The Swarm

Starring : Michael Caine, Olivia De Havilland & Richard Chamberlain
Warner Home Video
RRP: £12.99

Certificate: 12
Available now

When a military establishment is attacked by a huge swarm of African killer bees, scientist Crane leads the fight to combat the threat before it reaches Houston. However, that's easier said than done when the bees act with an intelligent hive mind, and thwart each attempt to stop them. Meanwhile the swarm is growing in size...

With more big names than you can shake a script at, you would expect a good film with strong performances. Wouldn't you? The first third is instantly forgettable; the plot crawls along on its hands and knees, pleading for some life to be pumped into it, and the dialogue is stilted as if nobody quite knows what to do with themselves.

Just when you begin to despair, the pace picks up. Richard Widmark stomps up and down trying to look important, and Michael Caine, sounding exactly as he does in every other film, finally gains a purpose. You just long for him to say, "You're only supposed to blow up the bloody bees!"

The slow motion swimming impressions seen when the bees attack the first small town is hilarious. Richard Chamberlain goes one step further with his Saturday Night Fever disco dance when the bees find their way into a nuclear power station. Although comical, it's also sad; Chamberlain is a marvellous actor woefully under-utilised here.

This is the second movie in succession I have reviewed where flame-throwers have come into play. In this one, it is decided by officialdom to set Houston ablaze after it has been evacuated and the bees have arrived. Budgetary restraints means this consists of a dozen men torching a single car and waving the flame-throwers aimlessly in the air. When the bees infiltrate the Houston building in which our heroes lie, the flame-throwers are again brought into action, this time inside, causing pandemonium as people are accidentally set ablaze and, in their panic, bump into others, so spreading the conflagration. I didn't know whether to laugh at this scene or be horrified.

There's a nice little scene between Caine and Fonda about beer and pizza, but most of the film's dialogue is cringe-worthy and inspires laughter for the wrong reasons. "Can we really count on a scientist who prays?" a character enquires of Widmark. "I wouldn't count on one who doesn't," is the reply. Apparently the movie had a dialogue coach; I'll bet it was a 32-seater.

I seem to be giving the impression The Swarm is unworthy of consideration, when that's really not the case. It's just that with director Irwin Allen's pedigree of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, you can't help wondering how much better it might have been.

The piece de resistance comes when the final credits roll. A disclaimer in case the honey bee wants to take the film makers to court for defamation of character: "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hardworking American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation." How about that for political correctness before its time!

Ty Power


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