"Bats," the first film released by Destination Films, wants to have it all. It wants to be a creature feature that induces fear (like "Frogs") while bringing a certain irreverent humor to the proceedings (like "Gremlins"). And it wants to invoke the sci-fi films of the 1950s with a mad scientist and possible governmental conspiracy.
But because it is trying to do so much, "Bats" proves to be a disappointment. That's not to say there aren't some chilling moments, such as the opening scene that finds teen-age lovers in a secluded spot who fall prey to a swarm of the titular creatures, but the script veers wildly between genres, leaving stranded good actors like Lou Diamond Phillips, Leon, Dina Meyer and Bob Gunton.
After the cool opening, which featured fine sound effects and a growing sense of foreboding, the movie shifts to introduce its heroine (Meyer), a zoologist whose specialty is the study of bats. She and her wise-cracking assistant (Leon) are swept away by government agents to investigate the teens' demise. She discovers that the deaths were caused by genetically altered bats -- frugivores (fruit eaters)-turned-omnivores.
It soon becomes clear that one of the government scientists (Gunton) was responsible and that his experimental bats have escaped and are infecting others while migrating toward the town of Gallup, Texas. Despite repeated warnings from the sheriff (Phillips), the townspeople refuse to take the threat of a bat attack seriously, resulting in a grand set piece that clearly owes its inspiration to Hitchcock's "The Birds" with a little of "The Swarm" thrown in. The zoologist and the sheriff team up to race against the clock to save the town.
There are obviously the makings of either a camp classic or a truly scary movie here, but the script by John Logan proves the weakest point, lacking a consistent tone. This is especially unnerving as Logan penned the strong HBO drama "RKO 281" (about the behind-the-scenes machinations during the making of the 1941 classic "Citizen Kane") as well as highly touted upcoming films like "Any Given Sunday" and "Gladiator."
Perhaps partial blame lies with Louis Morneau's workmanlike direction. He does show the occasional flash of brilliance, but the sound effects, score and editing help immensely in those rare cases. The performers do their best under the circumstances, with Meyer seemingly channeling Gillian Anderson's Scully from "The X-Files," Phillips cutting loose as a good ol' boy who also happens to like opera, and Leon offering comic relief that flirts with stereotype. Carlos Jacott is suitably officious as a government agent, but Gunton hams it up as the mad scientist.
For a Halloween treat, "Bats" provides some fun but ranks about as scary as a campy neighborhood haunted house.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of bat attacks, and brief language.
Lou Diamond Phillips: Sheriff Kimsey
Dina Meyer: Dr. Sheila Casper
Bob Gunton: Dr. Alexander McCabe
Leon: Jimmy Sands
A Destination Films presentation. Director Louis Morneau. Producers Brad Jenkel, Louise Rosner. Executive producers Steve Stabler, Brent Baum, John Logan, Dale Pollack. Screenplay by Logan. Cinematographer George Mooradian. Editor Glenn Garland. Music Graeme Revell. Special makeup and animatronic effects by K.N.B. EFX Group Inc. Visual effects designed by Netter Digital Entertainment Inc. Digital effects by Pop Film. Production designer Philip J.C. Duffin. Set decorator Cynthia Epping. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.