When volcanic eruptions rock Los Angeles, a swarm of deadly, lava-spewing spiders are released, terrifying the citizens. Only washed up actor Colton West (Steve Guttenberg) stands in their way. Following the successful formula of animal + natural phenomenon = concept, “Lavalantula” brings together a spectacular ignorance of physics and biology and bundles it together with a half-assed script and a bunch of digital effects to deliver another lightweight, good natured but dumb monster movie.
It opens on an amusing fake-out with Guttenberg acting the hard man, wearing a John McLane vest and trash-talking some terrorists but its quickly revealed to be a film set and, in a breathtakingly honest metacommentary on Guttenberg’s own career, we find he’s an actor (famous for ‘Clown Cops’ wink, wink) with his best years behind him forced to slum it in some cheap creature feature.
Despite the passage of time, Guttenberg’s still capable of summoning up some of the old Mahoney charm from his “Police Academy” days and to his credit, he plays it absolutely and admirably straight despite the hokey nonsense going on around him. He’s joined by fellow “Academy” alums Leslie Easterbrook, Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsay and while it mostly resists the temptation to get them to reheat their old “Police Academy” characters it doesn’t find much for them to do instead. Nia Peeples gets a bit more to do as Colton’s wife but nobody’s watching this for the cast alone and it doesn’t take long for the real stars of the show to turn up in an orgy of cheap and cheerful digital lava effects.
With the same style and dedication to quality filmmaking that was the hallmark of the “Sharknado” series, “Lavalantula” uses many of the same techniques and maybe even some of the same locations and houses to weave its tale of arachnid anarchy. The post production effects look good enough, but suffer that perennial SyFy Original Movie problem that the creatures and creations clearly have no substance, weight or effect on their surroundings.
Plagued by the same bone-headed pseudo-scientific nonsense as its windy toothsome cousin, it’s impossible not to roll your eyes as the character tasked with delivering the clunky scientific exposition starts off with a declaration that spiders are insects and just gets wrong-er from there – and I haven’t even mentioned the lava yet.
All that being said, as a movie it’s not without its faded charm. There are sly, knowing winks to its bargain basement approach, especially when the action moves to Hollywood Boulevard and we’re treated to a cavalcade of trademark-dodging almost knock-offs of famous characters. There’s even a crossover cameo from Ian Ziering as Fin Shephard from “Sharknado”, suggesting a nascent shared SyFy cinematic universe is in the offing.
Beyond the pleasant pang of nostalgia from seeing Guttenberg, Easterbrook, Winslow and Ramsey on screen together again, if you weren’t amused by the “Sharknado” movies, there’s nothing in “Lavalantula” that will make you crack a smile. It’s certainly no “Big Ass Spider!“. But if schlocky, dumb B-movies are your thing, then grab your popcorn, get yourself a beer or two (or three…four maybe?) and enjoy it for what it is.