ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 16, 1997
By Steve Newton
If somebody asked you to name two of the most popular contemporary action-horror films, there’s a good chance Jurassic Park and Aliens would come to mind. That’s what happened, it seems, when Paramount Pictures started looking for celluloid inspiration for its latest action-horror flick, The Relic. Problem is, that’s about as far as it went, idea-wise.
Then, for atmospheric effect, they threw all those flashlights from The X-Files into this big-bucks adaptation of the Douglas Preston–Lincoln Child novel. (No doubt the bill for Energizers alone took up a big chunk of this gory clunker’s $48-million budget.)
The Relic is about a huge mutant monster—a freaky-looking cross between a lizard and a rhino, with the face of the alien from Predator—that shows up at the fictional Chicago Museum of Natural History. Penelope Ann Miller plays an evolutionary biologist who, with the help of high-tech lab computers and more DNA lingo than was heard at the O.J. trial, eventually discovers that the creature is a hybrid containing elements of a gecko and a human being. That’s nice to know, but in the meantime, ol’ snagglepuss has been popping the tops off of everyone it finds in its new digs and snacking on their hypothalamuses.
Into the fray steps a macho cop—played by character actor Tom Sizemore—who, with all the heads rolling in the museum’s aisles, decides it’s a good idea to cancel an upcoming opening gala. “We may have someone who makes Jeffrey Dahmer look like a Cub Scout,” deadpans the hard-boiled stereotype after viewing some of the lovingly sculpted carnage. That line is typical of The Relic’s inane script, which also sees a cartoonishly curt medical examiner quip: “Don’t you hate someone who takes all the head and never gives any?”
Of course, because the ultimate aim of The Relic is to show snooty museum patrons being turned into black-tie hors d’œuvres, the characters include a self-serving Chicago mayor who demands that the gala go on to suit his political purposes (and get his wife’s cleavage in the papers, Mac Parry–style). A slumming Linda Hunt is also on hand as the strong-headed museum director who just can’t see why a few grisly deaths should tarnish the social event of the year.
Once the horde of schmoozers gets trapped in the museum, the Jurassic Park and Aliens rip-offs come fast and cheap, right down to a close-up of a container of liquid being rippled by thundering footsteps. But the uncharismatic and unconvincing Miller is no Sigourney Weaver, even if she has to endure an intimate, face-to-fang confrontation lifted straight out of Aliens. She even bids adieu to the monster, Ripley-style, before it gets engulfed in a rushing fireball and she’s conveniently saved in a tank of water.
Her parting words are something along the lines of “Fuck you!”, which were precisely my sentiments toward the makers of this bogus and predictable horror outing.