starring Crispin Glover
2 1/2 stars
review by Stephen Notley
It should work. Remake the 1971 cult horror classic Willard, about an introverted, buttoned-down guy who wreaks havoc on his enemies with an army of rats. As the new Willard, cast Crispin Glover. He's got plenty of bizarro weird credibility, and surrounding him with rats should be pretty creepy.
And yet, somehow, Willard never quite gets there. Maybe it's the slightly cutesy feel to the opening credits, the bouncy, Danny Elfman-like twinkle to the score, the wide-eyed Barry Sonnenfeldesque close-ups. Maybe it's Willard's house, which looks incredibly like the similarly mouse-plagued home from Mouse Hunt. Maybe it's Glover himself, who's alienated and alone but somehow too sympathetic, not twitchy enough. However you slice it, there's something unanxious about Willard; the film can't quite seem to get worked up about anything.
Take the rats. Sure, there are plenty of them, rats everywhere, first taking over the basement, soon moving into the kitchen. But gosh, you know, they don't seem so bad, particularly the cute white one Willard adopts and names Socrates. Even the evil rat, a big tough guy named Ben, never looks all that mean, really. He's a big and fat, but he's kinda cute. The worst thing about the rats is that they leave nasty little rat turds everywhere, which is disgusting, but not exactly terrifying. And when they do finally all get together and do their thing to the various cats and bosses of Willard's life, there's a rather sweet PG13 shyness about actually showing anything horrifying.
Which is fine; a new Willard doesn't have to be about rats eating into people's faces with all the hideous realism of 21st century special effects, though it should be. But even the psychological story, the story of Willard living under the burdens of his grotesquely aged mother and his cruel asshole of a boss, somehow never seems to translate into anything we feel. Glover's Willard is several levels of psycho energy below his turn in River's Edge, or even Charlie's Angels. You'd think a guy like Willard would be all about seething, bottled-up rage, but no, he seems to take such comfort lying in bed stroking Socrates' fur that it's hard to believe any of this is really getting to him. Sure, his boss yells at him, and his boss is R. Lee Ermey, the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket, so that's quality yellin'. But somehow we never seem to choke at the unfairness, or hate R. Lee for being such a dick. We just watch patiently, waiting for his ratty reckoning, unshocked when it happens.
The movie looks good, and Glover's relationship with the rats is pretty cool, with his love for Socrates contrasting with his wary respect for Ben. But there's just not much urgency or sense of threat at play here, and Willard himself doesn't really seem to be going crazy enough. It's all quite soft-edged, somehow, without real teeth. And let's face it, rat movies are about teeth. Tiny little teeth, eating into your face and neck and belly. Without teeth, Willard is just Mouse Hunt plus rat turds. If you've got a inflated fear of rats, this movie will certainly stimulate that fear. But beyond that, there's better stuff to see this week. Or any week.