Meet the Applegates

Even top directors have off days. Take David Lynch (Dune), Francis Coppola (One From the Heart) and Martin Scorsese (New York, New York). Their movie mishaps are dreadful but not dull because you can feel a vigorous imagination at work. Director-writer Michael Lehmann is not in their league. He's only made one film, the black comedy Heathers (1989), but that caustic lampoon of teen suicide marked him as a comer. Lehmann really messes up with the overscaled and underwritten Applegates. By straining for significance, he's bled the fun out of a potentially inspired spoof. But he's in there pushing, while the hacks are content to coast.

Ed Begley Jr. and Stockard Channing are Dick and Jane Applegate, an aggressively average couple who have moved to suburban Ohio with a daughter, Sally (Cami Cooper), a son, Johnny (Bobby Jacoby), and a dog, Spot. There's the usual problems: Dick screws his secretary, Jane shops to the point of bankruptcy, Sally gets pregnant, Johnny's into drugs, and Spot terminates the neighbor's dog. Oh, and yes, the Applegates aren't people, they're cockroaches. Furious that polluters are trashing their home in the Brazilian rain forest, they have taken human form and come to America so that Dick can use his job in a power plant to nuke humanity to hell.

It's a clever premise, and Lehmann has an ideal cast. Begley is expert at showing the perverse side of the average Joe. And the vibrant Channing, currently wowing Broadway in the best play of several seasons – John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation – crackles with wit and spirit. When Lehmann sticks to exploding the poses of normality, Applegates is outrageously on target. It's the chintzy effects and repetitive jokes that allow action to overtake character. The picture sinks but Lehmann doesn't – he has enough talent percolating just below the surface of this film to make us eager for his next.