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Meet the Applegates Reviews

Director Michael Lehmann once again satirizes shallow, middle-class suburbanites in a film that borrows heavily from THE SWARM, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE FLY, as well as TV's "Saturday Night Live," "Married with Children," "Bewitched" and "The Simpsons," a touch of Kafka and Lehmann's own HEATHERS. But invention is lacking and, although potentially amusing as a television sketch, MEET THE APPLEGATES is a one-joke film that runs out of steam, and laughs, within the first 20 minutes. Threatened with extinction by the development of the rain forest and coming upon a Dick and Jane primer left behind by fleeing Peace Corp workers, a group of giant Brazilian Cocorada bugs transform themselves into the banal, idealized Applegate family and take up residence in an Ohio suburb. Dick Applegate (Ed Begley, Jr.) quickly lands a job in the local nuclear power plant--the plan being to detonate the power plant upon the arrival of "Aunt Bea" (Dabney Coleman); nuclear annihilation of mankind is to save the earth for the bugs. But soon enough, the Applegates fall prey to the temptations of middle-class suburbia--Dick has a fling with his secretary, Jane (Stockard Channing) becomes a credit card addict, their daughter gets pregnant and turns lesbian, their son becomes a pothead. As they capitulate to their desires, they come into conflict with interfering humans, whom they spin into cocoons and hide in their cellar. By the time Aunt Bea arrives, the Applegates have totally succumbed to consumerism and sympathize with the humans. Aunt Bea tunnels into the nuclear power plant and creates a meltdown, but Dick crushes Aunt Bea and saves the town. After that, the Applegates return to the Brazilian rain forest, where Jane starts a militant Bug Liberation Organization. Michael Lehmann plows the same satirical ground he picked over in HEATHERS. Instead, he opts for the crazed idea of bugs masquerading as insipid suburbanites. Aside from that rather lame joke, there is no point to the proceedings, except for a initiative for insect civil rights. Lehmann exhausts the joke possibilities early on, leaving the audience to digest howlers like "Okay crawlers. Rise and mutate." Although some jokes, such as Dick getting sexually excited over an article in Scientific American, are slightly amusing, it is not enough to sustain a feature film. For plot development, Lehmann resorts to the same hiding-of-the-victims shenanigans employed in HEATHERS. But when MEET THE APPLEGATES reaches its climax, the only surprise is that there is no climax. The victims emerge from their cocoons not much the worse for wear and the nuclear showdown is a bust. It's a pity Lehmann decided to go ahead with his dumb premise and then, creatively bankrupt, relied on over-used plotting and jokes lifted from Creepy Magazine. Shockingly, Ed Begley, Jr. is all too believable as a mutating bug, while Stockard Channing (THE FORTUNE, GREASE, HEARTBURN), a powerhouse Broadway actress consistently wasted by Hollywood, must rely on such thankless film roles to earn a living. Dabney Coleman literally phones in his performance and his anger as he calls the Applegates, wearing a dress, is palpable. MEET THE APPLEGATES is a puzzle. Was Lehmann hoping for an off-the-wall cult hit that could see him over the hurdle of HUDSON HAWK? Perhaps, but as with all intentionally produced cult films (AMAZON WOMEN OF THE MOON and PARENTS), the target audience never quite gels and the films become curios that end their runs in the discount racks of third-rate video stores. Lehmann's HEATHERS was a hip, satirical success, but MEET THE APPLEGATES is just HEATHERS with tentacles. After viewing it, the audience may want to reach for the Black Flag. (Adult situations, nudity.)