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"Alien: Resurrection" (a.k.a. "Alien 4") proves they can clone just about everything -- except a good movie.

By Zak Weisfeld

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  It is, by now, clear to everyone that there is no getting out of a successful movie franchise. When the studios have a recognizable brand name and a concept flexible enough to mash into one more movie, they will make it. They are implacable, and starring in one is like working for the Mob or the CIA—it can be glamorous, lucrative, and exciting, but it is not a job from which one simply walks away. Even death is no escape from that devil's bargain, as Sigourney Weaver can attest.

At the end of Alien 3, Weaver wisely hurled her steely-jawed heroine into the abyss in an attempt to avoid what everyone should have already seen as inevitable, Alien 4. It wasn't enough. Nor, clearly, was Weaver's resolve, and who can blame her?—I'd certainly come back from the dead for $10-$15 million. And so, like some kind of perverse Hindu legend, Lieutenant Ripley—despite total immolation and 200 years of movie time—is back. Oh, and guess what?

See, somehow a bit of Ripley's genetic material was recovered from the prior movie and scientists set out to clone her because apparently the alien queen that was gestating in her had mixed its DNA with hers, etc., etc. The long and short of it is, Ripley's back, but she's part alien—and the alien's back, but she's part Ripley. This is only one of the stunning secrets in Alien Resurrection that I will reveal in this review, all of which are overshadowed by the open secret that one thing the scientists couldn't clone is a good sequel.

Alien Resurrection made me long for many things: the earlier Alien movies, the end of the current Alien movie, my money back, and someone to blame. The two most obvious targets are the screenwriter, Joss Whedon, who should be ashamed of himself, and the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who should have his green card revoked. It is difficult to choose between them.

The script by Whedon (who wrote Toy Story and also worked on Speed) is a flaccid piece of work that feels like it was cobbled together from the leftovers of the first Alien movie—scientists get aliens on the ship, they kill everybody, Ripley tries to stop them, somebody's actually a robot, the ship crashes, Ripley barely escapes, The End. Like a burger in a fast food joint, all the pieces are there, you just slap 'em together, and out comes a movie.

Then there's Jeunet. At first the French director seemed like an exciting choice to helm the next Alien chapter. He had a dazzling debut with Delicatessen but hinted at his love of art direction over plot or character in its descendant, City of Lost Children. Sadly, he seems intent on proving the latter with Alien Resurrection.

Though he was clearly paying close attention to the look of Resurrection—which, despite its faults, is well-lit and stylish—Jeunet let the monstrous script slip right past him. One theory is that he actually couldn't understand the script at all, since it was written in English. This would go a long way towards explaining his failure at shoring up some of the gaping plot holes that yawn throughout the movie.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is, I doubt he cared at all. Like a true Frenchman, his Alien is all footwear and grand symbols, as if he couldn't allow himself to get bogged down in something as mundane as tight plotting or coherent characters.

All of which makes me a little sad for Weaver. Working with a weak script and a director who seems more interested in the sets than the actors, she does her teeth-gritting best to hold the movie together. The problem is that the new Ripley, despite her exciting leather pants and chic boots, doesn't make any damn sense at all. Why does she fight with the crew of smugglers on board the doomed medical ship? Why does she help the smugglers survive? Why is she afraid of the aliens? Why does she kill the aliens? And adding insult to injury, she's got to suffer through it all with Winona Ryder.

Truth be told, Ryder's talents have always been invisible to me. With a range that barely spans the distance between cloying and shrill, she seems better suited to a Spelling production than the Hollywood A-list. Watching her work with an actor of Weaver's skills brings her lack of talent into brilliant resolve. And after suffering through over an hour of Ryder's performance, the revelation that she is secretly a robot gives the film its one moment of deep, if ironic, insight.

All told, Alien Resurrection is probably the most damning evidence yet of the evils of cloning. Just because something was good once, or even twice, doesn't mean it needs to recur ad infinitum. But if we keep coming, they'll keep building it. As it turns out, the only sure way to kill Alien is to make certain it earns less than $100 million.

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