Written by: Woodrow Truesmith & M.A. Deuce, John Whelpley, and C.J.Strebor
Directed by: Don Michael Paul
Starring: Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, and Pearl Thusi
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Fear runs deep.
While Tremors isn’t exactly our most inexplicable franchise*, it’s lumbered on somewhat improbably for the past two decades all the same. Spawned from one genuine classic (seriously, the original Tremors is a bona fide all-timer), the series has endured on the backs of sequels that fall in a nebulous range of “decent” and “pretty entertaining, I guess.” None can be considered an outright embarrassment to the Tremors legacy, yet none really seem to explain just how Tremors 5: Bloodlines even exists in 2015, either. Even as a fan, I am genuinely shocked but pleasantly surprised that an actual sequel has been released 25 years after the original—even if it’s just another follow-up that doesn’t exactly make the strongest argument for the franchise’s continued existence.
The first actual sequel in nearly 15 years (2003’s Tremors 4 was a prequel), Bloodlines foregoes previous attempts to return to the franchise roots. Michael Gross does return as series mascot/deranged conspiracy theorist Burt Gummer, who has become something of a reality television star famous for his survival techniques and for hunting Graboids worldwide. With his brand sagging, however, he finds himself in the company of Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy), an opportunistic jack-of-all-trades looking to reinvigorate Burt’s career. When the duo is approached by a South African conservationist about an opportunity to hunt a rare southern hemisphere Graboid, Burt can’t hop into a chopper quickly enough—though he is dismayed that customs has confiscated his cache of military-grade weapons.
By jetting off to South Africa, Tremors 5 immediately feels like an odd entry in this franchise. Where Back to Perfection attempted to recapture the feel and chemistry of the original (via pure, unadulterated fan service, to be honest), Bloodlines feels alien; with only Gross’s presence acting as the only connective tissue, it’s a real franchise outlier, perhaps even more so than The Legend Begins. It’s one of those sequels that just lacks that certain je ne sais quoi and feels off—quite simply, it doesn’t “feel” like Tremors. In keeping with the sequels’ tradition, though, it’s not a complete misfire since you faintly sense that these filmmakers have some very vague notion of what made the original work so well. This is not to say they have the most firm grasp or anything, but their attempt to blend monster movie thrills with good-natured levity feels like a genuine attempt to honor whatever legacy this franchise has.
That said, much of the humor completely misfires. The original Tremors features a wonderful cast, endlessly quotable dialogue, and actual wit; Tremors 5 features Burt Gummer drinking his own piss before a lion drowns him in even more piss. Obviously, the likes of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward aren’t walking back through that door (though Bacon has insisted he’d at least be open to it), but their replacements tend to be pretty dire here. Kennedy is a notably lame addition as he lapses into a twitchy, hyperactive shtick that was tired in 2001, so you can imagine how grating it must feel now. His odd couple relationship with Gross plays out in predictable fashion, with the latter practically serving as an audience surrogate since he wants to throttle Kennedy as much as they do. You miss the jovial, ball-busting camaraderie of the original, which, to be fair, is probably to be expected.
What you miss the most is actually caring about any of the characters outside of Burt. To their credit, the filmmakers at least make some semblance of an attempt by carving out time for the native South Africans. Unfortunately, they’re either not afforded nearly enough to make an impression, or they’re sequestered off into their own subplot—there’s an entire aside featuring a family’s encounter with the Graboids that might as well belong in its own movie for this film’s runtime. Bloodlines doesn’t quite grasp the close-knit, chemistry-driven nature of the original (or even some of the sequels), so it just sort of bounds from one scene to the next with little tonal unity to speak of. One minute, Burt is maniacally blowing away a nest of Graboid eggs, the next features a harrowing scene with the aforementioned family attempting to survive another brush with the creature terrorizing their village.
Oddly enough, Bloodlines almost compensates for its flat humor with solid monster movie elements. Even though many of the effects are digital, they’re passable enough, especially on the small screen; one wonders if they’d hold up if this were a theatrical release, but they don’t approach SyFy or Asylum levels of inanity, at least. It’s sort of ironic that Tremors found a new lease on life when its television series aired on SyFy; over a decade later, that network has set the bar for creature features so low that you’re just relieved when monster effects are passable in Tremors 5. Like the previous sequels, Bloodlines continues the theme of evolution, as both the Graboids and the Ass-Blasters are updated. The focus on the latter here is dismaying since their introduction in Back to Perfection represented this franchise’s Jump-the-Shark (er, Graboid?) moment for this series, but the eventual Graboid action is tense and splattery enough. There’s even a scene that can be described as the kitchen raptor sequence from Jurassic Park but with Ass-blasters (and considerably less elegance—brace yourself for choppy editing and shaky camerawork). That’s certainly a sentence I never anticipated writing.
Of course, without Steven Spielberg at the helm, this is about the only way Tremors 5 can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Jurassic Park (or even the original Tremors, for that matter). Hell, it’s probably worth noting that longtime Tremors filmmakers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock aren’t even involved, and their absence shows. For whatever reason, Universal decided not to grant them the same sort of creative control they apparently afforded Don Mancini with Curse of Chucky. The result makes for an interesting study in contrasts: while Curse was a lovingly crafted update delivered by a filmmaker in tune with his beloved creation, Bloodlines is a bit of a half-hearted attempt to revive a franchise that has struggled to recapture greatness for 25 years. Comparing the two is probably unfair: after all, Curse of Chucky was something of a minor, unprecedented miracle.
Yet, it must be said that Mancini raised the bar of expectations when it comes to unexpected franchise resurrections, and, while Gross will always be a joy to watch as Burt Gummer, Bloodlines is latest effort that struggles to inspire much more than a bemused acknowledgement that, yes, we somehow have five Tremors movies. Only one can claim perfection; the others—bless their heart—try hard enough, which is more than can be said about many properties kept on studio-assisted life support. I mean, there's probably a darker timeline where this is just a sequel-in-name-only that only stars Jamie Kennedy. Take solace in that.
Tremors: Bloodlines debuts on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment; the disc features deleted scenes, outtakes, and an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
*Did you know there are SIXTEEN Witchcraft movies? For that matter, did you even know there was more than ONE Witchcraft movie?
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