There's nothing like an army of giant mutant scorpions rampaging through an airplane over the Pacific to make you wake up and say, "Hey, isn't it about time we started screening luggage for giant scorpions? How many more have to die?"
Fortunately, the cast of "Tail Sting" is made up entirely of TV actors you WANT to die horrible grisly deaths, so after a while it becomes like one of those psycho video games where you identify with the flesh-chomping creepazoid.
Christian Scott, of "E.R." fame, stars as the plucky chain-smoking pilot, still wounded from the death of his wife eight years ago, who's not too thrilled when a scorpion that looks like a rabid rubber crab clomps into his cockpit and eats his copilot during the Melbourne-to-L.A. run. That wouldn't be so bad -- the copilot was a little twit -- but there are two dozen of these Jurassic Insects loose on the plane, thanks to the machinations of the greedy Dr. Millhouse, a lunatic plotting to steal scorpion embryos in jars from the cargo hold and take his revenge on the kindly Dr. Stewart, who runs the big mutant-scorpion disease-fighting secret laboratory in the outback of Australia.
Millhouse manages to sneak down into the cargo hold and stow the jars in an aboriginal coffin being brought back to the states by a creepy Goth with a German accent who actually turns out to be a poseur from the New Jersey suburbs. A little turbulence, the coffin tips over, and -- whoops! -- we've got feeding time at 37,000 feet.
What I loved about the special effects on this movie is that the giant scorpions never look the same in any given scene. Sometimes it's a giant pincer-like tentacle crashing through the ceiling and impaling a random stewardess, other times it's a speedy little mound of protoplasm scurrying cockroach-like down the aisle, and in the big ripoff-of-Sigourney-Weaver finale, Jennifer the kind-hearted scientist suits up in some kind of orange jogging suit with a battery pack on her back, holding two steam irons in her hands, advancing on the mutant queen like Martha Stewart going after Bigfoot.
Have I mentioned the Arab-profiling subplot? Two Arabs in skullcaps sneak onto the plane by posing as baggage handlers, then plot together to carry out the will of Allah. It turns out the will of Allah is for them to evade immigration authorities and become electricians. They come in handy when the pilot -- blinded by a scorpion attack and forced to land the plane with bandages over his eyes while taking altitude readings from a teenage girl karate champion on a cell phone hookup through a CIA satellite to an FAA computer hacker in Los Angeles -- needs someone to go down into the avionics room and reassemble the auxiliary electrical system so that the landing gear will deploy. (No, I will not repeat that.)
Sure we've seen it all before, but have we seen it with a scene in which an attacking scorpion is pummeled to death with a laptop computer?
I think not.
Normally when you have giant scorpions on an airplane, you have at least two or three scenes explaining how the scorpions came to exist. Not in this movie. The exposition consists of two lines of dialogue, spoken by kindly old Dr. Stewart. "We were trying to synthesize a biogenetic pathogen that would aggressively combat diseases like AIDS and cancer," he says -- and so his lab mixed live scorpions with the DNA from paleolithic scorpions millions of years old.
Okay, well, as long as you explained it.
One of those "What were they thinking movies?" If I had to guess, they were going for a combination of Ridley Scott's "Alien," Jack Arnold's "Creature from the Black Lagoon," and the Zucker Brothers "Airplane" -- and, by God, they succeeded!
Let's look at those drive-in totals:
Ten dead bodies. Two breasts. Pole through the head. One motorcycle-in-the-desert attempted hijacking. Two giant claw attacks. Multiple impalements. Multiple scorpion attacks, which sometimes resemble giant crab attacks. One motor vehicle chase. Flamethrower Fu. Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Christian Scott, as the pilot who finds love through a killer-scorpion attack; Laura Putney, as the love interest and fearless insect fighter; Gulshan Grover, as the comic-relief stowaway Arab electrician; Thomas Dunn, as the fake German vampire enthusiast who says he's been "studying aboriginal burial techniques"; Rick Kelly, as the insane villain who wouldn't have had to start killing people if he had just gotten more equity and profit-sharing; Tara Price, as the karate girl with a broken arm who plays tough in the finale; and Paul Wynne, the director, for never letting the plot get in the way of the story.
Two and a half stars. Joe Bob says check it out.
"Tail Sting" Web site: shorelineentertainment.com/movies/TailSting.html.
To reach Joe Bob, go to www.joebobbriggs.com or e-mail him at JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.