From the exclamatory punctuation of its title to its marauding insect-of-choice, it should be abundantly clear the tone in which the micro-budget Cicada! is aiming for.
A mutant swarm of bugs that provide summer’s soundtrack has invaded Los Angeles, and it’s up to a shabby gang of citizens to save themselves, their reputations, and the city.
Taking on a mutant monster invasion film with budgetary limitations is no small feat, and writer/director David Willis relies mightily on green/ blue screen shots to do the heavy lifting for the movie’s more “sprawling” set-pieces. I could go into detail about the poor effects in Cicada!, but that’s like describing a joke the director is already in on. It is deliberately cheap and campy, but to what extent does it become a distraction? I consider myself a veteran of thrift-store cinema, wading through the murky waters of The Amazing Bulk, Birdemic, and the Neil Breen Cinematic Universe, so I am familiar with the genre’s nadir. And while Willis may take the joke a bit too far for its runtime, there is something oddly watchable about this scrappy little title.
Cicada! only succeeds when it relies on its sense of humor, or more specifically, its timing. The jokes run the gamut from the cheap-and-easy to the more subtle. But every once in a while, the movie hits the sweet spot. Occasionally, a small throwaway line before cutting to another scene can grab a grin during its effects-heavy action. From the armed national guard getting carried away by a ravenous cicada screaming “This country has failed me!” to a rooftop sniper quickly falling to his death after an exploding cicada is smacked into the building, there emerges a quick-witted sensibility under the dime-store budget.
“….mutant swarm of bugs…has invaded Los Angeles…”
Cicada! also fleshes out its characters more than most movies of this ilk. We are provided backstories to two of the four leads who provide most of the bug busting. Nelson (Mike Nielsen) is first seen studying the insect with his mother (who subsequently dies) and get a sense of how this nerd was nurtured. Additionally, we are provided a prologue for the main protagonist Johnny Bash (Jeffery Ryan Kent). He’s a fallen-from-grace baseball star whose boorish behavior ushered a quick exit from the sport. Johnny spends his days now living off his stripper girlfriend (Cassandra Hein) and best-buddy bartender (Beau Crawford) when Nelson crashes their establishment seeking shelter from the swarm.
The film devotes a sizable chunk of the runtime to their relationships, which slightly helps, even though we know none are in immediate threat of danger. For whatever reason, though, Willis decided to dub much of the dialogue throughout, most notably Johnny’s lines. I am unsure whether the ADR provided to him was the actual actor or not, but the droning, unsynced delivery never once helps the film and is perhaps far more distracting than any of the cut-rate CGI.
It’s a shame, too, as Cicada! is not without its moments, even though they are mostly digitized. The effects are (intentionally) comically bad, the plot is paper-thin, but deep down, there is a larva of charm it manages to sustain, even if it never ultimately gets a chance to fully spread its wings and take flight.
"…jokes run the gamut from the cheap-and-easy to the more subtle."