Rock Monster

Given how awful Sci Fi's Saturday-night movies tend to be, it took a polite email from the director to inspire a look at something titled "Rock Monster."

With:
Jason - Chad Collins Cassandra - Natalie Denise Sperl Toni - Alicia Lagano Dimitar - David Figlioli The Colonel - Jon Polito

Given how awful Sci Fi’s Saturday-night movies tend to be, it took a polite email from the director to inspire a look at something titled “Rock Monster.” Consider it a pleasant surprise, then, that co-writer-helmer Declan O’Brien has conjured up an amusing yarn on a shoestring budget, with a beast that resembles the geological formation Tim Allen fought in “Galaxy Quest” chasing a college slacker through the woods near a small Bulgarian town. Despite the modest aspirations of these movies, it’s refreshing to see what a little wit and obvious affection for the genre can do.

Jason (Chad Collins) is backpacking through an unidentified part of Eastern Europe when he and his doofus companions find a sword rather irresistibly sticking out of a stone. Far from Arthurian legend, though, pulling it out awakens a rock-formed monster, the subject of an ancient curse that improbably circles back to Jason’s long-lost ancestors.

Because the mostly male viewers home watching Sci Fi on Saturday nights are perceived to be bloodthirsty morons, this leads to a few rather graphic killings. Yet O’Brien elevates the material with several knowing winks to movies such as “Jaws” (Jon Polito, as a crusty old general, channels a Robert Shaw speech) and “An American Werewolf in London” (pub revelers sour at the sight of these Yankee intruders).

At the action’s core, too, is not just an unlikely and reluctant hero in Jason — the seven-year, 10-major Cal Poly student who quickly woos an exotic local girl (Natalie Denise Sperl) — but also his capable gal friend Toni (Alicia Lagano), who both finds her own boy toy and exhibits an amusing fondness for very, very big guns.

Not surprisingly, the “Rock Monster” narrative becomes a bit wobbly by the time it reaches its climactic section, but it’s still a cut above most of these movies, which tend to have a mailed-in quality. Too bad the channel’s programmers didn’t recognize as much, scheduling the telepic against CBS’ NCAA basketball coverage in much of the country — March Madness is one of the few events a broadcaster can rely upon to attract a substantial young-male audience on Saturday night.

Chalk it up charitably to the fact that after you grow accustomed to watching so many bad movies, sometimes it’s hard to remember what a decent one looks like.

Rock Monster

Sci Fi Channel, Sat. March 22, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Bulgaria by Sci Fi Pictures. Executive producer, T.J. Sakasegawa; producers, Jeffery Beach, Phillip Roth; line producer, John Cappilla; director, Declan O'Brien; writers, Berkeley Anderson, Ron Fernandez, O'Brien; story by Fernandez.

Crew: Camera, Anton Bakarski; production designer, Borislav Michailovski; editor, Matt Michael; music, Tom Hiel; visual effects, Jivko Ivanov, Martin Marchev, Aleksandar Yochkolovski; casting, Rob Richards, Jonas Talkington. Running Time: 120 MIN.

Cast: Jason - Chad Collins Cassandra - Natalie Denise Sperl Toni - Alicia Lagano Dimitar - David Figlioli The Colonel - Jon Polito

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