' Cinema Romantico: Alien Trespass

Monday, April 06, 2009

Alien Trespass

This homage to the alien invasion B movies of the fifties isn't pointless, as some critics have claimed, since, you know, the point is that it's an homage, but what "Alien Trespass" does not do is bring anything new to the table.

The setting is Mojave, a desert town in California, that contains a diner where the locals gather, a movie theater showing "The Blob", and not a lot else. We are introducted to the usual suspects: a pipe smoking astronomer (Eric McCormack), his buxom wife (Jody Thompson), a teenage guy and his gal and their greasy haired friend, a waitress (Jenni Baird) who dreams of saving enough money to move to "Sausalito", and, of course, my favorite, the police chief (Dan Lauria) who is but two days away from retirement.

Which is why Chief Dawson gets so dadgum irate with all these reports of a monster wreaking havoc throughout the town even though his disbelieving deputy Vern (Robert Patrick, and do you think this guy will ever get to play someone nice?) investigated the site of a supposed meteorite crash and reported back that it was nothing more.

Except, of course, it wasn't just a mere meteorite but a flying saucer, allowing for a gigantic one-eyed space creature that likes to suck all the nutrients out of pesky human beings, leaving behind only a puddle, to escape, meaning the alien piloting the ship, Urp, must take the form of an earthling (in this case, McCormack's Dr. Lewis, which is a great plot development for him because it allows him to forgo the troubling requirement of having to act) to track down the creature and save the town.

The plucky townfolk will fight back, and some will wind up puddles, and you can pretty much figure out who will be standing come the final reel, and that's all well and good, and the whole enterprise is quite loving, and clearly the director, R.W. Goodwin, and his writer, Steven Fisher, want to do this genre justice but most of it feels like we're watching an experiment that never really turns out right but never really goes horribly wrong either. It's stuck in neutral. I bet they all had a good time making this movie but, by golly, I wanted to see it on the screen.

Tim Burton mined this same territory in "Mars Attacks!" and what that film did was not only adhere to its terrible forefathers but also manage to make its own mark. I think of Pierce Brosnan's deftly hilarious line readings as a (gasp!) pipe smoking doctor and Annette Benning's new age goofiness and Natalie Portman's drollness that was so severe it seemed to take the cardboard acting of the fifties B movies as a starting point and then go several more layers beneath it. (I don't even have to mention the immense brilliance of the Tom Jones cameo, but I will. "There's a martian right behind me!") It allowed for a wonderfully wacky twist on the Everyday Item that is discovered to be the one alien weakness. "Alien Trespass" has the Everyday Item, too, and I actually smiled when I realized they were setting it up just because it made me feel warm inside but it's just an example of how Goodwin's film always colors within the lines.

In the end "Alien Trespass" winds up just like so many of the movies it is spoofing that no one really remembers.

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