Review: Monster Island

monster-island1Monster Island (Canada/US-2004; dir. Jack Perez)

On the most obvious level, the plot of this MTV “Special Movie Presentation” is driven by pop music aesthetics aimed at the typical MTV audience — hence the inclusion of Carmen Electra and Nick Carter, not to mention a major narrative element that involves an MTV competition and concert performances. Josh, a miserable college student who has been bumped by his girlfriend, wins the competition, having been entered against his knowledge (and wishes) by his sister. The prize: party time on a Pacific island paradise for his class mates and friends, plus entertainment from the sexy Carmen Electra. What no one mentioned was that the island had been the site of nuclear testing in the past and is now inhabited by giant mutated insects.

One of these overgrown pests — a flying (Queen) ant — carries off the celebrity and while the rest of the crowd and the TV crew decide that discretion is the best option and dubious agendas take hold of the more self-serving of the party, only Josh shows initiative and whips up a few of their number (most of them motivated by their own less-celebrity focused ambitions) to mount a rescue mission. Now all they have to do is negotiate a jungle full of ravenous monsters, find the lair of the giant ants, rescue the singer and get off the island before the whole thing comes apart, sinking à la Son of Kong under the waves.

This is all nonsense, of course, and though Monster Island happily flows along in B-horror fashion, with competent performances by all concerned (crew included), anyone versed in the genre will recognise that writer/director Perez (recently responsible for the tentacle-in-cheek Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus) has a secondary audience in mind, one that probably predates most of the MTV demographic: classic monster movie fans. As Carmen Electra, Daniel Letterle (Josh), Adam West as the resident eccentric scientist and the other stereotypes (the ex-girlfriend, her obnoxious prick of a boyfriend, the nerd, the journalist, etc.)  go about their glittery MTV business, Perez runs us through an array of homage scenes, referencing everything from King Kong through Son of Kong, Son of Godzilla, Them! and much more — even possibly Mothra — all done not with CGI, but full-size puppetry and stop-motion animation (hence the name of the scientist character, Doctor Harryhausen). The most spectacular of the beasties are the two praying mantises. The modelling is impressive and the animation, though hardly Harryhausen standard, is effective enough, even to the extent of giving the mantises some touches of personality.

Perez and his crew had a lot of fun in Monster Island. We’re not talking realism here on any level, nor profound dramatic aspirations, so leave those particularly irrelevant pieces of criticism out in the kitchen, fetch the popcorn and beer from the fridge, put your feet up, engage your inner monsterphile — and you might be able to join in.

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