Picks and Pans Review: Arachnophobia

updated 07/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jeff Daniels, John Goodman

Don't be fooled by the second-thoughts marketing campaign trying to palm this film off as a spoof. It is decently diverting, but it is a 1950s-style monster movie, creepy crawlers included, not a parody.

There are some jokes. Goodman, as a slobby exterminator, broadly overplays his role, attacking spiders with spray guns holstered like six-shooters. One character jokes that another's family-dominated business suggests nepotism and is told, straight-faced. "Actually, we're Baptists."

Daniels and Harley Jane (Parenthood) Kozak (see page 84) play a doctor and his wife who move to a small California town to escape urban woes and find an epidemic of superpoisonous spiders. There are false scares, a blood-gushing stomach wound, stock characters galore (including monster-loving scientist Julian Sands) and lots of toxic spiders.

It's all beneath Daniels, Goodman and especially Kozak (whose role as helpless-woman-standing-by is from the '50s too). Maybe it's basically a workout for Steven Spielberg's producing partner Frank Marshall, whose directing debut this is.

He opens with a lushly photographed location sequence showing a spider-hunting trip to Venezuela, then goes through motions familiar to anyone who has seen, say, the 1955 film Tarantula. Daniels overcomes his fear of spiders too glibly under pressure, and the script by Don (Blue Thunder) Jakoby and Wesley (True Believer) Strick includes such straight lines without punch as "My God! They got the professor!"

The film's publicity has it that the spiders have an attitude. Actually, like a mildly funny variation on the old joke, they have eight legs and catch squirrels, cats and the odd character actor, but no flies. (PG-13)

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