After doing science on scorpions, stereotypes decide to take them for a trip on a commercial airliner. Things don't go as smoothly as you might expect.
Country: USA | Runtime: 93mins | Director: Paul Wynne
Starring: Robert Merrill, Laura Putney, Shirley Brener, Gulshan Grover, Tara Price
Scientists seeking a magical cure for all diseases splice prehistoric DNA into modern scorpions, then take the resulting ungodly abomination on a commercial airliner. It doesn’t go as smoothly as you might expect.
Half an hour into Tail Sting it’s safe to say we’re looking at a flight we wouldn’t want to be on. Challenges include apparent hijackers, an inexplicably broken radio, a desperate and crazy scientist, too many guns, only one pilot (blinded), broken landing gear, a vampire, and a worrying lack of Jack Bauer. And that's all in addition to the giant killer scorpions. On the plus side, the bad movie clichés mandate that the plane has 20 empty seats for each occupied one (extras are expensive), and about six feet of headroom. So… swings and roundabouts.
A typical commercial airline pilot hard at work.
This is a wonderful little movie. From the first shot of the plane taking off (with a cockpit made from a couple of swivel chairs and some random buttons) to the last shot of it landing (in which a different pilot is clearly visible in the stock footage), absolutely nothing works. The cargo hold is about 15 feet high, the case of deadly mutant scorpions sits loose on a table in the centre, and it’s easily accessible to everyone on the plane. That’s the level of stupid we’re dealing with here. The supposed leads are Dr Jennifer Ryan (Putney), one of the scientists who has been working on the megascorpions, and Captain Jack ‘Woof’ Russell (Merrill), the chain smoking pilot. In a nicely symmetrical touch, the introduction of both prompts us to ask the same question: “am I seriously supposed to believe that’s what you do for a living?” The rest of the cast are clichés. There’s a teen karate team made up of a jock, a misfit girl and a cheerleader; a male flight attendant who’s gayer than Christmas; a stressed businessman; a rich bitch and an African-American character for whom the writers couldn’t pick a single cliché, so he’s both constantly scared and constantly horny. Few demographics will be left unoffended.
"You got some pretty titties for a karate girl."
The actual scorpions feature very little. They apparently have the ability to teleport around the plane so they can, and do, jump out of anywhere at any moment, but we cut away from them in the blink of an eye as if the filmmakers are embarrassed. Given the amount of time they spend showing us Putney doing acting, this doesn’t make sense. There's plenty of intrigue involving a corrupt scientist who wants to sell the scorpions on the (giant arachnid?) black market, but none of it makes any sense so it’s best ignored. There is one interesting aspect to the movie, though.
The most interesting thing the movie does (deliberately) is make this guy the hero.
Tail Sting was released in early 2001, a few months before the September terror attacks in the US. One of the movie’s running ‘jokes’ involves two apparently Muslim characters who sneak aboard the plane, and who we are meant to assume to be the villains. That inadvertently reminds us (not that we needed reminding) how vaguely Arab looking men were frequently Hollywood shorthand for airborne threats even before 9/11. Cousins Yaffi (Grover) and Omar (Conroe Brooks), who are dubbed Saddam and Arafat by the real hijacker, are at first only seen whispering conspiratorially with sinister expressions. But they ultimately turn out to be electricians simply seeking a better life, and they become the selfless heroes of the movie when they take a bullet and use their skills to save the plane. This typical and, crucially, casual narrative dates the movie far more than anything else, which is a horribly depressing thought.
I guess the crew weren't given much time to make an autopilot switch for the close-up.
Tail Sting Video: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Shoreline Entertainment/York Entertainment