Bigfoot

Bigfoot debuts tonight on Syfy at 9 p.m. Eastern.

This week’s Saturday night cheese platter, Bigfoot, is at least half-a-cut above other Asylum/Syfy co-productions, such as Almighty Thor and Mega Piranha. It’s an unmitigated piece of crap, but in its clumsy way, it makes an effort to deliver the goods. Like Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, arguably the best big-monster movie of recent years, it doesn’t go for that technique of building up suspense (and trying to conceal the limits of the special-effects budget) by postponing the audience’s first clear view of the menace. Set in South Dakota, it’s only a few minutes old before the title character looms up and takes charge of the screen. Unlike the usual furry, linebacker-sized humanoid, this Bigfoot looks like an elongated version of John Landis’ moth-eaten monkey costume in Schlock, and stands as tall as King Kong. (He steps on people and squishes them with his literal “big foot.”) It used to be that the best compliment you could pay a TV-movie was that it actually looked like a movie; The best compliment I can pay Bigfoot is that it actually looks like a dumb TV-movie, instead of a demo reel made over the weekend by the producer’s kids, to show to investors looking for an easy tax write-off. Maybe it says something about Syfy’s faith in their product this time that they settled for such a generic title, after such hard-sell marquee items as Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid and Dinocroc Vs. Supergator.

Bigfoot is actually Danny Partridge Vs. Greg Brady. The movie’s real selling point is a master stroke of stunt casting intended to turn the whole thing into an over-the-top pop-culture joke (like the channel’s recent, and deeply unclean, Jersey Shore Shark Attack). Danny Bonaduce is the film’s villain, and Barry Williams is its… co-villain, or maybe just its nuisance. Their characters used to be in a rock band that had a hit but disintegrated in the 1980s, and now each of them is still trying to get something over on the other, though they’re not above scheming together to using their public feud to their benefit. They have plenty of grounds for hating each other: For one thing, Bonaduce once slept with Williams’ mother. Whenever Bonaduce taunts Williams about this, which happens a lot, you immediately form an involuntary mental image of Bonaduce on top of Florence Henderson, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do. The movie has a nominal heroine (a deputy sheriff, played by Sherilyn Fenn, who learns that, years ago, Bigfoot whacked her dad), but she’s secondary to the two warring goons, and by the end, Fenn is just standing around in cutaways, watching the real action happen to somebody else. (Her boss and mentor, the sheriff, is played by Bruce Davison, who also directed; Davison may have seen this project as a chance to get paid for an inside joke, given that he starred in, and directed a few episodes of, the TV sitcom version of Harry And The Hendersons.) 

Bonaduce’s character is a cynical, environmentalist-baiting radio host who is trying to put on an “’80s flashback” music festival as part of his efforts to jump-start his own career, while Williams is a sanctimonious “tree-hugger” who causes trouble by showing up at the festival site with his posse of worshipful young groupies and chaining them to the ground-clearing equipment. When Bonaduce sees Williams, he shouts, “Simon Quinn, are you kidding me?”—so we in the audience will know that Williams’ character name is “Simon Quinn,” see? In response, Williams shouts back, “The desecration stops now, Daniel Henderson,” presumably so we’ll know that Bonaduce’s character’s name is Daniel Henderson, except that the rest of the movie pretty well establishes that his first name is actually supposed to be “Harley.” I guess Williams slipped and called Bonaduce by his real name, and if anyone pointed this out to Davison on the set, he shrugged and said, “To hell with it, we’ll fix it in post-production.” Probably when the film was in post-production, whoever had the keys to the sound department was in a hurry to get home for dinner. Williams also calls Bonaduce “a pathetic excuse for a musician whose only talent is the manipulation of others with sinister lies to propagate his own self-image.” To which Bonaduce replies, “Wow, that sounds bad when you say it.”

In fact, it sounds pretty bad when either of these guys says anything. Williams has developed a craggy handsomeness that might be quite captivating onscreen if some depth came with it. But his solemn hangdog expression never varies, even when Fenn tasers him in the neck just to shut him up. And he clearly has no idea what kind of tone he’s supposed to find for his character, who tries to get publicity for himself by taking on the role of Bigfoot’s defender, talking to TV cameras about the creature’s inherent beauty and nobility after the monster, bestirred by Bonaduce’s music festival, comes running out of the woods, picking up people and tearing them apart like fresh bread. 

Bonaduce’s performance is a whole other level of rank. I was a fan of the reality series Breaking Bonaduce, an amazing show that went beyond exploitation (and self-exploitation) into some scary, galvanizing realm of meta-documentary. (In the course of filming, Bonaduce attempted suicide, then agreed to go through rehab only if the series remained in production.) On that show, and in many of his public appearances on talk shows and tabloid documentaries, Bonaduce came across as a smart, funny, self-aware guy who had no control over anything in his life except for one thing: magnetizing the viewer’s attention with his self-loathing self-regard. He may not have known how to hold his life together, but he seemed to understand better than most how his media image works. So it’s surprising that, cast here in a man-you-love-to-hate role in a Syfy TV-movie, he doesn’t just take it easy and be his usual perversely entertaining self. He tries to act, and he tries too hard, expostulating and grimacing and delivering every line so that you expect a river of saliva to form at the bottom of the TV screen. I don’t know if just being Danny Bonaduce is easier or harder than acting, but I know he’s better at the former than the latter, and he’s the only person who can do it at all. 

The only actor in Bigfoot who seems to be having any fun is The Wire’s Andre Royo, who plays the master hunter Bonaduce brings in to help him catch the monster. (“I’m either gonna bag him or cage him,” Bonaduce boasts, “or stuff him and mount him.” Those are the only choices? Am I the only person who wonders how Bigfoot would taste chicken-fried?) Royo’s role doesn’t finally come to much either, but at least he hits the ground running and puts some juice into his line readings, as if he were jazzed to be out in the woods being all alpha-male and battling a special effect. And he does have one great capper to his big action scene: He and Bonaduce ride a snowmobile out into the woods and encounter Bigfoot, who grabs Royo’s assistants and shreds them into confetti. Royo lobs a grenade and heads for the hills. When they reach safety, Bonaduce notices that he seems kind of somber and asks if everything’s all right. Royo looks down and mutters, “Roger had kids.” (Bonaduce himself gets one line almost worthy of a good James Bond movie. He telephones the workers at his site and someone answers just as Bigfoot storms out and starts smashing, kicking, crushing, and biting the heads off people. “I can’t hear you,” says Bonaduce. “You’re breaking up.”) 

The movie’s other trouper is Alice Cooper, who has a cameo as himself, booked to perform at Bonaduce’s music festival. Alice looked a little forlorn in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, as if he didn’t mind making fun of himself but didn’t see why he couldn’t also have some dialogue. He has some here: When Bonaduce tells him the two of them go way back, Cooper replies, “I’ve known you for two minutes, and I don’t even like you,” adding, “I came here to promote my book on golf. You know that.” Alice is pissed off because he’s being asked to go onstage and entertain a crowd of what looks to be about eight people. The real joke, which I hope is an intentional one, is that, because this is an Asylum/Syfy movie, there wouldn’t be any more people in that crowd even if the festival was supposed to be a roaring success.

Stray observations:

  • The final showdown takes place on Mount Rushmore, and in its efforts to mess with sasquatch, the U.S. military blows Abraham Lincoln’s face off the monument. Happy Fourth of July from Syfy!