Primeval

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Primeval."

NEW YORK -- This horror flick from the Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Pictures -- opened Friday with sufficient stealth to merit it a place in the Witness Protection Program -- claims to be "inspired by a true story of the world's most prolific killer." But the killer in this case is no Hannibal Lecter but rather a giant African crocodile boasting the rather benign sounding name of Gustave. A low-rent monster movie that could well have been released by American International in the early 1970s, "Primeval" boasts a level of cheesiness that should well merit it a regular rotation on late-night cable.

The killer croc, which, we are ominously informed at the end, still is at large, dines regularly on the hapless natives who dare to cross his path. In pursuit of him for a big story are three journalists: Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell of Fox's "Prison Break"), all too eager to get out of the country after a recent professional disgrace; Steven Johnson (Orlando Jones), his wisecracking cameraman; and Aviva Masters (Brooke Langton), a comely young reporter who seems to be enjoying favored status because of her relationship with a top executive.

They are accompanied, in true "Jaws" fashion, by the crocodile hunter Quint, uh, Jacob Krieg (Jurgen Prochnow), who has a past relationship with the monster, and Hooper, uh, Matthew Collins (Gideon Emery), a "herpetologist" whose scientific methods aren't much help when you're being pursued by a rampaging beast who can tear you into pieces with one bite.

Not helping matters is the fact that the African country in question is embroiled in a civil war, resulting in a series of nasty skirmishes with various bloodthirsty government soldiers and guerrillas.

Several live animals, as well as one misguided member of the hunting party, are served up as bait -- "He'll come running with a hard on" proves to be a less than prophetic statement -- and it isn't long before the nasty Gustave is enjoying tasty meals made up of several of the supporting characters.

John Brancato and Michael Ferris' screenplay is strictly by the numbers, with such quips as Jones' "I feel like a pork chop on Queen Latifah's dinner plate" feeling decidedly like improvisational toss-offs. Michael Katleman's direction is equally derivative, and Gustave, when he finally makes his appearances, looks less like a real crocodile than a refugee from Jurassic Park.

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