Sometimes it's impossible not to roll your eyes before a movie even starts. It's the cover art, the synopsis, an actor…something demands higher level thinking skills get put on hold in favor of enjoying dopey fun. For me, it was seeing a "Sci Fi Essentials" banner on the top of "Webs." Sci Fi Channel movies are rarely anything more than filler on the channel and never what I'd call "essential." And then there's the little matter of Richard Grieco as the lead character, a plot ripped right out of a "Star Trek" episode and creature effects Ray Harryhausen would have been ashamed of back in the 1950s.
A group of Chicago electricians find themselves transported to an alternate universe where the last vestiges of humanity are being hunted by a Queen Spider. When humans are caught, the females are used as food and the males turned into her army. With the spider army nipping at their heels, Dean (Grieco) and a small band of survivors need to create a teleportation device to get back home.
"Webs" isn't offensively bad, as one might expect. It's not even bad in the usual context. Someone put thought into designing a full size queen. Someone tried to form a coherent narrative from the barest of plot lines. But as Yoda told Luke,"Do or do not; there is no try." The end result, whether by design or by accident, is complete schlock. The main reason is the lead actor. Richard Grieco lacks the emotional range to convey the circumstances Dean finds himself in. Whether he's running from spider people or trying to mack on the obligatory female protagonist Elena (Kate Greenhouse), there is never a sense of the synapses firing behind his eyes. He continually brings a blank stare to the every scene he's in (and, as the lead, he's in just about all of them).
(His mid-90s perfect "rugged" shoulder length hair doesn't help, to be fair.)
He and the rest of the cast aren't helped by razor thin characterizations and zero in the way of development. There are minor characters running around in the background-electrician friends, a survivor or two-though without time for the actual story or lead actors to gain traction, is it any wonder the supporting players are little more than canon fodder? There's no reason to care about any living, breathing soul on the set at any given time; they don't come across as beings capable of independent thought. Every line and situation comes from the standard thriller script generator.
Even if Grieco had been on his game, there's precious little for any of the actors to sink their teeth into. "Webs" is a by-the-numbers, run from the creep crawly things, stock character filled 87 minutes. The same could be said for "Aliens," I understand, yet James Cameron and the cast brought gravitas and legitimacy to the project. There's not a single decent actor in the entire group. None of any idea how to begin to handle the material. David Nerman, as the rugged warrior Cane, talks in a gravely whisper, trying to imply he's a badass, yet we never see him being a badass. His portrayal reminds me of Snake Plissken. However, in Snake's case, he had no choice but to be "the man." Cane talks a good game, hits a few spider people and growls at the cast.
According to the story continuity, Doctor Richard Morelli (Colin Fox) and a group of scientists opened a portal decades ago, leading them to a parallel universe…but also allowing the spider queen to gain a foothold in the same place. And, ever since the people of Parallel Earth, so to speak, have been hunted. Somehow, though, it doesn't make a lot of rational sense to me.
The survivors have broken into smaller units, doing what they need to do to make it to the next day, the idea being anyone captured from one group wouldn't be able to rat out the others if they don't know their location. Alright, so this part stands up to TV movie logic. However, if the big baddie is the Spider Queen, why hasn't a major offensive been launched against her? Band every group together, kill her and her threat to the world. Sure, there would still be the problem of the already turned people and how to deal with them…but the Big Bad would be gone, right?
Really, there's not a whole lot to "Webs" otherwise. The production is hamstrung by the woeful running time and a miniscule budget allowing for few speaking parts and even fewer sets or stunt actors. I can't help but ask myself what kind of person writes material like this and who has the guts to finance it. Didn't anyone take a final pass through the script to make sure everything made sense? A potentially worthwhile subplot with Dean as a savior, according to prophecy and his tattoo, is wasted because no one has any idea what to do with it. The idea is mentioned and then dropped like a hot potato, never to be revisited. Sure, he's going to lead the saviors to salvation…but what else does this prophecy say? Eh, no one cares.
And there's my biggest issue, I think: no one involved with the film cares. If they can't be bothered to at least try something new, why should anyone else care to watch chase after chase down the same corridors and through the same rooms? Sci Fi Channel dreck if I ever saw it.
Well, the best I can say is the video looks exactly like you'd think: grainy, lacking in deep blacks and overall shoddy. Take a movie of the week, age it by half a decade and put no work into any type of restoration. That's what we have here. Image did provide a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, to their credit. Scenes taking place in daylight don't look half bad. But when the action switches to indoors or, even worse, at night, every imperfection in the transfer comes to life.
The audio starts to redeem the tech specs of the disc. Two variations of the English soundtrack are included (5.1 and 2.0). Neither is going to knock your socks off and there isn't much delineation between them; however, there aren't any glaring problems with them, either. Lawrence Shragge's score, despite being as out of place as Grieco's hair with its "Beverly Hills, 90210" synthetic-sounding moments, never obscures the dialogue, such as it is. Sound effects are generally well rendered, even with the occasionally flat sound. No subtitles, but what can you do?
Aside from a whopping eight scene selections, a single screen of other Sci Fi Essential titles is included. At least there's no commentary.
There must be ratings and money in these cheapie flicks for the Sci Fi Channel or else they wouldn't continue to produce them. What boggles me is who watches these things. If "Webs" had been fun garbage, I could forgive it. As it is, though, it teeters very close to being plain garbage. There's no real reason to become invested in the action. The characters are ciphers, pawns moved around at the mercy of the script with nothing of importance to do. Any interesting storylines are left by the wayside. Just like this movie should have been.