The Relic (1997)

The Principals: Director:
Peter Hyams.  Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore, Clayton Rohner, Chi Muoi Lo, Audra Lindley, John Kapelos.

The Premise: The Museum of Natural History in Chicago is terrorized by a monster of unknown origin that attacks like an animal and has a fondness for the hypothalamus region of the brain of all things.  This occurs as the museum is preparing for a gala that is centered around a new exhibit focusing on superstitions of the world.  Det. Vincent D’Agosta, (Sizemore) is just the man for the job, as he’s about the most superstitious cop you’ll ever meet.  Dr. Margot Green (Miller), an evolutionary biologist employed by the museum, also becomes involved. 

Whatever the creature is, it seems to have originated in the jungles of South America, where John Whitney, a museum anthropologist, was studying a tribe who worshiped a deity called the Kothoga before he disappeared.  Whitney sent back a crate full of relics and it looks as if the Kothoga is not only real, but it followed the crate all the way to the museum.  The night of the gala, the bodies (sans heads) start stacking up and it’s up to D’Agosta and Green to figure out the secret of the Kothoga before they all get their brains snacked on.

Is It Good: Yes.  If not for the guidance of Hyams, The Relic could easily have been one of the pioneers of shitty direct-to-Syfy (Sci-Fi) clunkers that you might only catch to play a drinking game of how many slobs lost their heads or something.  Not a horror classic by any stretch, this is nevertheless a solid, fun and enjoyable popcorn monster movie.  The monster was done both CGI and practically, and at times looked quite good.  Its method of and reason for attacking people was fairly unique and the film had some nice gore, genuine chills and plenty of good scenes of carnage and mayhem.

When Tom Sizemore isn’t coked out of his mind or smackin’ a bitch, he’s very capable of holding a movie together on his own.  His Lt. D’Agosta (that’s Duh-GUS-tuh) is an interesting and sympathetic lead character.  He’s as superstitious as a gypsy, so much so that he carries around a bullet from an encounter with a criminal that should have killed him but didn’t.  And he won’t pick up a penny if it’s facing heads down, among other things.  But the real issue he’s going through is that his wife got full custody of Jerry…his dog.  As D’Agosta himself puts it, “How the fuck does someone get custody of a dog?”  But when he’s not lamenting that fact, he’s not afraid to butt heads with the mayor or the museum folk when the Kothoga goes apeshit.

Penelope Ann Miller is also fine and she gives a sexy egghead appeal to her Dr. Green.  Linda Hunt hasn’t really changed much on NCIS: LA from her Dr. Ann Cuthbert here.  Chi Muoi Lo, who has been in numerous TV appearances, but few films since, is good as the sleazy Dr. Greg Lee.  His fawning over a couple who can give him a grant is notable in the second half of the movie.  John Kapelos, whom I liked on Forever Knight, also makes an appearance, as does Audra Lindley (she was Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company), in one of her last appearances.  James Whitmore is also good as Green’s mentor, the wheelchair-bound Dr. Frock.

For some reason, the effects guy needed multiple takes for this shot…

Hyams is a guy whose work I’ve generally liked and often liked quite well over the years.  This was his last good film before some not-that-good films, ala End of Days and The Musketeer, and the…well you know… of A Sound of Thunder.  He sets a nice mood throughout the film, shoots it well (if not, he had only himself to blame) and makes more of the thing than it had any right to be.

Is It Worth A Look: Sure.  It’s based on the novel by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child and is a cautionary tale on genetics gone way bad.  The monster is cool, the kills are good, Sizemore is fun.  And there’s some serious tongue action with Penelope Ann Miller.

Random Anecdotes: Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a supporting character in the novel, and a recurring character in several of Preston’s and Child’s novels, isn’t to be found in the film.  The setting was also switched to a Chicago museum from a New York museum in the book.

Cinematic Soulmates: