idea for a thriller. During a deadly epidemic spread by cockroaches, a well-meaning entomologist introduces a genetically engineered suicide-bomber cockroach called the Judas breed. The Judas infiltrates the cockroach nest, then releases a poison, killing all the disease-ridden bugs. The process works and the epidemic is stopped, but the Judas turns out not to have been sterile after all, and they have now been breeding and mutating for thousands of generations. . . .
Outbreak, 1995?, Wolfgang Petersen, for a recent biological thriller. It had good mass appeal, in spite of a lot of negative press.
Aliens, 1986, James Cameron, for a look at how action-packed a monster movie can be.
It is a good idea for a thriller, maybe along the lines of The Andromeda Strain or Outbreak. But scratch the surface, and you’ll see that Mimic is not as good as its shell would have you believe.
The movie is advertised as a “sci-fi thriller.” It is not. It is a horror movie. The distinction is, as film historian Bruce Kawin points out, that in a science fiction movie, science is the good guy, and victory comes through intelligence and technology. In horror movies, like Mimic, science is the bad guy and victory comes through violence.
But because the movie was conceived of as a science fiction story, ideas that could have made it a good horror film were not played up, and round ideas that could have made it good science fiction were forced into square, horror-film holes.
For example, there is a lot of entomology jargon in the movie. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), our scientist, explains how the Judas breed works. Later she explains insect behavior to a couple of kids. Both scenes tell us that knowledge of insects will be relevant to the final outcome of the movie. Then the movie proceeds to show us a creature that is entomologically and evolutionarily impossible. Are we supposed to pay attention to the science, or are we supposed to suspend our disbelief? The movie asks us to do both, which is distracting and keeps us from getting into the movie.
Specifically, the movie asserts that the monstrous Judas breed somehow evolved from its laboratory forefathers. But only one generation was released onto the world, and that generation was genetically sterile. Evolution happens at reproduction; mutations are passed to the next generation. A genetically sterile generation could never reproduce to pass the incredible mutations to its offspring.
But let’s say that God steps in and reverses the genetic sterility. The monsters infesting the subways of New York are very large (man-sized). The movie says that the only reason insects are usually small is their lack of lungs. Actually, there’s much more to it than that. Gigantic insects need more than “lungs” to account for all the surface area-to-volume ratio problems that would arise (exoskeleton weight, metabolic rate, flight capability, etc.).
So Mimic should have either ditched the science altogether (like Aliens, where the heroes don’t care about the science, they just want to nuke the buggers), or it should have made the monsters some other sort of super-cockroaches. Lord knows hordes of cockroaches are scary enough, even without being man-sized.
This may all sound like nitpicking, but the movie has other flaws, too. Two of its characters were of cardboard depth. The shoe shiner (Giancarlo Giannini) is a kindly old immigrant. His kid (Alexander Goodwin) is autistic, with a talent for identifying shoes that proves useful against the insect monsters (puh-leeze).
Then there’s the movie’s moral climax. Usually in this type of movie, the scientist who unleashed the monster pays the ultimate price (read Frankenstein, or look at Paul Reiser’s character in Aliens). But in Mimic, the scientist is a woman, and with several valiant (chauvinistic) men to sacrifice themselves, she never even comes close to taking the ultimate metaphoric responsibility for unleashing the monster on the world. Are the filmmakers saying that women should have a lower standard than men? That men are good for cleaning up after a woman’s mistakes?
Though they weren’t enough to save the movie, there were some good performances and some interesting ideas in Mimic. Mira Sorvino is believably good as a determined scientist; (compare her performance to that of Elisabeth Shue in The Saint). Charles S. Dutton is a character actor, but his shtick is likeable enough, and his role suited his persona pretty well.
There is an enjoyably gross scene where the heroes have to rub insect glands all over their bodies. It’s interesting that as the characters get used to the idea, so does the audience. The first time someone squeezes goop from the bug, the characters and audience wince in disgust. Later on, reapplying the goop is no more disgusting than putting on lotion. The character’s desperation and will to survive has acclimated both them and us to the awful necessity.
A little bit of research on Bryant Frazer’s part reveals that Graphic Designer Kyle Cooper is responsible for the credits of both Mimic and of Seven; both are very cool. (He also created the extreme credit sequence for Spawn).
But even these highlights show that the movie is inconsistent and unfocused, which means that Mimic is unrewarding.