(Trailer.) The first feature-length film of long-time television director Michael Katleman, Primeval is a greater whole than the sum of its parts; one of those films that should annoy far more than it does, that should be far worse than it is. (A feat of note, considering that the film also features Jürgen Prochnov, an actor whose involvement is usually a sure sign of no quality.) The basic concept of Primeval is extremely familiar, and one can easily imagine that the film was first pitched as “Well, imagine Lake Placid (1999/trailer) in Africa…." But this initial impression is wrong, for Katleman's film is in-part based on true fact: There is indeed a legendary man-eater swimming the waters of Burundi's Rusizi River and Lake Tanganyiki that should be some 20 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds; it supposedly even kills people just for the fun of it, and not out of hunger. (Full story here.)
In any event, the somewhat schizophrenic screenplay by the writing team John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris—the duet behind the scripts to such undisputed masterpieces (not) as Cat Woman (2004/trailer) and Terminator 3:Rise of the Machines (2003/trailer)—actually manages retain one’s interest despite the slow beginning, some lulls in the action, and occasional predictability. To the film’s advantage, the dialogue is even mildly funny at times (with Orlando Jones as Steven Johnson usually having the best delivery and best lines), and the 93-minute running length even flits by at a decent speed. But then director Katleman is a man of obvious experience, for his fluid and well-paced direction does wonders for the flow of the film, even if he does seem to lose control of the editing scissors whenever there is a big action scene, most of which are more appearance than substance, although there are a few bloody highpoints that might make more than one viewer cringe.
In Primeval, South Africa stands in for Burundi, one of the ten poorest countries in the world, where an estimated 250,000 people died between 1962 and 1993, and the locations are often as fabulous as the filmmaker’s use of filters. The plot is familiar: Three stereotypical characters (news reporters) go to Burundi to catch Gustave the killer croc on film. Hooking up with the grizzled poacher (Prochnov), a Crocodile-Dundy-type zoologist and a local orphan youth, the shaky political climate explodes around them when they catch the murder of the local wise man by the warlord called Little Gustave on film. Before they know what’s happening, both Gustaves are hot on their asses and one-by-one most of those expected to die do so...
Primeval gets a few brownie points for trying to inject some liberal politicizing in what is basically a killer-croc B-film. (They may have not done it all too well, but at least they tried.) As always with contemporary B-films, however, the babe (Brooke Langton as Aviva Masters) remains spectacularly underused. She might look good in her "tight-fitting, midriff-baring top, and bum-tight pants," but damn it, Primeval is by nature a trash film, and trash films by nature require more naked flesh—and this film doesn’t have any. Not even naked African babes dancing around the campfire. Even during the attempted rape scene, when the big bad man rips off Aiviva's tight top, he somehow manages to leave her white sports bra unscathed. (Now how would this scene have been handled in the 70s, the Golden Age of Exploitation? No bra, no shirt, and the entire fight scene done topless—Now that’s good trash filmmaking!) No brownie points for Primeval here, in any event...
Final verdict: Primeval is well-produced but inconsequential, a film that is inferior to many, but better than even more. If it’s cold and raining outside, you could do worse.
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