When a movie can be described as “one-joke”, it had better be a funny joke or you’re going to be in for a bad time. You know the sort of thing – what if there were a 40 year old virgin? What if a kid had the superpower of being able to fart a lot? So, as this movie progressed and I expected to get bored, I was pretty pleased that it handled its one joke remarkably well. In this instance, it’s “what if there were super-friendly aliens from a peaceful planet, who came down to earth to brutally murder criminals and lowlife scumbags?”
A rather unusually quiet opening, where Joseph, a young black guy, has to deal with the pull of the local drug kingpin but keep on the straight and narrow, then his mother dies and he inherits her large, run-down old boarding house, is a little more understandable when you see Roger Corman’s name on the credits. Corman is one of my heroes, a titan of low-budget cinema who’s retained a strong social conscience throughout his life, taking on the KKK in 1962’s “The Intruder”, capitalism in 1975’s “Death Race 2000”…okay, and producing the “Sharktopus” series of movies. But he’s one of the greats, and has given a ton of huge names their breaks in the business (Jack Nicholson and Ron Howard, to name but two).
The film really kicks off, though, when Charlie and Ronda turn up. Played by “Cheers” legend (and former “House” co-star) George Wendt and TV star Shanna Reed, they’re a colourful bright parody of a 1950s couple and want to rent the top floor of Joseph’s house, despite it still being full of junk, with a leaky roof, etc. They’re clearly hiding something (not-particularly-a-spoiler: they’re aliens) but Joseph lets them stay thanks to their daughter, Daphne (Anastasia Sakelaris) fluttering her eyelashes at him. They renovate the house overnight, serve rather unusual food (a beans sandwich, for one) and the excuse they give for wanting to rent a house in the blackest, most run-down area of LA is to expose Daphne to other cultures.
Of course, the actual reason is Charlie and Ronda want to hunt. Their planet is crime and violence-free, so they take a vacation in the scummiest places possible and hunt other planets’ lowlifes, like parading through a back alley with a large gold watch and hoping someone tries to rob them for it. They treat this ultra-violence as a bit of sport, and it is pretty violent – at one point, they tear off a potential rapist’s leg and beat him to death with it. A lot of the humour comes from this way out-of-place couple in the ghetto, and it’s great.
Joseph and Daphne’s budding relationship, and her parents’ completely non-human response to them having sex, is a really well-done B story; slightly less interesting is the “I suppose we’d better have a normal plot” plot, about a couple of cops who just don’t like Joseph very much. They’re investigating Charlie and Ronda’s killings, and due to their odd values (despite liking Joseph, they’re happy to let him take the fall for them) they leave a gun with his fingerprints at a crime scene…
A problem with movies that sound great described like this – “a couple of aliens straight out of the 50s come to earth to kill criminals” – is that they’re never quite as OTT as you want them to be. There’s always a boring normal subplot, or a valuable lesson to be learned, or something along those lines. This is no different, although it comes pretty close to just ignoring normal movie morality and going all out; it’s still an absolute ton of fun though.
Wendt and Reed are both brilliant, giving it their all, and while Christopher M Brown as Joseph is a bit of a wet blanket (as are the cops, and the rest of the humans), Sakelaris is wonderful as well. Her career went absolutely nowhere after this and its sequel – bit parts and one-off TV appearances, then nothing after 2007. It’s a damn shame, as she’s both crazily beautiful and gifted at comedy.
It’s listed as a TV movie, although I can’t imagine this sort of movie playing on any TV channel in the late 90s (maybe HBO? The writer, Michael McDonald, has acted in tons of TV comedy, although I don’t suppose that information helps). Anyway, we’ve got a sequel to look forward to, with most of the cast and crew returning (Reed is replaced by Julie Brown, which is a shame although I like Brown just fine).
It’s a surprisingly great movie, chock full of fun and gore, and I enthusiastically recommend it, should you be able to track it down.
Rating: thumbs up