It’s Them! spliced into Die Hard, but on a minimal budget – with C. Thomas Howell toplining as an ex-con janitor who wears his hat backwards like an ‘80s sit-com reject and a supporting cast (Andrew Prine, Stella Stevens, Martin Kove) who’ve been working at this level since the 1970s.
When a bloody skeleton or two turn up in the shrubbery at a Los Angeles market garden, it turns out that some pot-plants recently imported along with smuggled Iraqui plutonium (!) harbour vicious ants which soon grown to the size of alsatians. The plants are now decorating an office building which, this being Saturday, has only a minimal staff of doomed maintenance folks, plus a bullying magazine editor (Stevens) and her meek assistant (Siri Baruc), an industrial spy (Brent Huff) who has left his teenage daughter (Whitney Sloan) in the garage while copying a disc and a four-person high-fashion photoshoot (!) taking place on the roof. The ants, attracted by sugar, eventually pop out of the woodwork and start eating people, though the immobile puppets and poor CGI fail to establish them as particularly threatening. Contrivances mean that there has to be liftshaft climbing, makeshift electrocution and abseiling between tall buildings (two dimwit models have to do this in flimsy lingerie, shot from below, with waving legs), while the gung ho rapid response commander (Kove) gloats that he’s going to set off poison bombs in the building before the survivors can be freed. A running joke has a tough-seeming government investigator (Tracy Brooks Swope) fainting dead away at the sight of bloody corpses – it’s not funny, but it’s better than Chick Vennera’s terrible Italian fashion photographer accent.
Fred Olen Ray, directing as Ed Raymond, keeps it moving and the Brett Thompson/Lisa Morton script has a few Cormanesque smart lines (Stevens’ dictum that a successful woman has to learn to run in heels), but it really could do with a greater sense of scale, not to mention even adequate effects and something approaching a grown-up attitude (there have been so many giant ant movies that you’d think all educated folk would know where formic acid comes from). A whole building is infested, but we only see the garage, the lobby, the lift-shaft and a single anonymous office – and setting it at a weekend seems more like a copout to avoid employing expensive extras than a suspense device. The characters are all pretty thin, and only old pro Prine – cast as the Sheriff – even tries to make his scenes convincing, for which he is rewarded with a pincer-to-the-neck death.