Bug Off! Release Date: 1 August 2001 (USA) Genre: Comedy | Family | Fantasy Director: James Glenn Dudelson (Horror 101, Day of The Dead: Contagium) Writer: Gregory Amadeus Franzese Starring: Shannon Lee, Michael Dorn, Robert Vitelli Wow. That’s the only thing I can say to describe MTI Home Video’s first of what turned into many […]


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Bug Off!
Release Date: 1 August 2001 (USA)
Genre: Comedy | Family | Fantasy
Director: James Glenn Dudelson (Horror 101, Day of The Dead: Contagium)
Writer: Gregory Amadeus Franzese
Starring: Shannon Lee, Michael Dorn, Robert Vitelli

Wow. That’s the only thing I can say to describe MTI Home Video’s first of what turned into many children’s films distributed by them in 2003 and 2004. When Bug Off! came out, it was the first kid’s flick for MTI in over two years. MTI chose to embrace the product with the release of Bug Off!, and continued to release one children’s film a month for the better part of a year. It’s easy to see why. These fluff pieces seem to always generate big profits. Hell, fifteen days after receiving my Bug Off! DVD, the film was airing on HBO. And thanks to networks like HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime spending millions of dollars on the rights to air Harry Potter and his cohorts, non-action direct-to-video films often have a hard time finding U.S. cable distribution. This is especially true when it comes to the shot-on-video films that populate the market. So if movies like Bug Off! are nearly guaranteed to garner a swift profit, why do production companies back away from the films?

For once in my life, I don’t have an answer. Nor have I made the attempt to bother my contacts with the question. But I can tell you this; children’s direct-to-video films are some of the lamest, badly acted, kid empowering pieces that I’ve ever seen. The writers are masters of subtlety, and certainly deserve awards for their scripts. Films like Message in a Cell Phone, which MTI also distributed, feature eight-year old children outsmarting mobsters and businessmen. And in Bug Off!, children get go up against aliens in an epic encounter that no one in their right mind wanted to see.

Apparently, on a distant planet, aliens with skin resembling a store bought mask constantly bicker. Seeing as how Earth is just a land of peace & love, the aliens send down one of their own, disguised as an innocent old woman, to study our behavior. Following in her tracks is the “We obviously couldn’t get John Lithgow or French Stewart” character to ensure that she completes her task. In addition, we soon learn the complexities of alien planets. Now give me your full attention or you may not grasp this. The alien grandmother, who is called Mrs. Pickle Nickel, somehow has a full grasp on the English language. And while she comes down with enough knowledge to know what a television is, how to apply for a babysitting job, and other basic elements of human life, we’re supposed to believe that a mismatched commercial prompts Mrs. Pickle Nickel to create appetizing dinners of broccoli cornflakes and snacks of fish cookies. Meanwhile, the alien sent down to watch her, Yendor, is damn near mentally challenged.

On the human side of things, ten-year-old Krista hates her little brother. He’s a manipulative little jerk who makes her angry at every turn. Krista also may be mentally challenged, or just farsighted. The poor girl couldn’t tell the difference between a real and fake bug if her life depended on it. This causes her several problems, including throwing her own underwear drawer out the window. Of course, the panties land right aside the ugly bastard who she has a crush on. This same boy manages to make a total 360 degree turn throughout the film, as he goes from a jokester, to bug abusing jackass, and all the way back to a jokester who respects human life thanks to the excellent writing.

When Krista and Tyler’s parents have to go away on business trips, they have no choice but to pluck a last minute babysitter. And of course, it’s Mrs. Pickle Nickel. Skipping over lots of inept dialogue due to space constraints, it’s not long before Tyler and Krista begin to fight in front of Pickle Nickel. The old woman, who doesn’t understand the idea of sarcasm, turns Tyler into a bug as per Krista’s wish. Soon enough, the man sent to keep an eye on her discovers her fallacy. From there, it’s not long before we get a children’s DTV favorite; adults chasing kids, and then kids chasing adults!

And these chase scenes amount to lots of absolute crap. Yendor runs into doors, has rakes repeatedly hit him in the head (lifted directly from “The Simpsons”), somehow makes falling on a hydrant amount to the same “boink” sound as being hitting yourself in the face and falling over a fence, runs ten mileBus an hour after nearly having his foot broken by a taxi cab, and there’s several more that will insult the intelligence of most nine-year olds. One thing I did like about Yendor was the way he spoke. “I’m here to pick up the boog, wait… Bug. Correct. Now give it to me.” Speech patterns like that actually gave me hope for this pile of crap. But what happens? Every scene filmed in space has Yendor speaking English, yet when he makes mistakes, he doesn’t correct himself. Ugh… Please, just a little continuity you schmucks.

Another editing mistake comes up when background characters appear and disappear in one particular scene. When Tyler becomes a bug, there are all sorts of questionable events happening. As a bug, Tyler can still communicate with Krista by speaking. Okay, I can buy that to a certain extent. As a bug, Tyler eats pieces of waffles that are nearly as large as his body. Okay, I can sort of buy that. As a bug left in a box without a top, he can be flung across a room twice, yet still remains in the box. Okay… No, I really can’t buy that. And lastly, as a bug, Tyler is able to burp so loud that everyone in Krista’s history class hears it. No, no, no, I can’t buy that. That’s just a sorry excuse to allow kids to laugh at a bug burping. Lastly, there’s the classic vindictive principal, and two random stoner kids that show up to throw out the “Dude,” “Sweet,” line towards the end of the film. Let’s not even get into the logistics of using that line in a film directed towards pre-teens.

Bug Off! isn’t completely horrible, though. It does have a few redeeming qualities. First off, and most importantly, it’s not boring. The monstrosity keeps your attention for the entire duration simply because of just how much it adheres to the classic, “It’s so bad it’s good” formula. Watching Bug Off! is like seeing a train wreck unfold before your very eyes. When it comes to the actual film’s writing, there are a few scenes of quality. One in particular that takes place in the school library just reminded me of the writing in a “Recess” episode. The child-hating principal having a “Touched by an Angel” moment was cute, and actually shined through as one of the few scenes that give you a genuine laugh.

DVD: While I had originally suspected a standard release, the supplement material for Bug Off! winded up showing more talent for comedy than the film itself. There are the usual Interactive Menus, Scene Selections, Spanish Subtitles, and Trailers for a few other MTI films. Then comes the two supplements that almost make the film worthwhile. A typical Trivia Game provides two minutes of entertainment, while a Behind the Scenes feature called “The Making of Bug Off!” is just brilliant. Hosted by Tanner Christensen, the director’s son, this is just completely tongue-in-cheek. Tanner, who was the boom operator in the film, pokes fun at the fact that the main character Krista “gets so fed up that she just screams… and screams… and screams.” He then goes onto describe how “She wishes that her brother become a bug. And walla, there’s your plot right there. It pales in comparison to anything I’ve written.” This eight-minute piece is worth a cheap rental, as it just pokes fun at this abortion masterfully.

And before I close this off, let me just say that the video box is completely wrong. You see that green bug? Well, the bug in the film does not resemble a grasshopper, nor is it in any way green. And you see those two kids in the cover? Well, they’re apparently two kids that they plucked out of the street, because they certainly aren’t anywhere to be seen in the film.

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