It's not all too often that I get completely torn about a movie, but this was one of those situations. With a title as silly as 'Big Ass Spider!', one has to know that they're in for something pretty laughable. It's a modern B movie, plain and simple. And with that, I got some good laughs, some good scares (there's a face-melting scene here that hit a nerve), but for some reason, I still feel a bit let down by it.
The whole thing opens with a very tragic-looking scene; emotional music playing, slow-mo, and our hero, Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) approaching the scene in the accompanying photo. It then flashes back to tell us the story of how he got there. The way it does it is very abrupt, and I felt like there wasn't really any set-up. The audience already knows they're there to see a "Big Ass Spider", and all this really did was show us the obvious before it got going. It may as well have just started, and it almost just felt like a spoiler.
Anyway, Alex is an exterminator, working in LA. One day on the job, he gets bitten by a spider and sent to the hospital for treatment. Meanwhile, in the hospital's morgue, rodent-sized spider pulls an 'Alien', bursts out of a new cadaver's chest, and bites the mortician, resulting in... nothing much. The mortician brings the spider to the attention of the rest of the staff by pulling the fire alarm, which brings in some authority, led by Major Braxton Tanner (Ray Wise) and Lt. Karly Brant (Clare Kramer) who seems to know exactly what this spider is all about.
Alex offers to capture the spider if his hospital bill can be paid off in exchange for his services. He is assisted by a security guard named Jose (Lombardo Boyar), and together they discover that this spider seems to be growing in size. Come to find out that the spider is the result of a military experiment that involves mixing the DNA of a spider and an alien (giving the chest spider a whole new perspective, but don't worry, no ties to 'Alien' movies here).
That brings me to my next point - it's never explained why the military made this giant spider. The only thing my imagination can fill in the blank with is weaponization, otherwise I suppose it was just them pushing the big red button and saying "I wonder what would happen if I did this". It becomes unimportant and tossed aside because the spider is growing exponentially, and about to terrorize the city. Can the spider expert and the security guard help the military to stop the spider before it becomes too much to handle?
This is a difficult one for me because the bad and the good are almost equal extremes. On one hand, it delivers in laughs, scares (including not terribly cheap jumps), and only promises its audience exactly what the title suggests. As mentioned before, you can't go into a movie with a title like this and expect to be blown away. On the other hand, some of the issues I had are big deals to me. The opportunity for an explanation behind this creature was there, even if the explanation was stupid, we never got a "why" answer.
I'm also still a bit baffled by the beginning. I could see the filmmakers wanting to have a big reveal at the beginning if the trailers didn't give us anything, but they did. Generally, a beginning like this is meant to set up the story you're about to see, but this was just a long, drawn-out visual that honestly felt like filler. It's a weird thing to get under my skin, but it does - just get going with the movie, unless you have something to say first.
Criticisms and nitpicking aside, however, the overall product is still a fun, creepy crawly time, and it's probably just about as violent as one would want it to be as a PG-13 flick. It had a very limited theatrical run, and critics seemed to eat it up, seeing it as the fun, senseless thrill ride that it is. Meanwhile, audiences faltered in its overall fandom for various reasons. It's odd to see a movie so split where critics have a higher opinion, but it does happen the odd time.
As for myself, despite my overall criticism, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun, or said I wouldn't ever watch it again. I do have a soft spot for these 8-legged creature features, and I can't really explain why. Perhaps it's because I'm not particularly arachnophobic (though they make me hesitate to visit Australia any time soon), but they are just creepy enough when monsterized that I get a creepy crawly kick out of it. If spiders do freak you out, you should know that this is no walk in the park, and you might be better off with something like 'Eight Legged Freaks'. But if you're on the lookout for a decent brain-out-the-window horror comedy, it's not a bad place to look.