An advertising executive battles a giant, intelligent rat that has invaded his townhouse.
A low-rent horror flick from the early 1980s, Of Unknown Origin
comes across like a grisly, live-action version of Tom and Jerry
. Our inept hero is the ambitious, house-proud executive Bart Hughes (Peter Weller), who is left alone by his wife and son to complete a business proposal only to discover that he is sharing his apartment with a mischievous giant rat. Unable to trap or poison his foe, Hughes quickly descends into nightmare-haunted madness and thus the stage is set for a suspenseless battle of wits that is less cat-and-mouse than idiot-versus-rat.
Finding an angry rodent swimming in your toilet might be a pretty unpleasant prospect, but cinematically speaking it is far from terrifying. Created using jerky point-of-view shots and creature effects that range from incongruous real-life footage to button-eyed glove puppets, the rat is an unthreatening villain, despite Weller’s best efforts to react in abject horror when he finds the corners of his mail nibbled or his dry groceries spoiled. There are some unsuccessful attempts to make Hughes’ plight more immediate to the audience by references to real-life rat problems--he visits a library to research his enemy and finds some disturbing photographs of rat-attack victims and subsequently ruins a dinner party with a genuinely unsettling rant about infestation and plagues--but it is difficult to feel sorry for him when he can’t even muster the tenacity to track down a professional exterminator. By the time Weller gets caught in one of his own traps, you will probably be roo! ting for the rat anyway, and might take some pleasure from a ridiculous denouement in which, dressed in full battle-gear, he completely destroys his beloved apartment by clumsily chasing the elusive vermin with a nail-studded baseball bat. Gore Verbinski's genuinely hilarious Mousehunt did it with a lot more charm. --Paul Philpott