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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Killer Buzz
Killer Buzz
Fox // R // April 20, 2004
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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"Maniac! You didn't do what I think you did."
"Ann? Hi, how are you?"
"You didn't do it, did you?"
"You haven't read about the honey shortage in New York, have you? It's a terrible thing."
"Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea what those bees can do?"
"Do I know what they can do? Sweetheart, you were covered with stings from them, and your tissue healed at a remarkable rate. You know, by all rights, you should be dead now."
"More times than you'll know."
"Do you have any idea what this little find will be worth to the pharmaceutical community? And I'm sure you understand this couldn't possibly be trusted to some third world facility. Oh no, only the best for my...little beauties."
"You sick monkey! You've got to..."
"Ssssskkkxxxzz! Oh, Ann, we're breaking up. I think we're going into a tunnel. Look, when I get to New York, I'll give you a buzz."


Killer Buzz is about killer bees on an airplane. There's more to the premise, but that's really all I needed to know. See, I grew up terrified by the prospect of killer bees. It seems like a distant memory now, but I remember news reports fifteen years ago where a map of the country would be splashed on the screen, awash in red as the imminent domination of the U.S. by killer bees was charted. Unwilling to lay down subservient to my bee-masters, I, at ten years old, declared the only thing I wanted for Christmas that year was a beekeeper's suit to protect myself from the approaching winged army. I taped The Savage Bees and Terror Out of the Sky off USA Up All Night, scouring every frame for clues. Would I be able to dupe the bees into following me into whatever the Orange Park equivalent of the Superdome was? If my dog ran head-on into a rampaging swarm, would I be able to save him? Fortunately, these were questions I never had the opportunity to answer, since it turned out that the media had slightly overestimated the presence killer bees would have in the years to come. Still, my fascination remained, and...yeah, killer bees on a plane. That's a movie I knew I had to see.

So, Killer Buzz. The movie is set in Brazil, where tribesmen are duking it out with government forces over the fate of their land. With billions upon billions of dollars at stake, energy conglomorates are decimating everything in their path, poisoning what they don't explicitly destroy. This battle is being chronicled by reporter Ann Baurer (Gabrielle Anwar), who gets caught in the crossfire. After taking a hit from a soldier during an expressly prohibited late night stroll, Ann finds herself surrounded by a swarm of bees and fog-bathed tribesmen before the fade to black. When next we see Ann, she's in a hospital under the care of Dr. Steven North (David Naughton), who seizes the opportunity to awkwardly smooch his comatose crush and encourages her to "get well soon, sexy." North is intrigued by the insect bites that pepper her chest, and since the charts show that some sort of toxin is responsible for Ann's remarkably fast healing, Doc decides to hunt down the buggers. He stumbles upon a sealed case of what sounds like bees, and certain that their venom would prove to be the next Vicodin, or whatever it is that I get 3,872 e-mails about daily, North smuggles a crate onto a plane bound for New York. He's joined by Ann's soon-to-be-ex-husband Martin (Craig Sheffer), a geeky genius computer whiz (Adam Wylie) and the surfer girl he's pining over (Lisa Wilhoit), along with a cast of assorted extras and red shirts. The bees eventually get loose thanks to some checked luggage painfully and continually telegraphed earlier, and Martin, who's given unfettered access to the pilot's cabin, does his damndest to live up to the heroics implied by his third billing. Ann, meanwhile, scours the rainforest with her cameraman to track down the legendary Shadow Men, who she believes possess a serum that can cure the devastating sting of the bees. There is, of course, a nefarious scheme behind all of this, and Ezekial (Rutger Hauer), its deranged, heavily-armed chief flunky, is willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to reclaim the stolen crate and destroy any outsider who's come in contact with it.

Killer Buzz looks, sounds, and feels like a made-for-cable killer animal flick, something that would be right at home sandwiched between They Crawl and Octopus 2: River of Fear at 3 PM on a Saturday afternoon on the Sci-Fi Channel. There's no gore, no nudity (although one scene with a sweat-drenched Anwar leaves little to the imagination), little explicit language, and hardly any blood. There really aren't even that many bees. Dozens of explosions, some leaving me wondering if the same shots had been captured from varying angles, sure, but not an overabundance of bees. Aside from instances where a single insect is being closely watched, the critters are primarily unconvincing CGI. The first real bee attack doesn't occur until just over half an hour in, and their body count is almost non-existent. Ezekial and his men (and the onslaught of explosions that follow in their wake) are a much more prevalent and lethal adversary than the bees, but then again, maybe that's some sort of underlying allegory. Nah, probably not. Despite the number of wounds and insect bites, make-up effects are sparse. Aside from some char-broiled tribesmen and glimpses of welts on Ann's chest, the majority of the injuries are suggested either by facial expressions or trickles of blood from the eyes of the bees' victims. Some of the attacks are shoehorned in. The first to fall on the plane is a guy who leaps in front of some bathroom-bound passengers for an emergency shave, but the most memorable would have to be Sandy's pal, who makes sure to enunciate and extend that "oh my GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD" for as wide and as long as possible to ensure a sufficiently large enough number of bees have ample opportunity to dart into her mouth.

Although the leads are all actors with respectably long resumés, the performances are spotty. Gabrielle Anwar seems to be trying too hard in the role of the plucky female lead, while David Naughton hams it up to a near-Voight level as the money-hungry doctor. Rutger Hauer revels in another in what's quickly becoming a long line of standard-issue villain roles, but at least he's tackled these sorts of characters frequently enough that he seems more comfortable in those shoes than Naughton. It'd be easy to poke fun at Adam Wylie and Lisa Wilhoit, prospective love interests who have nothing resembling chemistry, but I'm doubtful anyone could carry some of this dialogue. While waiting for the first guy to keel over on the plane, Adam asks Martin for some advice about the fairer sex. "Do you understand women? I mean, like, how to treat them so that they'll like you." "I'll tell you what. You give me your number, and when I figure women out, I'll call you." Adam excitedly responds, "Great!" "Yeah. So expect a call in, like...never." Adam's hopes are dashed, and he sullenly looks at Martin, crestfallen. No matter how socially inept Adam is -- and speaking as a socially inept Adam, I speak from experience -- no one with more than a couple dozen firing synapses would ever buy such a dumb line. There's also Sandy's heroic battle cry as she squares off against a swarm of bees with a fire extinguisher: "Eat this! And that! Come on, you want a piece of this? And that! You want some of this? You don't want none of this! Come and get some of this. Take that, and that!" Craig Sheffer easily puts in the best performance of the bunch. His filmography includes a couple of Turbulence sequels, so maybe this sort of premise is old hat for him.

Any movie that basically opens with tribal men wielding machine guns, large pointy sticks, and flaming arrows...a movie with tray table-fu from a ball-busting stewardess...sounds like it couldn't miss. Unfortunately, Killer Buzz feels almost like a rough draft hammered out on the red-eye to L.A., frequently either making little sense or repetitively hammering a well-established point into the ground. There's quite a bit of exposition, apparently designed to accomodate viewers who might have flipped around a little too much during commercial breaks. We're occasionally reminded that Ann is a reporter and that her job demands that she place herself in harm's way for the sake of her viewers back home. Martin introduces himself to both North and his wife in extremely similar ways, and Sandy keeps prattling on about her surfboard in her first scene. Entire passages of dialogue are rendered unnecessary, and their inclusion wasn't strictly for padding either since Killer Buzz runs around 100 minutes. Extensive suspension of disbelief is also required. Most shots of the bee-cases are accompanied by a fifty-decibal buzz, and it's made clear that violent jolts send the insects into a murderous rage. The sole exception is when North is trying to sneak a crate of exceedingly well-behaved and entirely silent bees onto the plane. At one point, Martin peeks through a gap in the blanket barrier separating the largely empty plane's passengers from imminent doom, yet the bees that bombard the sheets seem to be unable to slip through that massive slot, even though the next shot shows the blankets nearly bursting from pressure. Although I'm admittedly not terribly familiar with modern aircraft, I don't know how many allow a user to plug in a laptop, use a program that displays a stream of apparently randomly generated numbers to duplicate a signal that uniquely identifies the plane, cause a wireframe of the craft to split into multiple parts, and confuse a guided missile. Also, just to recap: Ezekial is a bad guy. Ann and Martin begin the movie having had a pretty severe falling-out. Sandy dismissively mocks the overly-aggressive Adam for the first hour or whatever. Any idea what'll happen before credits roll? A quick hint -- one of those three results in the stiffest, least passionate kiss ever captured on celluloid.

Killer Buzz isn't unredeemably awful, but it's neither good enough nor bad enough to stand out above similar genre fare. Its release on DVD is similarly unremarkable, offering a full-frame presentation, stereo audio, a trailer, and little else.

Video: Killer Buzz is presented full-frame, presumably its intended aspect ratio. It's an okay transfer -- wider shots are lacking in fine detail, there's more speckling than there really should be in this recent a production, and there's a dollop of shimmer and aliasing. None of these flaws are particularly distracting, and overall, the movie looks incrementally sharper and more colorful than I'd expect from an appearance on cable TV. Decent, but unremarkable.

Audio: The material seems tailor-made for Dolby Digital 5.1, with swarms of insects buzzing around and innumerable explosions. The Dolby stereo surround audio, encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps, is adequate, but the movie would've benefitted from having discrete surrounds and a more thunderous low-end at its disposal. The rears kick in frequently and to decent effect, though some of the earlier moments sounded like they were duplicating activity from the front speakers rather than reinforcing it. Bass is passably decent, though the rumble from my subwoofer rarely seemed to match the scale of the explosions engulfing every square inch of the screen. The film's dialogue is clear and discernable, and I didn't spot any hiss or distortion lurking anywhere in the mix. It's a decent track, but one I think would've gone over a lot better if it had six channels on-hand. A Spanish stereo surround dub and closed captions have also been provided.

Supplements: The only extra is a full-frame trailer that runs just under a minute in length. The DVD sports a set of static 4x3 menus, and the movie has been divided into twenty-four chapters.

Conclusion: Although Killer Buzz is cheap, widely available online for under $10 shipped, I'd suggest waiting for its inevitable appearance on cable or skipping it entirely.
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