A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
You never know what a rat is going to do next, which is one of the big problems with rats. In "Willard," you mostly do know what the rats are going to do next, which is a big problem with the film. That's because Willard is able to marshal his rats into disciplined groups that scurry off on missions on his behalf; he is the Dr. Dolittle of pest control.
"Willard" is a remake of the 1971 film, which was a surprise hit at the box office. My explanation at the time: People had been waiting a long time to see Ernest Borgnine eaten by rats and weren't about to miss the opportunity. The new film looks better, moves faster and is more artistic than the original, but it doesn't work as a horror film--and since it is a horror film, that's fatal. It has attitude and a look, but the rats aren't scary.
Consider an early scene where Willard (Crispin Glover) goes down in the cellar after his mother complains of rat infestation. The fuse box blows and he's down to a flashlight, and this should be a formula for a scary scene (remember Ellen Burstyn in the attic with a candle in "The Exorcist"). But the scene isn't frightening--ever. The blowing of the fuse is scarier than anything else that happens in the basement.
The plot is essentially a remake of the earlier "Willard," but with elements suggesting it is a sequel. A portrait that hangs in the family home, for example, shows Bruce Davison as Willard's father--and Davison, of course, was the original Willard. So hold on. If that Willard was this Willard's father, then that means that this Willard's mother (Jackie Burroughs) was that Willard's wife and has become a shrew just like her mother-in-law, and young Willard still works for an evil man named Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey), which was the Borgnine character's name, so he must be Martin Jr. In the new movie, Willard's mom complains about rats in the cellar and Mr. Martin insults Willard and threatens his job, and the sins of the parents are visited on the sequel.