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97 min.
Release Date

Rogue is about an Australian river tour that accidentally trolls its way into the terrain of a massive crocodile. Oops. The notably restrained thriller provides one or two solid jumps, some cringe-inducing deaths, and a surprisingly well-animated computer-generated monster. Produced by the Weinstein Company’s seemingly exclusive horror offshoot Dimension, there’s reasonable production value backing this beast. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one-hundred-percent When Animals Attack: The Movie formula.

American travel writer Peter (Michael Vartan) arrives at a lame vacationer spot in the middle of the Australian outback to take the aforementioned tour. The tour guide (Radha Mitchell) informs her guests at length about croc dangers; we see an overabundance of National Geographic-worthy photography capturing the beautiful landscape, the occasional pair of reptilian eyes peeking up from under the water. Without a doubt, something is going to happen. Much of film’s first half is in killer croc-movie denial, pointlessly telling us the backstories of tour-boat attendants that will likely be dead soon.

On the way back, one of them notices a flare in the distance. Doing the responsible thing and checking it out, the tour moves to an unfamiliar vein off the main river. Suddenly, the boat’s rather large back end is knocked virtually into the air, whatever hit it leaving a gaping hole in the hull. The tour guide brings the boat in to a small islet in the middle of the river, as if to say, Come and get us whatever you are, we’re unprotected and stupid! You can rest assured, it does. One of them points out that they’ve been “tagged,” meaning the croc now recognizes them as a food source and will keep coming back to kill and store them in its lair one by one. Again we think about the unintelligent tour guide’s mistake on the islet, not to mention that we never learn who shot that infernal flare.

The movie has a few claims to fame that should be mentioned. Playing the drunken hick Neil, newcomer Sam Worthington may not be a celeb you immediately recognize, but you will. He’s been cast in James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar and the new Terminator: Salvation alongside Christian Bale; both films are due in 2009. One wonders how he goes from playing a forgettable hick in a moody B-movie to being an A-list action star, because nothing about this or anything else in his career defends his credibility as a blockbuster draw, but I digress.

Australian writer-director Greg McLean last released Wolf Creek, a pseudo-true-story-turned-torture-porn shocker with seemingly no intention but to describe gory sequences of bloody suffering. Like his American equivalent Eli Roth (Hostel), I believe McLean could be a good filmmaker, if only he’d get his mind out of the gutter. From a technical standpoint, he’s constructing films with daring setups and impressive cinematography. Look at how McLean pays homage to Jaws, barely showing his monster until half the movie has passed. Suddenly, victims quietly disappear off the shoreline of their tiny island, only a shadow in the water to account for what happened. Regardless of his compositional merits, his scripts are unforgivably dumb. In one scene, one of the passengers trapped on the sandbar asks, “Why do you think it’s doing this?” Um, because it’s a killer crocodile? Sheesh.

And when it comes to killer croc movies, you’ve only got a few options, so you may as well watch this one. You could laugh along with the comedy stylings of Ally McBeal writer David E. Kelly’s foray into croc country (for him, Maine) with Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, and Brendan Gleeson in the motor-mouthed Lake Placid. Or you might endure Primeval, a thriller advertised as serial killer yarn, wherein the subject turned out to be a killer croc. Hell, you might even catch the similarly-themed double-feature of Dinocroc and Supercroc, as both concern a dino-crocodile awaking after millions of years and chomping on people-snacks (the results are a lot less cool than their description).

Whenever a movie like this tries so hard, taking itself seriously the whole way through, you have to give it some props. Rogue could have been lined with cheap laughs and blood dripping from every frame, which, depending on your tolerance for such things, might’ve been entertaining. Instead, McLean creates an atmosphere perhaps paying homage to fellow Aussie filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth), complete with ponderous stares at grasshoppers and the surrounding foliage. Then again, that killer-croc angle brings it down. It’s like a three-legged horse that’ll never be as fast or elegant as others in the race; there’s no way it’ll thrive, but it’s an admirable effort.

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