(Eric Laneuville, USA, 1994)


The movies that Sam Raimi has directed (Crimewave [1985], Army of Darkness [1993]) as well as those that he has left his indelible mark upon as collaborator (including the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy [1994]) exhibit an infectious and unique sense of humour. Raimi displays a boyish enthusiasm for corny action-melodrama, and he is a master at serving it up at once energetically and ironically.

M.A.N.T.I.S. appears to be the pilot episode of a prospective TV series; Raimi is its executive producer and co-writer. Its central image of a masked, technologically enhanced avenger cleaning up the mean streets resembles both the Robocop series and Raimi's Darkman (1990). What makes it special, however, is the game manner in which it incorporates many familiar elements from the New Black Cinema of Spike Lee or John Singleton.

Directed by Eric Laneuville (Stolen Babies, 1993), this fable of urban conflict on the political, racial and sexual levels is at its most outrageous when it simulates newsreel footage of the 1991 Los Angeles riots, placing its fictional characters at the epicentre of the storm. Events that movies such as Boyz n the Hood (1991) or South Central (1992) render in a social-realist vein – drive-by shootings and gang war violence – are here flourished like lurid panels in an agitprop comic strip.

The plot, mixing street action with a modern love story for the urban professional set, is full of pleasing twists and reversals. And M.A.N.T.I.S. himself (the name stands for Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System) is an idiosyncratically laid-back crime fighter. Preferring to freeze rather than kill his victims, he glides over the city tossing out bon mots: "I don't carry offensive weapons. It's a philosophical thing."

MORE Raimi: For Love of the Game, Evil Dead, The Gift, A Simple Plan, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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