Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Alien Autopsy

By Jim Ridley

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  The title is Alien: Resurrection, but watching it feels more like the Crucifixion. In this less-than-unnecessary sequel to Alien 3, 200 years have elapsed since Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) jumped into a vat of molten metal, destroying herself and the whatsit inside her. After an unimpressive sequence of coalescing primordial ooze--think eggnog with eyeballs--a newly cloned Ripley is back, buffer than ever and possessed of a mean three-point skyhook. To a sinister team of military scientists, however, her cloning is only a side effect of the main objective. They plan to breed another alien queen, whose DNA strands have been fused with Ripley's--and who will deliver the long-awaited offspring of human and alien.

In the first two films, the aliens were scary and tantalizing because you hardly ever saw them. Not so here: The more you see of the computer-generated beasts, the less threatening and more generic they seem. (H.R. Giger's designs are sorely missed; the hum/alien hybrid at the end looks like a microwaved Barney.) The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who made the grim French fantasies Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, can do the creepy-crawly comic-book stuff, and every so often there's a neat little detail or effect--the cartoony bounce of a rolling grenade, the Chuck Jones trajectory of a ricocheting bullet. But his pacing is agonizingly mirthless, and his tone is clammy. The movie administers its cheap thrills like tetanus shots.

As for the highly expendable crew, the movie makes the same mistake as Alien 3--without a character to root for, there's not much suspense. As a simpering crewmate, Winona Ryder looks and acts uncannily like Bud Cort; the other characters, played by actors as capable as Michael Wincott, Ron Perlman, and Dan Hedaya, are so repellent they're not worth eating. The only one I missed was Brad Dourif, whose few scenes as a bug-eyed caregiver are outrageously freaky. Dourif was born to make goo-goo eyes at aliens.

But even Ripley isn't particularly likable or interesting this time around. Equipping her with smart-ass quips was an awful idea, and Weaver can't decide whether she's playing it campy or straight. Who can blame her? Dramatically, Alien: Resurrection isn't what you'd call a stretch. In basic variations, here's the movie: Several people walk down a corridor. Out jumps an alien. Grrrr! Back down the corridor runs everyone who still has legs. And so 95 minutes starts to feel like a year in a biopod.

Lost in space Sigourney Weaver gets in touch with her extraterrestrial side in Alien: Resurrection

To pass the time--apart from notching each minute in your armrest--you can consider the curious contemplation of motherhood that has transpired over the course of four Alien movies. In Alien men give birth, kids are parasites, and parenthood is murder; in Aliens the big stand-off is between two tough mothers whose maternal urges make them totally lethal. (The climax was like Johnny Guitar, only less butch.) By contrast, despite all the gore and kinky overlays, Alien: Resurrection is almost quaintly Victorian. Ripley and the queen are females put on earth only to breed, and they share a special bond; at one point, they even cuddle together. You half expect them to watch the Lifetime Channel and knit some booties with snaky little tails.

Of all the retread genres, the horror-movie sequel stands the best chance of equaling or surpassing its original. What scared you in the first film is likely to scare you again, if handled with a little imagination, and most horror films these days are so lousy that a sequel couldn't be any worse. Alien: Resurrection fails on both counts, even with the dismal, darker-than-radio Alien 3 lowering the bar. At least in space, no one can hear you snore.

All flubbed up

John Hughes is the Puff Daddy of modern movies: He's a whiz at taking something old and adding just enough to claim a paycheck. Flubber, Hughes' slack reworking of The Absent Minded Professor, is such a half-assed job of adaptation that the author of the 1961 original, Bill Walsh, gets half the screen credit here. He deserves more than that. Everything that's amusing about Flubber can be traced back to his script, while Hughes' additions--which basically amount to serious injuries and cranial contusions--are the same lame, sadistic gags he's flogged in every movie since The Great Outdoors.

The story is almost exactly the same: The squirrelly Prof. Brainerd (Robin Williams) devises a flying-rubber substance with unlimited applications; while he tries to woo his long-suffering fiance and save Medfield College, thugs plot to steal the miracle goo. Not even Hughes and director-for-hire Les Mayfield can screw up the notion of Flubber, which turns basketball benchwarmers into Air Jordan and causes cars to fly. But for all the computer-generated tomfoolery, the special effects aren't that much of an improvement comedically; they're too elaborate and painstaking to provoke many laughs.

Hughes' one inspiration is a romantic subplot between Brainerd and a hovering gizmo called Weebo (the voice of Jodi Benson), which nurses a serious crush it can only express through TV clips a la Dream On. Weebo is by far the movie's most appealing character; of course, Hughes finds a needlessly mean way to yank her out of the movie. At least she goes on to a far better place--which is to say that she'll spared from Son of Flubber.

Live evil

The makers of The Lesser Evil, an independent thriller filmed recently in North Carolina, will be in town for a special showing of their film Thursday night at the Watkins Belcourt. A tricky mystery in the vein of The Usual Suspects, The Lesser Evil concerns four friends--a cop (Tony Goldwyn), an attorney (David Paymer), a contractor (Colm Feore), and a priest (Arliss Howard)--who reunite after 22 years when a deadly secret from their high-school years is uncovered.

Director David Mackay, cinematographer/screenwriter Stephan Schultze, and producer Dan Helberg will be on hand to discuss the movie after the screening. The screening is sponsored by the Watkins Film School, which hopes to provide similar events on a regular basis. Show time is 7 p.m., and tickets are $6 at the door. For more information, contact Van Flesher, one of the movie's cameramen, at 615-242-1851.

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