[Review] Critters: A New Binge

I’ll be honest, when the trailer for Critters: A New Binge dropped, I wasn’t sold on the candy-colored and heavily CG-looking offering. I had rewatched the first two Critters movies late last year, when Scream Factory released the Critters Collection and I was reminded why I loved the series as a kid. The mix of the horror with comedy and the mostly practical effects still stood out, 30 years later. Looking back on the first movie, in particular, I was struck at how callous and vicious the Crites were and loved the juxtaposition of actual horror with a dark sense of whimsy.

It was funny, but it was a horror movie first and foremost. And yes, Mick Garris’ sequel dipped a bit further in the comedy direction and offered up some spectacular jokes and callbacks, but A New Binge looked far removed from what I originally loved about the first two movies; a mix of slapstick comedy, fart jokes and CG.

My first impression of A New Binge didn’t help matters, as it begins with a woman in a towel, brushing her teeth in her bathroom. In typical horror movie fashion, she leans over the sink to spit out the toothpaste and when she leans back she screams. Reflected in the mirror is……a terribly rendered CG monster standing behind her.

“Oh. Okay,” I thought. “This is what we’re dealing wi—” but before I could finish my thought, the framing changes and we’re with the Crites in their spaceship, and it becomes clear that they are watching a movie. Then one of them barks, “Turn this piece of shit off! That creature is clearly fake.”

I laughed. Hard. Okay, A New Binge, I remarked. Let’s see what you got.

Pursued by intergalactic bounty hunters, this motley group of Critters are contacted by their President (who I’m pretty sure is voiced by Stephen Merchant) and told that they have to return to Earth on a secret mission to save a Crite that was left behind. It’s a stealth mission: Get in. Get out. And absolutely NO FEEDING. After a brief space fight with the bounty hunters that would have looked hokey during the PlayStation One era of CG and FMV cut scenes, the Critters end up in Livingston, Iowa. The bounty hunters, meanwhile, crash in Australia and it becomes a running gag as they, er, start running the 10,000+ miles to Iowa.

On Earth, we’re introduced to the lovelorn and overweight high-schooler Christopher (Joey Morgan), who’s called Porkchop by his health-obsessed mom Veronica (Kirsten Robek). At breakfast, she serves him a grapefruit, remarking that he's always hungry, while putting a plate of pancakes in front of his uncle. Uncle Murray (Gilbert Gottfried) seems a few screws loose and, instead of eating the pancakes, he stuffs them into his robe.

Christopher’s best friend Charlie (Bzhaun Rhoden) likes Chris just as he is and wants him to enroll in a Hot Dog Eating Championship. But Christopher is more interested in pursuing his longtime crush, Dana (Stephi Chin-Salvo). But Dana has a boyfriend who, in typical fashion, is an absolute douche. Rounding out the main cast is Thomas Lennon as the Assistant Principal and Christian Sloan as Holt, Veronica’s latest sexual misadventure.

Into this mesh of teenage angst comes crashing the Crites and unfortunately for Earth (and President Crite), they can’t help themselves and start devouring animals. And pretty soon, it’s up to Christopher and his gang to fight against the little furballs and the intergalactic bounty hunters, whose only mission is to destroy the Crite that was left on earth, regardless of who gets caught in the crossfire.

Okay. So. A New Binge is an eight mini-episode series. Each episode lasts about ten minutes, so put together it’s like an 80 minute movie. And while it definitely feels like a movie that’s been truncated into ten minute increments, I think it actually works better this way. There’s little in the way of character development or depth. The plot is pretty thin and virtually non-existent. So having it broken down into ten minute chunks actually helps the pacing, as it focuses on set piece after set piece, with chunks of exposition and plot doled out in between the carnage. I blew through the episodes in one sitting and honestly I was never bored.

You can tell that this series had a very limited budget. While creators Jordan Rubin and co-writers Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan get points for making a joke out of it in the very first scene of the show, the CG and green screen work is still pretty painful to watch. Seriously, when the bounty hunters are shown in “Australia,” the superimposed desert behind them was incredibly distracting. A New Binge works much better when it relies on the puppetry of the critters and the human comedy.

And it is a comedy. These critters are a far cry from the originals. There’s nothing remotely horror about this. It throws down so many callbacks and gags to action movies, like Terminator and The Matrix. Some are severely overused, like a critter dodging a lunch tray as if he’s channeling Neo. But there’s something magical about seeing Thomas Lennon enter a room in slow-motion, a la Arnold, before pulling a golf club from an over-long box. And Gilbert Gottfried trying to give Christopher a pep talk that starts like an Uncle Ben speech before rambling through every encouraging cliche until it no longer makes sense made me chuckle. It even has an Avengers gag.

The cast is actually quite excellent. I have to give props to Kirsten Robek as the sexually confident mom, Veronica. She has some of the best lines in the entire show and she really sells some of the more ridiculous plot developments. And trust me, some of the plot developments require a lot of selling. A surprisingly restrained Gilbert Gottfried brought some goofiness and it’s always great to see Thomas Lennon in anything.

The fact that it has swung so far from the horror-comedy roots is a bit disappointing. But I have to give them credit for going balls to the walls bonkers. By episode 6, the story goes completely off the rails in a completely batshit direction that I found myself dumbstruck and laughing at the absurdity of it. And when I didn’t think it could get weirder, episode 7 begins with a ludicrous (and hilarious) flashback that had me shaking my head.

Jordan Rubin, whose previous credits include Zombeavers, brings an absurdly infectious zaniness that kept me hitting “next” as each episode ended. Is it good? God no. Absolutely not. The humor slingshots from clever to shocking to juvenile; sometimes in the same scene. And the toothy furballs aren’t as menacing or violent as I was hoping for. A few of the big set pieces were messily filmed and you could tell there were a number of restraints holding it back.

There’s so many reasons why this shouldn’t have worked. It’s absolutely ridiculous and it won’t be for everyone. I know some of you are going to hate this and I can’t argue with that  And while I can't say I liked it, I did find it absolutely funny at times.

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