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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 12:57 am

Remember that ant

Epic disaster scenes more than make up for pedestrian story

The Ant Bully Running time 1:35 Rated PG ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Based on the children’s book by John Nickle, The Ant Bully tells the story of a young boy who’s forced to live among the ants he once terrorized and taking the first steps toward maturity by learning how to empathize.

Lucas (voice by Zach Tyler) is small for his age, and the neighborhood bully makes him pay for it every time Lucas steps out of his house. Lucas, in turn, takes his feelings of shame and frustration out on the only thing that seems to be smaller than him — the residents of the anthill in his front yard. He squirts the ants with a hose and water gun, kicks and stomps on them, oblivious to the pain and suffering he’s causing. All that changes when ant wizard Zoc (Nicolas Cage) creates a potion to shrink human beings. Sure enough, Lucas is downsized and must stand in judgment for his misdeeds. Most of the ants support capital punishment, but their queen (Meryl Streep) wisely decides to teach the young boy a lesson by forcing him to work as an ant. Zoc’s girlfriend, Hova (Julia Roberts), volunteers to tutor Lucas, a task that is far more difficult than she could ever have imagined.

Lucas’ path to discovering his inner ant is fraught with peril and great action sequences. The best moments in the film come whenever the ants find themselves in danger — under attack by a normal-sized Lucas, or a squadron of wasps, or warped exterminator Stan (Paul Giamatti). Engaging and genuinely exciting, these moments, as well as the ants’ final attack on Stan, generate a degree of fun and urgency that’s present in only the best films of this sort. Those sequences have an epic disaster-movie feel to them, more than making up for a rather pedestrian story.

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