The cheap, zipper-up-the-back sci-fi monster movies of the 1950s are all spoofed-out — the wisecracking 'bots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" feasted on those films' anemic effects, awkward performances and autopilot dialogue 20 years ago. Now, for some reason, comes "Alien Trespass," a picture that plays that old stuff straight, without a glimmer of satirical intent. The result is uninteresting in ways undreamed of back in the '50s.
Even the most preposterous sci-fi flicks of that period, like "Robot Monster" and "Teenagers from Outer Space," made a giddy kind of sense within their cultural context. (And not all of the decade's interstellar adventures were schlock, of course: Producer George Pal's "Destination Moon" and "The War of the Worlds" both won Oscars for their imaginative visual effects.) But in the wake of such high-powered latter-day space epics as "Alien" and "Independence Day," the idea of replicating the low-budget lethargy of '50s saucer flicks seems — and is now demonstrated to be — seriously misguided.
"Alien Trespass," directed by "X-Files" veteran R.W. Goodwin, shuffles together all the weary old elements: a visiting space ship, a world-devouring alien, a fascinated scientist, some ignorant skeptics, and a pair of cute teenage lovebirds. The year is 1957, and the space ship, which has crashed in the Mojave Desert, is piloted by a being in a silvery body stocking who's called Urp, and turns out to be an intergalactic marshal. (The "Marshal Urp" joke may resonate with '50s TV fans; it's likely to warp-drive right past everyone else.) Urp has with him a prisoner, a one-eyed beastie called a Ghota (a "unicellular omnipod," we're helpfully informed) that's so brazenly rubbery it looks like an inflatable pool toy. The Ghota escapes and goes on a people-eating binge, so when a local astronomer named Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) shows up to check out the downed ship, Urp takes over his body and sets off in search of the escaped monster. ("I must find the Ghota before it divides," he explains.) The local cops (Dan Lauria and Robert Patrick) scoff at the idea of space invaders (until it's too late, of course), but a diner waitress named Tammy (Jenny Baird) quickly becomes a believer, and joins Ted/Urp in pursuit of the Ghota. The resident teens twitter around the edges of the action emitting such period phrases as "My lips are zipped" and "Dig this, cats."
The movie is essentially a checklist of '50s cultural signifiers, from vintage furniture, ponytails and automobiles (inevitably, there's an Edsel reference) to rear-projected scenery and a theremin keening away on the soundtrack. All very authentic, I suppose (except for some snippets from "The Blob," a movie that wasn't released until late 1958), but not a lot of fun. And if you're not going to have fun with such a silly cinematic subgenre, what's the point in resurrecting it? Or, from the more pertinent consumer point of view, in seeing it?
Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "Adventureland," also opening this week.
Check out everything we've got on "Alien Trespass."
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