Directed by Stuart Gordon. Starring Chris McKenna ("Sean Crawley"), Kari Wuhrer ("Susan Gatley"), George Wendt ("Duke Wayne"), and Vernon Wells ("Becket"). Rated R.
Source: Region 1 DVD (The Asylum/First Look)
Running time: 01:42:07
A naive nobody named Sean is drawn into a world of criminal activity after a chance encounter with an electrician (George Wendt) who just so happens to moonlight as a strongarm for a corrupt businessman (Daniel Baldwin). What starts out as an opportunity to make some extra money by spying on a City Hall accountant turns deadly when Sean is coerced into committing murder. Seeing as he's never killed anyone before, it goes without saying that things get a bit sloppy. Turns out Sean's "employers" were using him and never intended on paying him the thirteen-thousand dollars he was promised, using the media coverage of the murder as an excuse to run him out of the city, but when Sean oversteps his boundaries and resorts to blackmail as a means of getting what's rightfully his, he winds up next on their hit-list.
The above synopsis doesn't really do the film justice, as KING OF THE ANTS (not to be confused with the other KING OF THE ANTS that came out the same year) goes to some really bizarre places that defy its familiar plot. Brutal violence, intense psychological torture, and out-of-place nightmarish imagery that would seem better suited for one of director Stuart Gordon's horror movies are just a few of the proverbial bodies of water that KING OF THE ANTS treads. However, outside of a few of the film's unconventional elements, the actual storytelling is too basic to warrant anything significant to chew on; it plays out pretty much like you'd expect, and it could be argued that the very scenes of torture, violence, and sex that make the film stand out are a cheap way of making what would be an otherwise forgettable movie worthwhile. Whatever the case, it works.
KING OF THE ANTS is based on a novel of the same name, which I haven't read. Had I known it was based on a novel beforehand, I wouldn't have bothered with it. It's not really fair to critique a film that's based on a book if you're not familiar with the source material, and in this case I can't really say how much of the horror movie elements are in fact Stuart Gordon's ideas or if they were actually in the book. Oh well. My bad! And, in case anyone's wondering, the title of the film is a reference to a line where George Wendt's character basically refers to Sean as an insect; at no point does Sean actually command a colony of ants to carry out his bidding, although I wouldn't have been completely against that, especially considering the predictable path the the film ultimately travels.
I wouldn't go so far as to call the acting in KING OF THE ANTS a "weak spot", but I do think the film would have benefited from some different casting choices. For obvious reasons, the presence of Daniel Baldwin just reeks of "second-rate", and even though Chris McKenna was fine in the lead role, I don't think he gives a strong enough of a performance to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders, and in general McKenna is quite uneven. On top of that, all of the main characters - including Sean - aren't very likable, with Kari Wuhrer, as the widow of the slain City Hall accountant, maybe being the exception by default since she's the only one in the film who isn't reprehensible in some way. Despite all of that, however, the cast is interesting. We get tons of scenery-chewing and nudity from Kari Wuhrer, but unfortunately this was filmed post implant-removal (they encapsulated a year earlier), Ron Livingston from OFFICE SPACE in an uncredited role, and Vernon Wells of COMMANDO and THE ROAD WARRIOR fame as one of Baldwin's goons.
In the event that you haven't seen this movie and decide to seek it out, be warned that there's lots of cock in the film. Not only do you see Chris McKenna's cock on a few occasions, but you also get to see Kari Wuhrer's cock (don't ask). In closing, even though KING OF THE ANTS is lacking in certain areas and somewhat underwhelming, it's an interesting curiosity in Stuart Gordon's filmography and, in my opinion, worth seeing for the truly bizarre second act of the film which features some spectacularly cruel violence.