THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Crispin Glover must be thanking his lucky stars. Aside from a wordless turn as a villain in Charlieís Angels, the actor has had a dearth of significant roles in major movies lately. Then along comes Willard, which has a part custom made for him: creepy guy. Let this be an inspiration to struggling actors everywhere. There is a perfect role for everybody.

In this remake of the 1971 chiller, Glover plays the title character Ė a nebbishy, socially avoidant mamaís boy. Willard takes care of his aged, ailing mother who continually puts him down and insults him. One particular day, she starts screaming about hearing rats in the basement. He goes down to investigate and indeed finds a family of rats living behind a grate. After his efforts at exterminating them fail, Willard decides he actually kind of likes the rats, especially a white one he names Socrates.

Willard feeds Socrates, and eventually other rats show up as well. He trains them to obey his commands, then unleashes them on enemies, such as the boss (R. Lee Ermey) who continually humiliates him. One of the rats is a big one, whom Willard dubs Ben. This particular rodent is jealous of the relationship between Willard and Socrates, so he tries to assert some authority among the other rats. This leads to a rodent takeover of the home and an all out battle between man and mouse. (And yes, the famous Michael Jackson song ďBenĒ does appear in the film, as does a closing credits version performed by Glover himself.)

Willard was remade by Glen Morgan who, along with producing partner James Wong, also made the original Final Destination (which ranks as one of the scariest movies of recent years). They bring an ironic, almost self-referential humor to the story Ė the kind that has become all the rage in horror movies since Scream. I think the movie might have been more interesting had it played up the squirms a little more, but the humor still works. Itís not really funny in a ha-ha way, but rather in an amusingly offbeat kind of way. You never really feel like anyoneís in genuine danger because the film so frequently winks at you, although thatís all right because the humor does add to the dark tone of it.

Even with the dark comedy added, thereís a natural uneasiness in the idea of rampaging rats. Each scene showing tons of the varmints crawling around the floor (and over each other) brought a little chill to my spineÖand Iím not even particularly bothered by rats. Thereís something about the idea of a flood of them thatís inherently uncomfortable. Or at least cool in a creepy sort of way. This is especially true as the story evolves into its slightly gory conclusion.

What really makes Willard work, though, is the unhinged performance from Crispin Glover. We all know that heís played goofballs in other movies, and anyone who remembers his infamous appearance on David Letterman many years ago understands that he brings a certain amount of baggage to the screen with him. Heís good playing creepy guys because he seems creepy in real life. But itís not all natural; Glover is a talented actor capable of playing off his own image. He evokes not only apprehension about Willard but also sympathy for him. This is especially true in the scenes he shares with Laura Elena Harring, who plays a sympathetic coworker. I donít want to give away the outcome of their relationship, but it shows how Willard might have finally found a real friend had he not become so consumed with ideas of revenge and power.

Iím not sure thereís much of a point to Willard. It explores the idea that this pathetic loner finds strength in his ability to control rats. Thereís also a theme of friendship, as Socrates is the only person (or thing, rather) to whom he relates. Nothing earthshakingly profound comes of either idea, but I did enjoy the intentional weirdness of the whole movie. This is not really a feel-good film; itís a little darker, a little more inaccessible to the casual moviegoer. I like that kind of thing once in a while. Crispin Glover as the king of the rats? Iím not sure Iíd want to see Willard twice, but thatís entertainment to me at least once.

( out of four)

Willard is rated PG-13 for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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