The movie opens to the haunting sounds of a piano and a woman’s angelic voice singing (Storm Large, “Where Is My Mind”) as we see our hero, Alex Mathis (played by Greg Gunburg), walking confused in slow motion through urban chaos and destruction. As he walks, people run by screaming, army men fire bullets, and explosions go off left and right. All of these sounds are muted in the background. As the music swells, time catches up to our hero,and the camera circles around, so we see what he sees: a big ass spider! Debris falls toward him, and the screen goes to black. The title appears, music fades, and we hear the spider cry out. This was truly an impeccably timed opening sequence. It had the makings of an action drama right up until the moment the camera spins, and we see the ridiculous, CGI spider-cue opening credits and . . . a big ass laugh from this reviewer!
Big Ass Spider follows the misadventures of Alex Mathis, a professional exterminator and his handy assistant Jose Ramos, the local hospital’s security man, as they try to save Los Angeles from a giant black widow spider that was infused with alien growth hormones during a military experiment gone awry. In the words of Jose:
“So, you made an alien do it with a spider? That’s messed up, man. These are your people, Alex.”
The premise of the film follows the recent trend in mutated super-attack animals like Mega Parana and Sharknado; however, unlike the aforementioned titles, the creators of Big Ass Spider set out and succeeded in creating an entertaining and intentionally hilarious film. Comic bits felt sculpted and purposeful, be it lines from the script, close-ups of an actor’s expression, musical scoring, or sound and cinematography edits. Gregory Giera’s script is witty, and, for the most part, the actors are able to live up to the intentions of the script and direction. Oftentimes with a movie such as this, you are, unfortunately, laughing at the movie, not with it. Big Ass Spider is a comedy that raises the bar for future movies in this genre.
Greg Gunburg (Alex Mathis) of Heroes, Alias, and Felicity brings a weighty resume to the film; however, it is Lombardo Boyar’s performance as Jose Ramos, along with several standout cameos, that make the film. Boyar amps up his accent, sounding stereotypically like Cheech and Chong, which in some cases might be offensive; however, he comes off so charming and endearing that you can’t help but laugh at his hysterical line delivery. Most of the time, I found myself more interested in Carlos than Alex, hoping this was not a movie where they kill off the sidekick. Gunburg shines most in his moments with Boyar. Together, they make a fun, adorable team that you can root for. Gunburg has a tendency to brood and tone down his performance as the “straight character,” but when he is with Boyar, he can’t help but perform with the heightened energy the script calls for. Both actors play off each other so well, it is easy to forgive/forget other moments when Gunburg does not give the text the energy it needs. Gunburg and Boyar are modern-day Ghostbusters . . . or Critterbusters is more like it.
Jose: “You could be like Super Exterminator . . . and Jose. My boss told me to help you, so I’m gonna help you . . . and you know like how? Like Robin helps a Batman, like Tanto helps the Lone Ranger, like Kato helps the Green Hornet, like Sancho Panza helps Don Quixote, like John Oates helps Daryl Hall, baby!”
Alex: “Yes! We are going to do this, we are going to show her that spiders don’t fly and spiders don’t swim. Some do, but that’s not the point. You and I are gonna find this spider before they do! Come on!”
As expected, Ray Wise fully commits to the script’s camp in his very stylized, over-the-top performance as Major Braxton Tanner (Military Captain) helping to make a ridiculous premise even funnier. Alex’s love interest, Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer), comes off one-dimensional. The actress tries so hard to appear strong and militant that her costume wears her rather than vise versa. The hospital director and mad scientist’s performances also fell flat for me. Neither of the actors came across as invested in the situation, making their lines feel forced.
My two favorite moments of the movie involve one of Alex’s clients, Mrs. Jefferson, as well as a scene with pedestrian interviews. Mrs. Jefferson, played by the incredibly talented character actress Lin Shaye (who played the tan-loving, cigarette-smoking old lady on There’s Something about Mary), steals the show the minute she pops on the screen. Shaye moves so quickly between emotions as Jefferson, one might think the character to have split personalities. She adds so many tiny, quirky nuances and shifts moods so effortlessly, it is amazing to watch. In the pedestrian interviews, we meet people off the street who have just witnessed the spider. The performances and dialogue are a laugh riot reminiscent of the real life “Ain’t nobody got time for that” interview that went viral in the Fall of 2012. This section stands on its own- I could watch it repeatedly without the rest of the movie.
“I saw a big ass spider. I came around the corner, first thing I had to do was get my camera . . . ain’t nobody gonna believe this sh–.”
“You better hide your kids, hide your wives, cuz it’s a big- its bigger than a spider- it’s a mega spider on the loose!”
The CGI spider effects in this movie are mediocre; I have seen better as well as worse. Fortunately, most of the spider scenes take place in the dark, so the effects are less noticeable. The small spider looks amazing; however, as the spider grows and moves into daylight scenes with people, the effects become more noticeable and distracting. This was a little disheartening for me, as by this point in the movie, I was really invested and having a great laugh.
The outstanding music, editing, and script make up for any lacking in the movie’s special effects. The opening sequences obviously used green screen, but it didn’t matter, because the timing of the music and the camera work were so amazing. You go into a movie like this one knowing full well spiders of that size don’t exist, so there is no surprise when the spider is noticeably fake or our hero was walking in front of a green screen. In fact, the effects team handled it better than several other giant animal movies. I was just disappointed, because everything else, despite some poor performances, was so good.
This is a must see for any moviegoer that enjoys sci-fi, action, and or a great laugh. I hope to see future adventures of the mismatched underdog team Alex and Jose in the future. I’m sure there are infinite possibilities of overgrown pests for them to battle. Don’t miss out on Big Ass Spider; it is a pleasant surprise of outlandish genuine hilarity.