I probably like at least one movie from every film genre out there. I liked Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! well enough. That just about sums up the list of revivalist '50's sci-fi invasion flicks that I enjoy, and I just finished R. W. Goodwin's Alien Trespass. I begrudgingly just finished it, that is. It's fitting I watched it around 4 p.m. because it felt like a Lifetime after-school special. Not that it was about housewives in trouble (although the movie does contain housewives, and they are in trouble), but the film’s bland predictability made keeping my eyes open a constant struggle. If Tim Burton's take on something doesn't hit the nail in the vicinity of the head, what chance does a TV movie producer/occasional X-Files director have? Somewhere in the netherworld, Ed Wood (a better Burton effort) is setting his DVR to record Alien Trespass.
The cast is a who's who (or who cares) of television from the past 15 to 20 years. Eric McCormack plays astronomer Ted Lewis/Urp. His wife Lana is played by Jody Thompson. Jenni Baird is diner waitress Tammy. Dan Lauria (Kevin Arnold's Dad!) is Police Chief Dawson. Robert Patrick is Officer Vernon. There are "teenagers" and country drunks and other cops, too. But sadly, the list of easily recognizable names ends there. One of those "teens" is played by Aaron Brooks, an infinitely unconvincing greaser who I would love to see in a "Brood Off" with Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass.
The film has the option to view an introduction, which consists of a fictional filmmaker's heir interviewing Eric McCormack as the fictional grandson of M. Eric McCormack (Meric), the "star" of Alien Trespass. Despite the trite meta-ness of it all, I was almost excited about what I was about to see, thinking it might take a step back from everything and comment on the genre as a whole, or perhaps play creatively with all the stereotypes expected to be seen. Unfortunately, we get all of the stereotypes, and none of the creativity.
Following a newsreel opening, the movie begins. Out in the desert, way back in 1957, a spaceship crashes into the side of a rock formation. Ted and Lana are celebrating their anniversary when Ted sees the ship fly through the sky, thinking it to be a meteorite of some kind. A tentacle, one-eyed alien escapes the ship. A tin-man of an alien steps out, and we can tell he's pissed because his face looks like foil over a Jason mask. Later that night, Ted visits the site, and gets his body all invaded and shit by the silver alien, a being named Urp. What follows is an entire film of people wondering what's wrong with Ted.
The second plot line involves the police station and Chief Dawson, who – like Murtaugh 30 years later – is about to retire and not in the mood for any headaches. Well, guess what, chief? Your town is rife with monster sightings, starting with those awful teenagers. At least an eighth of the movie's dialogue consists of, "A monster just chased me." "There's no such thing as monsters." "But there is!" "Sheesh, these crazy kookamungas." I don't care what the circumstances are; I hate movies and TV shows that rely on the majority's assumption that someone with a perilous story is lying just because the story is a shade unbelievable, like a one-eyed monsters that for some reason only stay visible for small periods of time. The movie is just a series of people crying wolf and others calling them out on it. The cops don't believe anybody until they see it for themselves, and of course by then it's too late. If this movie has a twist, it's of the Chubby Checker variety.
The film’s production values are very good – too good in fact. While the fake star-lit backgrounds, campy costumes, Z-grade special effects, and hackneyed dialogue are all consistent with the film's 1950's setting, the film quality is startlingly crisp, with none of the graininess of the films to which it’s paying tribute. There first time Alien Trespass uses a swipe cut, it’s charming. After a half-dozen of these at inopportune times, it becomes clear that the editor has no idea what he’s doing. There are about seven different shot types in the entire movie, and they're all connected by misplaced fades or ill-timed cutaways. Add onto this the abysmal line readings of hackneyed dialogue and you've got a stinker to last another 50 years. 2001 had tons more laughs. And less Robert Patrick.
Well, Goodwin set out to make a 50's sci-fi movie, and gosh darn it, that's what he did. The film might not seem out of place next to Ozzie and Harriet DVDs on a shelf affixed to a wood-paneled wall. If, in fact, you actually bought it. The disc sounds great. Lots of swelling orchestral scores and other faux-dramatic touches. But again, the film looks too good to be taken seriously as camp, and the script is joke-less.
The features, on the other hand, are enjoyable, if only because they stick with the premise that this was an actual 1950s production. "Watch the Skies" and "Meet the Person with Edwin R. Burroughs" are both fun and harmless. The first talks about the feud between the film's director and star, thus putting the project on a permanent hiatus until now. Sadly. The second is an obvious rip on Edward R. Murrow, and features a black-and-white interview show with the film's stars, as if they were all grandparents of the actual actors that live on today. It's somewhat hard to explain, and quite frankly not worth the effort. There are two fake News Updates as well, playing the movie's action as reality. And, of course, the trailers.
There are better alien movies. There are better 1950s movies. There are better movies. See them instead.