“Mimic” is essentially a Don’t Mess with Mother Nature movie, with Mira Sorvino’s Doctor Susan Tyler playing the (not-so) Mad Scientist. In an effort to cure a plague that’s killing children by the hundreds, Susan and love interest Peter (Jeremy Northam) genetically engineers a new strain of bugs called the Judas Breed that’s designed to kill the carriers of the plague, the common cockroach. Of course, since messing with Mother Nature is a No-No in movies, the bugs manage to survive and come back to bite their creator in the proverbial behind.
Fast-forward 3 years later, and it seems that something is killing people and taking their bodies into the dark cellars of New York City’s subway system for, gasp, food? By a stroke of coincidence, Susan discovers that her Judas Breed, genetically engineered to die out and never reproduce once they finish off the cockroaches, has somehow evolved and can not only reproduce, but they’re mimicking their latest prey — humans! And oh yeah, they can sprout wings and fly, look good in slick raincoats and hats, and they’re using the NYC subway system as a hive. Yikes!
The villains in “Mimic” are a little hard to swallow, but if you could accept that the bugs have somehow evolved enough to know what a hat and a raincoat are for, then “Mimic” is a fun time at the movies. Lead Mira Sorvino (“The Replacement Killers”), in one of her first leading roles, is good throughout, and is able to make us care about her personal life as well as her need to save lives despite her own guilty conscience about that whole playing God thing. Jeremy Northam (“Enigma”) is sometimes too stiff and risks becoming just another potential victim in the film’s second half, but his character does earn his wings with his heroic and selfless acts.
The real star of “Mimic” is director Guillermo del Toro, who would go on to re-use the same eerie vibes he achieved in “Mimic” in “The Devil’s Backbone” and even more so in “Blade 2”. “Mimic” begins life as a mystery, but eventually becomes a Last Stand in a Haunted House movie once the second half kicks in. The film’s thrilling sequences take place almost exclusively in the twisted, dark, and dirty tentacles that make up the archaic NYC subway system. Not that the world above is spared, because del Toro covers much of the aboveground scenes in nighttime or a neverending rainstorm, and sometimes both.
Stylish from beginning to end, “Mimic” has enough good characters — and most importantly, enough potential victims — to earn its wings as a Slasher film. Except the slasher here are highly evolved cockroach-like bugs that can fly and rip out your guts with one swipe of their sharp razor-like arms. The bugs are reminiscent of the alien bugs in “Starship Troopers”, although the cramp and dark sequences in “Mimic” makes its bug creatures much more effective. We don’t even see a full bug until halfway in, and our first full glimpse of the bugger is a doozy.
The bloodletting in “Mimic” is swift and ferocious. The stalk scenes are well choreographed and executed, with the bugs moving almost exclusively in the shadows for the longest time, giving the impression that they can appear anywhere and strike from any corner. It works, especially when the film moves into the underbelly of the city, and there’s no such thing as light bulbs or city lights. The film gets claustrophobic and intense for the next straight 40 minutes.
Charles Dutton (“D-Tox”) co-stars as a loudmouth black transit cop, officially earning him the title of Sassy Black Guy. Because Dutton is sassy enough, there’s a good chance he’ll survive the movie. When it comes to Sassy Black Guys, the same rules that apply to Slasher films also apply to Last Stand in a Haunted House movies. Luckily for Dutton’s Leonard — or is it? Veteran F. Murray Abraham (“13 Ghosts”) shows up in a glorified cameo, but he really needn’t bother, since the character has no bearing on the film’s plot whatsoever.
Despite having a script that’s a lot smarter than it’s entitled to, “Mimic” is still pretty predictable. The presence of Chuy, an autistic boy, is obviously only there to be put in distress and eventually saved by Susan and Peter. You see, the married couple are unable to have a child, something they are both secretly hoping for as the one thing that can save their already strained marriage. And if we know that the Chuy character is meant to help Susan and Peter come “full circle”, what are the chances of Chuy’s guardian surviving?
With an abundance of style and flash, “Mimic” is a good addition to its chosen genre. Del Toro is a visually dazzling director, and shows promises of more to come. Even if you can’t buy that bugs, no matter how evolved, has understood how to disguise themselves via raincoat and hat, “Mimic” is still smarter and better than it really needed to be.
Guillermo del Toro (director) / Donald A. Wollheim (short story), Matthew Robbins, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
CAST: Mira Sorvino …. Susan Tyler
Jeremy Northam …. Peter Mann
Alexander Goodwin …. Chuy
Giancarlo Giannini …. Manny
Charles Dutton …. Leonard
Josh Brolin …. Josh