Primeval (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

What a croc! Unsolicited advice to filmmakers: When making a monster movie, do not attempt to sell said film as a picture about a serial killer. Second piece of unsolicited advice to filmmakers: When making a monster movie, keep the focus on the monster. Do not populate the movie with a bunch of henchmen rejects from old James Bond films. A giant crocodile should be enough to keep the audience's attention. If it's not, either a new script or a new concept is needed. In the case of Primeval, reworking both could only have resulted in an improvement.

Primeval is the product of Michael Katleman, whose resume includes a large and incredibly diverse group of television episodes. To make sure he's at home, his actors are also TV refugees. The biggest name among them is arguably Dominic Purcell, who spends most of his small tube time running away from good guys, bad guys, and in-between guys as one of the leads of Prison Break. He's the strong silent one, not the boyishly handsome one. One wonders how Jurgen Prochnow got messed up in this. Then again, Das Boot did start life as German TV mini-series.

The action takes place in Burundi, where a 20-foot long crocodile named Gustave is eating people. The creature's appetite isn't a matter for world interest until he gobbles down a white woman. This leads a news crew, led by ace reporter Tim Manfrey (Purcell) and his cameraman, Steven (Orlando Jones), deep into the wilds of Burundi. Tagging along are Aviva (Brooke Langdon), a woman reporter trying to be taken seriously; Matthew, a Crocodile Hunter wannabe; and Jacob Krieg (Prochnow), who bears an amazing resemblance to Quint from Jaws. This time, though, they don't need a bigger boat - they need a bigger cage. The area of Burundi in which they land is plagued by a little problem called Civil War, and it's questionable whether the crocodile or the fighting humans pose a greater danger to the reporters. Suddenly, on the way to a monster movie, we get stuck in a quasi-political tale of murderous rebels who don't want their sordid deeds shown on national TV. This would be okay if these weren't one-dimensional thugs (the aforementioned Bond rejects - guns and brawn but no brains) and the so-called "political message" wasn't patronizing.

Primeval piously reminds us that white Westerners don't care about African revolutions and genocides. While that's true, the message is disingenuous when delivered by exploitative trash like this. There's also a roundabout attempt to compare Gustave to Godzilla - both are monsters "created" by men. The rationale for putting Gustave in this category escapes me unless someone snuck into Burundi overnight and set off an atomic bomb. Further, the movie tries to explain its existence by using the old "inspired by true events" excuse. Doing a little research, I have discovered that there is indeed a mythical big croc named "Gustave" who is blamed for hundreds of deaths in central Africa, but I have been unable to discover any references to the Prison Break guy or the German submarine refugee. They appear to have been made up, like 99% of a screenplay that the Monty Python troupe could have had loads of fun with.

Primeval is two direct-to-DVD movies fighting for dominance. There's an extreme loss of focus that results in the croc becoming a supporting player in his own movie. The villains are the tough-talking Hutu rebels who make Gustave seem like a nice guy. In fact, there's a memorable scene in which the croc saves a woman from being raped. Beneath that rough exterior and nasty row of teeth beats the heart of Sir George. Anything to help a damsel in distress. Maybe he thought he'd get a kiss and a cuddle later. By the end of the film, I was hoping everyone on two legs would die, preferably suffering as much on screen as I was in the audience. What a bunch of self-righteous whiners! We're supposed to be rooting for the humans not a future handbag, but a screenplay like this makes it impossible.

We don't see a lot of the croc, probably for the same reason we don't see a lot of the shark in Jaws: prolonged exposure would reveal how silly it looks. Every time the croc shows up in its full glory, there's a moment when the viewer has to make a decision: shudder at the concept of the thing or burst out laughing at the execution. Someone in the filmmaking crew must have recognized this, so the croc stays in the background, emerging only occasionally to remind us that the Hutus aren't the only badasses this side of Hotel Rwanda. Primeval makes one yearn for the simple mindless jungle action of something like Anaconda. At least that movie understands that the monster should never be on the sidelines during his showcase game.

Primeval (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1.34
U.S. Release Date: 2007-01-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1