Alligator (1980, Lewis Teague)

Alligator has quite a few things going for it. Lead Robert Forster is great, Robin Riker’s solid as his love interest and sidekick, John Sayles’s script has some excellent moments in it (some of them just being the attention he pays to Forster and Riker’s relationship), the giant alligator effects are solid, Larry Bock and Ron Medico’s editing is outstanding. Unfortunately, director Teague is a bit of a liability. He doesn’t direct actors well, he doesn’t set up shots well, he doesn’t understand scale when it comes to the giant alligator. The film is also shooting Los Angeles for Chicago, which comes off as pointless since there’s nothing Chicago about the film except the casting. They don’t even have second unit shots of Chicago. They shoot second unit against the mountains. Teague’s lack of ability and imagination with the budget hurt immensely.

Other problems–let’s just get them out of the way now–include the score and the plotting. Craig Huxley’s score rip-offs the Jaws theme way too obviously, but then the rest of the music is bad too so it’s not like it should be a surprise. Joseph Mangine’s photography is generally competent–especially given the amount of sewer shots–but lacks personality. Even though Forster and Riker have personality, Alligator doesn’t.

There’s some nice supporting work from Henry Silva as the absurd great white hunter. He comes off the best besides the leads. Dean Jagger is pretty lame as the evil industrialist who unintentionally creates the giant alligator because he’s an evil industrialist. I’m assuming Jagger’s part was supposed to be humorous, but Teague doesn’t have an ear for comedy. At all.

Michael V. Gazzo should be better as Forster’s boss. The only thing Teague does reliably is direct Gazzo’s scenes worse than anything else in the film. Perry Lang’s okay as a young beat cop, Bart Braverman’s okay as the noisy reporter. If the film just had more perfectly okay performances… well, it would still have all the problems Teague brings to it.

It’s hard to dislike Alligator, but only because of Forster, Riker and the film’s somewhat reluctant concentration on their relationship. Oh, and Silva. Silva’s really amusing. And you want to like Gazzo’s performance. It’s just not well-directed enough to get over the budget issues and it’s not well-written enough to get over the directing issues and it’s not well-produced enough to get over any of it. It’s all right. For a giant alligator movie set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles without enough good supporting performances, tepid direction and a too wonky script, Alligator is all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli; director of photography, Joseph Mangine; edited by Larry Bock and Ron Medico; music by Craig Huxley; produced by Brandon Chase and Mark L. Rosen; released by Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

Starring Robert Forster (David Madison), Robin Riker (Dr. Marisa Kendall), Michael V. Gazzo (Chief Clark), Dean Jagger (Slade), Jack Carter (Mayor), Sydney Lassick (Gutchel), James Ingersoll (Helms), Bart Braverman (Kemp), Perry Lang (Kelly) and Henry Silva (Brock).


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